The Art of Being a Fan

by Greg Sullivan

The question is not asked nearly as much as it should be:  What exactly is a baseball fan?  What does it take to be a fan?  How do you become a fan?  What's the difference between a good fan and a bad fan?  While on a Labor Day trip to Boston, our buddy Ross Friedman and I visited Fenway Park for a Red Sox-Mariners game.  While Paul Abbott (Paul Abbott!) was busy no-hitting the Sox through seven, we had several occasions to tackle such trivial matters as what it takes to be a baseball fan.  We came up with a few litmus tests for anyone who considers themselves a true fan, or at the very least, someone who has any business being in a baseball stadium.  If you fail any of these tests, you can report back to the minors - the bus is waiting.  And you think I'm kidding...

Rule One: If the ball is in play, DON'T TOUCH IT!

You would think that this goes without saying, but surprisingly most fans don't know any better.  Actually, from now on I refuse to refer to these people as "fans" - they're just "people who attend games."  So anyway, most "people who attend games" don't know any better.

I can give you a great example from the Mariners game at Fenway.  Boston fans on the whole, although sometimes drunk and belligerent, are considered to be some of the most knowledgeable and dedicated fans in the game.  So when, in the fifth inning of a 2-0 game, a hitter for the Mariners lined a fair ball around first base and down the right field line and a "person who attended the game" reached onto the field and picked it up, Ross and I just stood there shocked.  We were seriously out in the bleachers screaming at this guy for being so stupid - and Ross is a Yankees fan!  The blunder allowed Mariner runners to advance to second and third when it initially looked like they would have to hold up at first and third, if not first and second.

And if that wasn't enough, this idiot turned around and raised his hands up in the air, expecting a standing ovation for making such a great play on the ball.  Well, he got what he deserved: a LOUD chorus of boos from all corners of the ballpark.  What he didn't get was a security guard assisted escort straight out onto Yawkey Way, where his minor league shuttle was waiting.  Under no circumstances should you touch a ball in play, unless of course it is handed to you by Benny Agbayani.  It's absolutely bewildering to me that more parks don't throw people out of stadiums for actions like this - it might be the only way that the WWF generation learns that baseball is a beautiful game that should be watched and appreciated, not an opportunity to get on TV.  Which brings me to my next point...

Rule Two: Stop waving!

How many times have you seen a game on TV where there's this one idiot behind the plate talking on a cell phone waving into the TV camera?  WHAT ARE YOU WAVING AT?!?

I can just imagine the conversation that these people might be having while they're annoying the hell out of 99% of the viewing audience:

Person attending the game: "Hi honey, I'm at the game!"
Person's wife: "Oh great, where are you?"
Person attending the game: "I'm right behind home plate - turn it to channel nine and you can see me."
Person's wife: "Hold on, let me go into the other room."
Person attending the game: "Are you there?"
Person's wife: "Yeah, but I can't see you..."
Person attending the game: "(waving arm) Can you see me now?"
Person's wife: "Oh yeah!  There you are!  Look kids, daddy's on TV!"
Person's kids: "Mommmmm!  Turn it back to wrestling!"
Person attending the game: "Hold on, I'll do it again for every pitch for the rest of this inning, then I'll give the phone to the guy next to me and he can do it for the next inning.  It'll be great!  Hey, I'm on TV!"

Good god.  There's NO excuse for this.  Yuppies who waste great seats at the ballpark with company tickets and don't even pay attention to the game just anger me.  You want to watch the game?  Pay the twenty bucks a ticket or whatever it is at your local ballpark and take your kids, your dad, an old friend, or even a date (trust me, it works...).  If you don't want to watch the game or don't want to pay for it, stay at home and watch it on TV (unless you live in Montreal, in which case you can start counting the days until hockey season).  If you want to take a client somewhere to impress him, for god's sake go to a five star restaurant or somewhere else where you can talk, and please, leave the cell phone at home.

A corollary to this rule is cell phone etiquette.  I personally wouldn't be caught dead with a cell phone anywhere but on the side of an interstate highway with a flat tire, never mind at a baseball game, but I do see how they could serve a purpose.  For example, at the Seattle-Boston game, Ross wanted to know the score of the Yankees game, which they weren't showing on the left field scoreboard for some reason, so he used his cell phone to called dad to find out.  Understandable, especially since the Sox and Yanks were battling for first place in the division.  Also, When Abbott took a no-hitter into the eighth, Ross called Warren to let him know so he could tune in if possible.  Of course, at this point, Ross jinxed the no-hitter, but that's another story...

One more note on waving - doing "the wave" is just plain annoying.  It's cool when you're ten or you're really, really drunk, but otherwise, it's just annoying.  But we won't outlaw it because kids love it, and baseball is all about the kids, or at least it should be.

Rule Three: Limit heckling to the two teams on the field

I originally thought this was more of a Boston-specific rule, but after hearing stories about Yankee fans starting a "Boston sucks" chant after a World Series win and witnessing, in person, at a Stanley Cup Finals game between the Devils and Stars, a "Rangers suck" chant, I'm convinced that this rule needs to be applied across the board.  I mean, come on.  If you're watching the Red Sox and Twins, you don't start a "Yankees suck" chant.  You just don't.  Not only does it have nothing to do with what you're watching, but it's poor sportsmanship and in most cases it just shows that you'd rather obsess over your rival than appreciate the effort of your own team. If you're going to pay for the ticket, cheer for your team and against your opponent, not against another team that's not even at the park that day.

And finally...

Rule Four: Stay for the whole game

Again, this is another one that should go without saying, but you'd be surprised. Back to the game in Boston again - Abbott still had his no-hitter working in the eighth inning the Red Sox had a man on (he walked), one out, and were down only 2-0 at that point. And people in the bleachers were getting up and leaving! People, you're watching a no-hitter! Put aside the fact that it's your team getting no-hit - hey, I did. I was still pulling for the Sox to break it up and put up some runs, but if they didn't, it would have been a memory that I could keep with me for the rest of my life. I mean, how many opportunities do you get to watch a no-hitter in person?

So these people are walking right past us as if there's nothing out of the ordinary going on. I mean, I can see that there might be a reason why you would need to leave early - you might have to pick up your kids from school or catch the last subway home, but this was a Sunday afternoon game. And even if you absolutely had to leave, at least try to do it discreetly so Ross and I don't yell at you. If I had to leave in the middle of a no-hitter, I would pull my shirt up over my head or something to at least conceal my identity to the other real fans there.

These people didn't have a care in the world - they just strolled past us, oblivious to the fact that history might have been made that night. Even as Ross and I tried to explain to them, albeit somewhat loudly, that the pitcher that night might do something that only a handful of people have done in the past, they just kept going.

What's the hurry - you got a bus to catch?

Send Sully your opinions, comments or verbal abuse at sully@JBaseball.

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