On the World Series and the Experiences of Fandom
Baseball fandom is a personal experience. People become fans for many different reasons, and their interest waxes and wanes over the course of their life for different reasons as well. For some people, fandom is driven by an intense loyalty to their city. Others are motivated by an attachment to certain players. Sometimes, people fall in love with a team as a child for no reason other than the color of their uniforms. I, like many others, am a fan because I share this connection with my family.
My experience as a fan is not particularly atypical. As a child growing up in Los Angeles, I was surrounded by Dodger fans. I spent a few years of my childhood trying out being a fan of different teams, with my choices usually being motivated by whichever Little League team I happened to be on that season. I always came back to the Dodgers, though, and I settled into rooting for them exclusively by the time I was about ten. It gave me a commonality with people around me, and it allowed me to just sit down with my family and watch a game and root for the same thing.
To those of you who follow me on Twitter, my Dodger fandom is not a surprise. But while I root for the Dodgers, the message of this story is applicable beyond my specific relationship with my favorite team. Instead, it is about the fan experience. Fandom is about more than winning, although winning is great.
Until this year, the Dodgers had not been to a World Series since 1988, so I had never experienced a journey like this one. A 29-year drought may not seem like very long to middle-aged Cleveland fans, or to Brewers’ fans who have never seen a title and haven’t even seen an appearance since 1982. But I had never seen one either, and so, selfishly, I equated my struggles with everyone else’s.
Last Thursday, though, I was able to watch a baseball game with my parents. And I was able to watch the team we had rooted for together for over twenty years finally make the World Series. Despite the unbelievable talent this team has had, the constant playoff failures had made me wonder if this team would get over the hump. As an objective analyst, obviously, I knew that more playoff appearances meant greater chances. But as a fan, I doubted whether I would actually see it. I figured that any drought wouldn’t last one hundred years, but this was something I wanted to experience with my family.
I am not going to pretend to be able to tell anyone how to be a fan, nor am I going to tell anyone to be happy with settling for anything less than a championship. But as the Dodgers lost four NLCS in nine years, I wondered if I had lost my chance to see this generation play in the World Series. Maybe Clayton Kershaw’s back problems would derail the pitching staff, and maybe the development pipeline would run dry. Maybe too many balls would bounce the wrong way, like when a Joe Kelly fastball broke one of Hanley Ramirez’s ribs in Game 1 of the 2013 NLCS.
As I thought about that possibility, and my experience with being a fan over the last few years, I came to realize that there were other moments I would treasure. I spoke to my dad nearly every day during the incredible and surprising 42-8 run in 2013, and I shared the stressful experience of watching Clayton Kershaw close out Game 5 of the NLDS against the Nationals last year. These are the reasons I am a Dodger fan, because of the shared experiences and commonalities, and they would not go away just because the team didn’t make a World Series.
I have now written for this website for over two years, and, as you might imagine, I have grown fond of the Brewers as I’ve followed them every day. I don’t have the familial or geographic connection that many of you have, so I have become attached for other reasons. I enjoy seeing the blue and gold ball-in-glove logo when the team breaks it out, and Ryan Braun’s swing remains a thing of beauty. The Eric Thames experience is a lot of fun, as is watching this new crop of young players emerge and fight for their place on the big league team.
I watch Brewers’ games differently from most of you, but we all appreciate different aspects of the baseball fandom experience. For some people, a championship is the only goal worth pursuing. But for others, the journey of the season is part of the fun. And the day-in, day-out experience of watching and rooting provides smaller moments of enjoyment that are worth treasuring.
Once in a job interview, someone asked me why I thought baseball had a special place in American culture. I didn’t have a great answer for that, and I still don’t (and maybe the answer is that it doesn’t anymore). For me, though, it is special because it is a constant presence from April through October. For six months, your team plays basically every day, and watching or following becomes a daily habit. I did this with my dad growing up, and even though I’m now off on my own in the world, I know that he is following along the same way I am.
Seeing my favorite team go to the World Series has been an incredible journey. It’s a lot of fun, and this is a particularly engaging incarnation. But I have also enjoyed following other versions of this team, and those have provided their own highlights. Expanding my focus to the Brewers as well has encouraged me to think more critically about my relationship with the Dodgers, and as a result I have focused more on the smaller moments.
Meg Rowley recently compared sports to art, and this analogy struck me because it mirrored the development in my own thinking about how I interact with baseball. Each of us sees a painting or a sculpture differently, just as we engage with music differently. Art is personal because it speaks to us on an individual level, and so do sports. We get enjoyment from different aspects of the game and for different reasons, and it is this individuality that explains why the sporting experience is different for everyone. I am sharing my story here, but it is not the only story worth telling.
These differences should be celebrated, as they are part of the human experience. The small moments can be as important as the larger ones, and they keep us coming back in hope of the one big celebration. I have now gotten to share that experience, but it doesn’t invalidate those daily memories. In some ways, those smaller days outweigh this one, because my constant enjoyment is what kept me coming back, and it is what will keep me coming back. Counting on World Series berths for enjoyment is exhausting; watching the team wearing jerseys with my city on it play every night is not.
Photo Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki, USAToday Sports