Over at The Great Baseball Blog, Bryan is three parts into an infinite-part series on his thoughts on being a Red Sox fan.
He's covering a lot of ground, but I think the series also hits on the general question of what it means to be a fan. At some point it's natural to question why the heck you care so much about one random group of 25 baseball players. What are you rooting for exactly? Is it the owner? The manager? The players? The truth is it's none of those things. As my fellow SH blogger has said, "we root for the laundry."
Not only do we root for the laundry, we're so sure we're right to do so that we scoff at anyone who has the nerve to say they root for both the Mets and the Yankees. Anyone who switches allegiances any time between childhood and death is derisively labeled as a "front runner," something that is considered the exact opposite of a "real" sports fan. But on the surface, it's perfectly logical to root for the Marlins because Hanley Ramirez is your favorite player, or the Dodgers because Joe Torre is your favorite manager, or the A's because Billy Beane is your favorite GM. And it's perfectly reasonable to have equal pride as a New Yorker in all the teams that play here. What isn't logical is rooting for the Mets your entire life because that's who you chose to root for when you were 7-years old, based on little more than a whim.
Despite all that logic, almost everyone still agrees that a serious sports fan picks a team and sticks with it for a lifetime. A real fan roots for the laundry. Why?
Obviously there must be more to it than just the laundry. What exactly ties us to our team? For a lot of people, there's the geographical connection. Rooting for your team is attached to rooting for your city – it’s about civic pride. And if you leave the city, that may be magnified even more. If you’re from Cleveland, rooting for the Tribe (and Browns and Cavs) keeps you linked to your roots even if you're no longer physically there.
There's also often a family connection - a parent or other relative took you to games as a kid and some day you'll take your kids to the game. Rooting for a particular team can link multiple generations of a family together in a way that other cultural interests can't. Recently, a transplant from Cincinnati told me about his plan to go to a Bengals game with his family while he's home for Christmas. Watching your team every Sunday at the same time the rest of your family does wherever they are helps you feel close to them even if you’re geographically far, and being able to associate it with a future family get-together helps even more.
There's also a general sense of community with other fans of the team. This gets somewhat tied into geography for most people (less so in New York, where we have so many teams and so many transplants), but is also relevant on another level. Say, you come to New York from Alabama and don't know anyone. Maybe they exist, but I'm not aware of any general "people from Alabama" get-togethers. But, every Saturday during football season, you can go to a bar filled with U. of Alabama fans, or to a bar filled with Auburn fans. You chant together, exchange high-fives, and constantly answer the question, “where [in Alabama] are you from?”
Sometimes the connections can be more subtle. Whether it's giving a high five to the random dude sitting next to you at the game or the bar, or having something to talk about with your boss, the common bond of being a Mets fan often allows you to connect with someone who you might have trouble bonding with otherwise due to differences in age, socioeconomic status, cultural background, etc. Whatever other differences we may have, we share the common experience of being Mets fans. We’ve had the same moments of joy and pain over the years. We remember Robin Ventura’s “grand slam” in game 5 of the NLCS and Kenny Rogers walking in the winning run in game 6.
Now that I reflect on it, rooting for the same team over the years also keeps us closer to ourselves. We change a lot during a lifetime and the world around us changes even more. Family members die, friends come and go, things that seem important at one time seem irrelevant a few years later. Rooting for the same team, year after year, in a religious-like manner gives us a constant in our lives and helps link the 8-year-old version of ourselves with the 80-year-old version.
“Laundry” means more than just the uniform, it means the sense of connection with our family, our city, and all the random people who make up our fan community.
Let's Go Mets!