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Guide to Sports Enthusiasm for the Casual Fan

It’s been over a month since I’ve posted, but that’s probably because I’ve been so busy being a huge sports fan.

I’ve always liked pastoral, easy-to-understand, American-like-apple-pie baseball.  I never had much interest in anything else.  Football, for example, manages somehow to be at once both very dull and overly brutal.

However, since my parents started getting season tickets to the Washington Capitals, I’ve been attending hockey games, too — usually as the last-round draft pick, to employ a sports metaphor.  I’m not quite sure why I’m at the bottom of the pecking order when a ticket is available.  On an unrelated note, I don’t fathom why every so often the players stop skating around trying to shoot the puck into the net and instead all gather by one of those dots painted on the ice to stare at each other.

Anyway, I get why people like sports.  I really do.  And when fandom was foist upon me, I didn’t resist it by smugly pointing out that sports are only for the unwashed masses, and then excusing myself to attend a foreign art-house film.

You, too, can enjoy sports without turning into an obsessed nutcase.

1) Avoid the diehards fans.  Many of these are crazed lunatics who plan everything that happens in their lives around game times.  In this group, you will find those who will snap your leg in two while diving for a foul ball whose trajectory is clearly propelling it away from them and toward you; who carp if you block their view of the game for more than 2 seconds; who grumpily complain about The Wave.  Ironically, the ones who should be watching on tv at home so their laser focus on the plays can remain undisturbed are always the ones taking themselves to the stadium to make the game un-fun for everyone else.

2) Enjoy the swag.  Sometimes there’s good stuff (caps, t-shirts).  Sometimes there’s not (foam hockey stick hats).  I say, take whatever you can get for free, because if you drive to Baltimore on a chilly day and hope to buy an Orioles sweatshirt at Camden Yards, it’s going to cost you $120.  That’s right: one hundred dollars plus twenty more.

3) Ignore the kids as much as you can.  Too often I’ve experienced a group of two or more adults who sit together while the children in tow fan out around them.  If parents would make a “sandwich” around the kids in their care, it could possibly reduce the number of people bothered by their children to just the adults accompanying them.  Instead, what usually happens is an 8-year-old boy sits next to me, his father is several rows away, the nearest adult in his party is several seats away, and he spends the whole game stepping on my foot, elbowing me, and kicking my shoulder as he repeatedly climbs over the seat.

4) Don’t engage in booing.  Referees and umpires are fair game, but I don’t understand the negativity toward the other team.  For example, at the recent Capitals vs. Rangers playoff game, the Capitals fans would respond to the Ranger chants with “RANGERS SUCK!”  This makes no sense on a number of levels.  For one, it’s patently incorrect: they quite obviously don’t suck; they’re in the playoffs.  They, in fact, don’t suck to such a degree that the game went into overtime before the Capitals won.  And if, in fact, the Rangers did suck, it would just be mean and un-sportsman-like to point it out.

When I suggested to my mother, who asked me to attend with her when no one else was available, that a more accurate response to Ranger fans’ theatrics than “RANGERS SUCK!” would be “RANGERS FANS, PLEASE STOP BEING SO OBNOXIOUS IN OUR STADIUM!” she assured me that if I would start it, she would try to take it up, but perhaps I could write it down for her first.

A word on visiting fans and team chants:  If you are rooting for the visiting team, don’t be a jackass in someone else’s stadium.  It’s one thing to cheer for your team; it’s another to be a jerk about it.  For big rivals, I’ve learned this can turn into a pissing contest in which one fan base attempts to out-shout the other.  This can be confusing for the casual fan because every single team in every sport has the exact same chant: “LET’S GO, [TEAM NAME]!”

5) Cheer whenever and whoever you want.  When I mentioned circumstances in which I might cheer for the other team, like, they did something really spectacular, my parents were aghast.  My mother accused me of being a “fair-weather fan,” and my father then began listing with total seriousness the limited circumstances in which it is acceptable to show appreciation for the other team (example: “when a player is injured and led off the field”).  This thinking is what produces the strain of rabid loyalty evinced by everyone’s favorite sorority girl.

Plus, it may be genuinely difficult to figure out which team is yours, because they all wear the same four colors.

Here might be the place to point out that players themselves don’t really have any loyalty to the teams they play for.  Most of them make more than God, and they follow the money.

6) Resist placing yourself on the roster, i.e., “we”-ing.  Overheard recently from one fan to a rival: “You didn’t even make it past the playoffs last year!”  I don’t think you did either, buddy.  I’m pretty sure you were sitting on your ass during all those games.  If there’s a sense of encompassing the whole team, town, and fan base, I may talk about what “we” did.  But the more detailed and action-specific we-ers tend to sound ridiculous:

“We really killed stealing that base, even though we weren’t running fast, and then in the next inning when we hit that home run, I knew we were going to win.”

– Man who watched all of this from his seat

On second thought, maybe I should start taking more credit for my contributions to sports.  I buy the t-shirts, I Metro to the games, I cheer, I eat hot dogs, I get kicked by unruly brats.  The whole thing is kind of a pain in the ass that takes a lot of time, effort, and expense.  At the last Capitals game, the swag was a fan-appreciation floppy hat.  It occurred to me that I should be recognized for putting up with it all.  As I tried the hat on, I thought, I deserve this.

Photo: Capitals Game, Verizon Center, April 2013
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