The Comfort and Curse of Being a Fan

fandom

Fanatic – aka fan: A person filled with excessive and single minded zeal. A person who is extremely interested in something, to a degree that some people find unreasonable.

I’ve been a sports junkie all my life. Football, basketball, hockey, golf (sometimes), NASCAR (even less than golf), it doesn’t matter. I enjoy the real life drama, the underdog stories, and the unpredictability of the each game and how a season unfolds.

Baseball has always been the center of my sports universe, and is my king of sports. I played the sport from little league through (Division 3) college, and loved the competition, comradery and esprit de corps involved in performing as part of a collective group striving to win a game and attain a seasonal goal. With the other sports, my interest will wane if my team is in the midst of a down year, but not with baseball. I follow and watch my team through thick and thin, regardless of whether they are exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, or falling below expectations.

The Red Sox sit atop that kingly throne, and have since the Impossible Dream year of 1967, when I was eight years old.

Fandom is a double edged sword, however. When your team wins the ultimate prize, you experience a joy that is pure. The problem is that teams flame out or outright suck a lot more than they win, and my journey with the Sox over these fifty two years has been the ultimate test of loyalty, sadomasochism, and orgasmic bliss.

Any long-term Sox fan will cringe at and mourn the memories of 1967, 1972, 1975, 1978, 1986 and 2003. Eighty six years of cruelty, where every time they were on the precipice of ultimate triumph, they found a way to lose in the most unbelievable and macabre manner, with each new defeat surpassing the cruelty of the previous episode. It was torture, so much so that I not so kiddingly told a friend who was taking his young children to Fenway Park for the first time that he could be charged with child abuse if he raised his kids to be Red Sox fans.

Then came 2004, where all the ghosts were exorcised in the most deliciously unexpected way against our historical nemesis, the Yankees. I remember wanting to put my foot through the television after the 19-8 drubbing that put the Sox in a three games to none hole. This was supposed to be the year, and the Sox were a powerhouse team. But they shit the bed badly in the championship series, which culminated with that drubbing on their home field.

I was angry, embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated, and absolutely dreaded the prospect of being force-fed a truckload of shit from my Yankee friends, who took perverse joy in ripping open the old wounds and pouring a ton of salt into them when the Yanks finished us off. Then the miracle happened. The self-proclaimed idiots won the next four games, the only team in baseball history to accomplish that feat, to win the pennant, and then polished off the Cardinals in four straight to win the World Series for the first time in a lot of people’s lifetimes.

Not only was the curse suddenly lifted, but my beloved Sox won the World Series three more times since then. I would have been happy with that one in 2004, but this generation of Red Sox fans have known nothing but success. The little the bastards don’t know how good they have it.

So why aren’t I happy?

Ah, that’s the thing about being a fan. Our memories are short, and for Sox fans of my generation, the scars from those years preceding 2003 never go away. That’s irrational, I know, but there is nothing rational about being a fan.

This year is a perfect case in point. Last year was historical for the Boston nine. They won more games than any Red Sox team in history, had an angst free season, which is almost impossible for the die-hard Sox fan, and rolled through the playoffs, which culminated in their fourth title in the last fourteen years.

I had been looking forward to this year more than any year I can remember. I wasn’t expecting another title because that is extremely hard to accomplish, and hasn’t occurred since 2000. But I truly believed that if any team could do it, this was the one because virtually everyone on from last year’s team was returning. The team is young, hungry and humble, and I fantasized about a more difficult year, but one where they ultimately prevailed and made history. I even went so far as purchasing a partial season ticket plan so I could see my dreams unfold into reality. Then the season started.

My Red Sox lost eight of their first ten games, and looked like complete horseshit in the process. It hasn’t gone much better since then. Their record currently stands at 10-15 as I write this, and it could easily be much worse. I’ve been muttering the same thing over and over to myself for the last two weeks: how can a team that was simply awesome last year and finished with a record of 119-57, including the playoffs, look like complete doggy-doo? I still don’t have an answer, other than it is the nature of the sport.

You can’t always tell how bad a team is playing on television, but you sure as hell can in person. I’ve been to two games so far this year where they played teams they wiped the floor with last year, and they have lost both of them. They weren’t even competitive in the first game I saw against an Oriole team that lost 115 games last year, then graduated to mediocre in the second against the Tigers, who had the worst offense in the league going into the series.

This is where the insanity of fandom comes in because everything about the Red Sox is personal to me.  I’m soooooooo pissed right now I can’t see straight. I’ve vowed not to watch them on television until they get their act together, which will never happen. I’ve written the season off on at least three occasions already, which is nuts given they play for six months. I see the them falling father and farther behind the other teams in their division and openly wonder if they will even make the playoffs this year.

It’s at times like these that I ask myself, why? Why do I get so invested in a game where, as K is fond of saying, all the players do is spit and touch themselves while making insane amounts of money? Why is my mood so influenced by the team’s performance? I mean, if they were expected to suck it wouldn’t matter, but these guys are really good, so it does. But why? It’s just a fucking game, after all. Nobody is dying, so what’s the big deal?

Ahhhh, but to the true fan, the fan who fits the definition that started this piece, it is life and death. Otherwise, how can a normally calm, level-headed, rational and intelligent guy like myself be reduced to a sulking five year old when the season isn’t even a month old? The answer is simple. Once it is in your blood, all rational thought goes out the window, and one is led by their emotions. My emotions are that of a kid and young adult that had his heart continuously stepped on until 2004, so when things don’t go my way with the team, I go back until that sad, hopeless place. Every….single….time!

So while the pleasure and euphoria of winning a championship is exquisite, the flip side to that coin is times like these, which, if the truth be told, happens nine times out of ten.

I must be nuts putting myself through this, but I have no choice. I am as hooked on the Red Sox as an addict is to their favorite drug. So in many respects, being a hard-core fan of any team is a sort of mental illness.

Maybe I should get a copy of the DSM-5 and see if it’s listed among the other abnormal psychology diagnoses.

 

The Ecstasy and Agony of Being a Fan

fan

I have always been a sports fan, dating back to the Impossible Dream season of 1967 when I was eight years old. I was also an athlete, having played every sport I could growing up, all the way through college where I played varsity baseball. Golf was also a favorite pastime, although some will argue that isn’t a sport.

My ability to golf or participate in any sport obviously came to a crashing halt once MS reared it’s ugly head, but the fan in me remains strong. My passion is baseball, and my addiction is the Red Sox, but I am also heavily invested in the NFL (Packers since the Lombardi days) and UConn college basketball. You can add the Boston Celtics to that list, although until recently I had given up watching any NBA games, and the Boston Bruins, although the Whalers were my team of choice until they left Hartford.

Sports has always been an escape. Some people like dramatic television or movies, but those are scripted and in many ways predictable. What I love about sports is that it is completely unscripted, can be as dramatic as anything you see and read, and it is something I can relate to having played teams sports for such a long time.

The state of my teams is as good as it could possibly be.  The Red Sox are having a historic year, the  Packers have the best quarterback in the game and an improved defense that could serve them very well on their march to the Super Bowl. The Celtics are relevant again and should challenge for the NBA crown. The UConn men have a new head coach and should return to their winning ways soon, and the women’s team is a dynasty. The Bruins….well, I’m more of a hockey fan than a Bruins fan in all honesty, and I don’t really start paying attention to the sport until the Stanley Cup playoffs are near.

I should be thrilled right now, particularly about the Red Sox, but I’m not, and that is because I take the state of my teams way too personally, and this is where the agony come in.

Here’s the thing. This edition of the Red Sox will be the greatest in their long history as far as the regular season is concerned, but that won’t mean shit if they don’t win it all, and they aren’t playing well right now.

They entered a three games series with the Yankees on Tuesday, and the Yankees were reeling. All they needed to do to clinch the division was win one game, but I wanted more than that. I wanted them to stomp the snot out of New York, win all three games and leave no question about who was the top dog.

Instead, they just lost the first two games and have not looked good doing it. Even worse, they may have given hope and confidence to a Yankee team that has not been playing well the last two months, and that is about the worst thing that could possbly happen from my perspective. You want teams to crest as the playoffs arrive, and that ain’t happening for my Sox right now. Given the nature of this rivalry, this season has provided me with ample opportunity talk smack with Yankee fans, but guess who the Sox will probably play in the first round of the playoffs? And guess who is just itching to give back what they have been receiving in spades all season long?

The Red Sox have flamed out of the first round of the playoffs each of the last two years, and if that happens again this year, especially if the Yankees are the team that does it, not only is this team going to be known as a fraud, I am going to have to take so much shit from Yankee fans that it will be coming out of my eyes, ears, nose, and every other orifice I can think of.  This often feels like a fate worse than death, especially when you consider the history of those two teams playing head to head.

Up until 2004, I knew nothing but heartache, which was made infinitely worse because most of the Yankee fans I have known are true assholes when it comes to rubbing it in. But they have the history behind them, and if you get in this arena you have to expect it and take it. That is why coming back from a three game to none deficit to those dreaded Yankees to win the American League pennant was so orgasmic in 2004. No team in baseball history had done it before, and it was almost as if the Gods had conspired to have the Sox exorcise their demons in the most glorious way possible, while the Yanks lost in the most humiliating way possible. Justice was sweet!

If the Red Sox lose a game they should have won, or look bad during a particular stretch of games, my mood is beyond foul. As you can probably tell, I’m pretty pissed about things right now, and that will exponentially escalate if they don’t win tonight’s game. That will have meant they squandered a chance to clinch the division against their most bitter foe, spit up a hairball by losing all thee games, and gave a floundering team confidence in the process. Keep the shape objects away please.

Although nothing can touch the passion I have about baseball and the Red Sox, football comes close. The fallout from games is worse in some ways because they only play once a week, and I have seven days to stew over a loss. The game is so visceral that it is hard not to get completely engrossed in the emotion of it, and because they don’t play every day, the high from wins are higher and the lows from the losses are lower. I’m still mad as hell that Minnesota tied the Packers last Sunday, primarily due to an awful call by the refs towards the end of the game. This will stick in my craw until they play Washington on Sunday. A win will make the world right again while a loss will make me rue the day I became a sports fan for about the millionth time.

I know it’s silly to let a game where the players make more money than I will see in my lifetime and who, as K likes to say, spit and touch their crotch way too much, dictate my outlook on life. But I can’t help it, and I know there are a lot of people like me out there.

Having a team in the playoffs is thrilling, but it also takes the joy out of watching the games. When these games involve teams I don’t love or hate, I can watch them for the pure enjoyment and spectacle of the sport. It is a completely stress-free experience.

That all changes when my teams are involved because now I have some skin in the game, and it feels like a life or death struggle. The tension becomes unbearable at times, but the joy that results from going all the way is supreme, makes the journey worthwhile, and provides a warm glow that lasts well into the next season.

On the other hand, getting eliminated, particularly if my team blows the game, is unequaled in its agony and the despair that follows. These two sides of the pillow represent the Ying and the Yang of being a fanatic. There are times where I honestly wish I could jump off the bandwagon and swear off being a fan of any team, but unless I come down with a permanent form of amnesia, that isn’t going to happen. It’s in my DNA, and is my one true addiction. Otherwise, why would I put myself through so much torment?

So, when the baseball playoffs start, I will strap on the seatbelts and watch the games, hoping for the best and expecting the worst. I will live and die with each inning, each win and each loss until the season comes to an end. Maybe I should dull the senses and anesthetize myself with alcoholic beverages or the MMJ while watching the games. Maybe I should DVR the games and watch them if the Red Sox win but delete them if they lose. Maybe I should find a lucky talisman and keep it around. Any other suggestions you might have will be entertained.

I am supremely confident that if the Red Sox get to the World Series they will bring home their fourth crown in fourteen years,  but the AL is stacked with good teams and those fucking Yankees are going to be an obstacle. If the season does end prematurely, my only hope is isn’t against those guys. And if they do lose, maybe the Packers will take some of the sting out of it by winning the Super Bowl.

If the Sox and Packers both disappoint, I will survive. But it will be a very long, sad winter.