I was reminded today, for god knows what reason, of a conversation I had as a freshman in college, curled up late one night with dorm room coffee and too many books on French history and Shakespeare interpretation and web design and music theory, in the cozy but miss-matched lounge of my 1960s brick dorm, one of the ones mostly full of first years and sophomores because it didn’t have the allure of the gorgeous 19th C. column and stone step adorned ones on the main green. Somehow the snippets of conversation being tossed back and forth between bouts of reading and note taking had turned to baseball. It was early 2001, and here I was, a displaced California girl and Giants fan sharing threadbare but once lovely couches with a Yankee fan, a Red Sox fan, and her equally Bostonian boyfriend (as is entirely unsurprising, given that I went to college in New England). Now, I have to point out here that I am older than the hills in internet years, I realize, so you have to remember that this was back when the Red Sox were still cursed and the Yankees were a total juggernaut that seemed like it might never be stopped, which I felt like put me pretty squarely in the middle of the pack. The Giants had Barry Bonds and a shiny new ballpark, they had just won the division (and then gotten pretty roughed up by the Mets, but we can ignore that), and the pitching wasn’t yet a complete joke, so I mean, sure, I couldn’t really talk much shit to a anybody rooting for the navy pinstripes, but I could hold my own in this discussion.
Point being, things got a little heated as we eventually closed our books and shoved things aside to more accurately talk with our hands (including one memorable impression of Jason Varitek done by my Tino Martinez t-shirt wearing dorm mate in front of the fire place for extra “flames of hell” flavor (1)), finally ending with the Red Sox boyfriend, who was a pitcher at a nearby large university, shouting “you’re just fans!” before leaving to get a snack or smoke a cigarette or piece his fragile, barely post-adolescent masculinity back together, I’ll never know which (I admit I was better friends with the New Yorker, so we may have sort of ganged up on him a bit). In his world, calling us “just fans” was the heaviest insult he could level while within the confines of our exclusive women’s college that wouldn’t get him summarily beaten up and tossed off campus, possibly never to return. “Fans” was only one rung down, in the grand scale of insulting language, from things I would never, ever allow anyone to say to me. This guy would have called me a bitch before he told me I was “just a fan“, and at the time? Well, it was an oddity. A young guy who took his career as a D-1 middle reliever with no likelihood of being drafted too seriously for my already over-educated, eighteen year old taste.
It’s hard to say how the brain works, but I think maybe my sub-conscious drug this up from the annals of my random past because I’ve seen so many people denouncing the title of “fan” lately. Analysts who are loathe to admit they ever had any strong team loyalties to begin with, people who I would consider fans in a positive way riling at being referred to as such and demanding the title of analyst or at the very least blogger, balking I suppose at some connotation of fan as an overgrown man-child homer who yells puerile insults at the opposing team in between slugs of mass-produced domestic beer (2). That fan exists, sure as anything, but I know far more fans that aren’t that guy than who are. Being a fan means that you have a deep affection and attachment to something, no more and no less. That affection and attachment is a lifeline for so many of us, a touchstone through good and bad times in our lives and a connection point to form a larger community of people who entertain and support and educate us, who make us think and feel and love that much more. The fact that I keep seeing people want to disown that, as if there is some Hobson’s choice of intelligence and analytical ability or nothing, is disappointing to say the least.