Posted on: September 12, 2008 11:45 am
Edited on: September 19, 2008 1:39 pm

Essence of Fandom

I have a confession to make. I am a fan. I'm a fan of the Syracuse Orange, the New York Jets, <st1:place w:st="on">Liverpool</st1:place> and most importantly, the New York Mets. It seems like every day of the 2006 postseason I have returned to the same question - why do I subject myself to this? Why do all of us fans suffer the anxiety of tight ball games, the ever present looming fear of defeat, and the misery of an important loss day in and day out? The pains of being a fan are exacerbated by being in the postseason; defeats cannot be passed off with a shrug of the shoulders anymore. What I've come to realize is that not only is being a fan irrational, we ought to embrace that irrationality.

How many here are baseball fans? In one of those FOX commercials, Tommy Lasorda says to a Cubs fan that “but you are even bigger fan of baseball [than the Cubs]!” Every time I see it, I react the same way. Are you kidding? Nobody is a bigger fan of the sport than his or her team! Not only does my fandom go much deeper for my team than baseball, I think the very notion of “fan” being invoked in the two cases is radically different. I enjoy baseball; I think it's a great game. I delight in the individual clashes, but at the same time, the need for an entire team to perform in order to win. I like the strategy, from defensive adjustments, to lineups to pitch selection. I dig the stats, the history and the science. It is a deep game, and exploring it is one of my favorite ways to spend my time.

But that's it. It's shallow. It's a hobby. The Mets are not a hobby. Disappointing movies are not depressing. Video game losses do not physically hurt. The emotional ties I have to my club are deep, more akin to my ties to other people than to any hobby. Baseball is an acquaintance, the Mets are a friend. The Mets have been with me longer than most people. They were a passion when I was growing up, staying up way past my bedtime listening to the late innings on the radio. I have grown up with the Mets, and I can chart the years of my life right alongside the ups and downs of the club.

Yet, it's an odd friendship. It's fundamentally asymmetrical. I support the team with my attention, my voice, my dollar and my soul, and the team performs for me. But I play no role in that performance. The Mets go on winning and losing whether I show up or not.

So what does it mean to be a fan? The relationship feels like a friend, but we are not on equal footing. I have come back to this question time and time again, and I am left with but one answer. I am a gambler. Some people put money down on sports teams and others on the roll of a die. I put my emotions down on the table. If the Mets lose, I sacrifice my happiness (at least temorarily!), but if they win, then I reap the rewards – euphoria.

Gambling is irrational when the odds of defeat are greater than the odds of victory. In sports, this is almost always the case. Thirty teams want to win the championship. Only one will be able to fulfill that dream. Injuries, streaks, inches, centimeters weigh heavily every at inning, game and season. Teams are sometimes good, sometimes not. The Mets have won two World Series titles in 44 years. This is not a good bet.

Not only is being a fan irrational, we protect that irrationality. What would a “rational fan” look like? He or she would take a look at the teams; decide which team offered the greatest likelihood of success. He or she would then ride that team for as long as they held that status, and then switch to another team when the time was right. There are words for people like this. One is frontrunner. Others are not appropriate in mixed company.

Front running is vilified. By refusing to build the bond with a single club, they have given up their capital, they have sacrificed the depth of emotional tie we all hold with our club for the fleeting and minimal joy of victory. The ante at this table is suffering the losses, to be part of this game you have to give at least as much as you take.

But they rarely lose, and losing doesn't hurt as much when it does happen. Shouldn't we all join up? If the stakes are irrational, and the frontrunner wins more than they lose, shouldn't we all become frontrunners? Maybe we should - but I sure don't see any fans lining up. This brings me to my second point – we are irrational yes, but we ought to embrace that fact.

We have all made a choice about our stake in this team. Last season, a great Mets fan I know adopted the very apt poker slogan “all in.” We are all in with this team, each and every season. Even still, we are going to lose more than we win. It's as simple as that. We are gamblers playing against odds we can't escape and can't change. There is nothing more we can do except ride out the losses searching for the one jackpot the fates might grant us someday.
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So is this defeatism? Should just resign ourselves to heartbreak and defeat? Most assuredly not. Every time we put in our chips and lay it on the table we are putting our faith in the Mets. More often than not it isn't going to be rewarded. But we give them our faith each and every time regardless of that fact. Whenever Carlos Beltran steps up to the plate, I feel like he is going to hit a homerun. This is obviously irrational, but it's a by-product of putting it all on the table for a win.

It also gives us perspective on the other victories we win every year. We may not take the jackpot this year. We might not even take the consolation prize. But we've taken an NL East crown. We've won the excitement of a Jose Reyes inside the park homerun. Or of David Wright's game winner off Mariano Rivera. And of Carlos Beltran completing an epic comeback with a walk off against the Cardinals. You win some, and you lose some, and this year we've won a lot.

But that doesn't change anything. Tonight we face the Cardinals in a Game Seven. And I have complete and total faith that we are going to hammer them. I have complete and total faith that we are winning tonight and every day, right through <st1:state w:st="on">New York</st1:state> and <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:city w:st="on">Detroit</st1:city></st1:place>. I have complete and total faith that we will win it all. Rational? Not a chance. Do I care that it isn't? Not in the slightest – it simply means I'm a fan.
Written by Michael Ho.
Category: SPiN
Tags: Fan, Jets, Mets
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com