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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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A Fan's Question

There's an interesting discussion today over at Dan Shanoff's site about fandom.

Dan is a pal of mine — he was on the same bill as Greg and me at Varsity Letters last winter — and besides being salt of the earth, he's one of the most knowledgeable, enthusiastic sports fans you'll meet. That said, there's one very odd thing about him, which I've never known another sports fan to let go unremarked: He never had a boyhood team. No hometown team. No team to which he gave his undying, unconditional love, come hell or high water or heaven. Dan's only allegiance is to the Florida Gators — but he didn't go to Florida. His wife grew up in Gainesville; the Gators are her team, and he adopted them.

I know, I know. To born-and-bred crazies like us that sounds contrived at best and faintly sinister at worst. But Dan's completely genuine, and unapologetic about the oddity of both his rooting interest and the way it developed. Which he addresses here. It's an interesting tale, told well and told honestly, and it's generated a lot of reaction — most of it very thoughtful, some of it pretty visceral. (For example: “huge hypocrite” and “BS bandwagon fairweather fandom,” and those aren't even some of the nastiest ones.)

Here's the part that set Dan's critics off. It also happens to be the crux of the argument:

…I argue that making an active choice about my fandom — even pushing 30, in what some would describe as a “mid-fan-life-crisis” — wasn't just acceptable, but arguably superior to the more traditional, passive roots of sports allegiance:

Biology: Let me guess -– you root for your favorite team because it's the team your father rooted for, and he “passed it on” to you. While I agree that's a nice way for parent and child to bond, it smacks of inheritance rather than fandom earned through independent, thoughtful decision.

Geography: Another accident of circumstance. Your fandom is less about the team itself and more about having a sense of civic pride.

Besides a question of tone (“arguably superior” waves a red flag at a lot of bulls), I think the disconnect is that Dan is trying to be rational about what for most fans is a product of irrationality — and in my experience people will do most anything to avoid having to admit to themselves or to others that they behave irrationally.

I'm not one of them. I can tell you why I'm a Met fan: One of my earliest memories is being about four and seeing my mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. When you're a toddler and your mother is behaving bizarrely in response to something, you focus on that something and desperately need to classify it and understand why it's important, usually either by being frightened of it or by embracing it wholeheartedly so you're not left outside of it. I chose the latter. (Big surprise: Rusty Staub was my first favorite player.)

I won't say that story is 100% accurate (what family tale passed down from the time you're four is?), but in every way that matters it's true. And I'm aware it's utterly ridiculous. I've spent the better part of 34 years agonizing over a ever-changing cast of young men playing a game in goofy outfits because I was taken aback by something I saw my mom doing in 1973? Well, yeah. More or less.

Instead of that story, I could rattle on for about the millionth time in these pages about pitching and defense and miracles and taking your best shot even if it's at your own feet and believing and the difference between believing and expecting — about Faith and Fear, in other words. And all that stuff is true — but it's also the pearl that's formed around the bit of sand that got caught in the works.

Did I choose to be a Met fan? No — just as I suspect most Met fans (or Dolphin fans or Jazz fans or whatever) didn't. And I think it's this having not chosen that makes “traditional” fans so suspicious of — and often hostile to — any fan who does seem to have made a choice. It doesn't really matter if it's a “good” choice (got swept up in a team after moving to a new city, fell in love with a girl) or a “bad” choice (Team X is in first place, Team X is the Yankees). Either is at least slightly suspect to those of us who never chose.

I embrace (or perhaps have thoroughly internalized) the irrationality of fandom — the world is comparatively rational, and it's also frequently dull or depressing (though also frequently beautiful and wonderful), and constantly demands you engage and strategize and figure out how to get between arbitrary points A and B. Which is fine — I deal with the world perfectly well, thanks — but sometimes a respite is welcome. In fandom I'm swept up in a cause whose outcome I can't possibly control, and part of something larger — a community of people also living and dying on the outcome of something they can't affect any more than I can. Fandom is a form of surrender no rational person would find wise — what idiot gives his or her heart to a bunch of rich kids to do with as they will? But in that surrender, in those three hours a night, I'm free. (And if that talk of surrender and being part of something bigger sounds a bit like religion — let go and let Gotay — well, that's no accident. This is my religion. I don't begrudge anyone theirs and I don't apologize for mine.)

I wonder if Dan feels transported by sports the way Greg and Emily and Charlie and Laurie and all the rest of us do. Can he, without the wellsprings of childhood and place and memory, without having been washed in grief and hope and wonder before his emotions were fully formed? Without irrationality, in other words? I can't know and he can't know — which, again, is not unlike religion. In the end we are all of us — not just childhood fans and newly minted ones — mysteries to each other.

(Whoa. So heavy. Let the record also show that baseball is beautiful, rewards intensive scrutiny and casual attention alike, and an excellent excuse for drinking beer, eating hot dogs and sitting in the sunshine.)

12 comments to A Fan's Question

  • Anonymous

    Interesting topic, to be sure (if it weren't, the likes of us would be out of business). I have to admit if I met Dan for than the minute that I did at Varsity Letters and he told me he was a Gators fan because of his wife's allegiance, I'd probably say “oh.” For someone who laid down 40+ Commandments for being a Mets fan, I'm remarkably nonjudgmental about your allegiances as long as you're not a jerk about it.
    (My nonjudgmentalness, of course, is blacked out as concerns baseball choices in the New York Metropolitan Area.)
    Per your question about being transported by sports, I'm reminded of the February night in 2002 when, with zero information about the context of the competition about to take place (or be shown on tape-delay; I don't remember if it was “plausibly live”) and less than zero interest in the sport itself, I was fixated on Sarah Hughes winning the Olympic gold medal in figure skating. Yes, probably because of the hook of geography (Sarah and I lived in the same county), but I have lots of neighbors I don't like. The point is if you appreciate sports at all, you are capable of being taken away for a spell by them, even via the actions of teams or individuals you've just encountered and with whom you probably won't remain in touch for very long thereafter. Doesn't necessarily make you a bandwagoneer, especially if you're not a jerk about it. It just makes you a human with a functioning pulse.
    As for my current team of the week, losing 2-1 isn't really any more useful than losing 13-1.

  • Anonymous

    Can you love the game of Baseball-or any team sport-without a favorite team to follow? Yes, certainly!Then again you can have your meat without potato's..
    I have wondered about being a fan. Why I care. The answers are perhaps as numerous as they are obvious.
    However, I could not imagine being a fan of any team sport without a focus-an anchor-especially in this day and age of over expansion.
    My slight obsession with Baseballs past-Giants of the Polo Grounds-I
    think stems from the need for a safe haven in which I cant be hurt or disappointed. I simply cant split my loyalties between two contemporaries. The Giants can never lose another game. Its perfect!
    Bottom line-I cant imagine being a fan without a team. The concept I can understand on an intellectual level but from a human standpoint I couldn't understand why anyone would bother…
    Rich

  • Anonymous

    Very interesting topic. I have been a Mets fan since 1973. As an 11 year-old girl I chose to become a Mets fan. This was very strange for a girl, living in Eastern PA, in the middle ot Phillies country, to become a Mets fan. But because of where I lived we had cable in our house way back then and received not only Philadelphia channels, we got New York channels too. Neither my mother or father were baseball fans, but I became so passionate about the Mets they became fans too. I found the Mets through my neighbor's cousin, who was a boy and a Mets fan. I fell in love with the Mets history and read all I could about them. I have never waivered on my fandom. It could have been easy with the Phillies and Yankees doing well in the late 70s. It has been tough sometimes to be a Mets fan, but it has been well worth it and I can't imagine being a baseball fan without being a Mets fan.

  • Anonymous

    My husband is kind of in that boat. He grew up in Washington State, pre-Mariners. The closest baseball allegiance he had was to the Montreal Expos, because in the days before cable television he could follow the Expos on the CBC.
    When he came to New York for college at age 18, he adopted the Mets as his team shortly after we started dating. This was in 1979, mind you, so you could hardly call him a bandwagoner (the truth be told, two-years past the Seaver trade, my fandom was pretty minimal at that moment in time). He has been a Mets fan through-and-through from that point forward.
    So he didn't have a childhood team, but he wasn't quite the fully-formed adult at that point either. He didn't have a childhood history of Metdom, but he has been a Mets fan most of his life and has formed a Mets history that includes the good as well as the (very) bad. He may not be transported as far back as I am by the Mets, but I think that by this point he experiences most of the connection that I do.

  • Anonymous

    IP, I have a story similar to yoru husband's. My Dad is an academic and so we moved around every 3 years or so when I was a kid as he climbed the academic ladder. As a result, I never had a “hometown” team and was living in Oxford, England from ages 5-8, when I think many fans begin their fandom. I concentrated on individual players – Joe Morgan and then Mike Schmidt – and rooted accordingly (yes, I wanted the Phils to win in '80).
    What I did do was become a baseball fan. I read everything I could about the game and its history and paid attention to what was going on in both leagues. Went to Cooperstown a couple of times.
    In the Fall of '81, as a college freshman, I met my future wife, who lived in the room above mine. She was (and is) a hardcore Met fan from the Five Towns. She transfused me with her blue & orange blood and I'm now, after 26+ years, even more rabid than she. Frankly, I'm the biggest Met fan I know.

  • Anonymous

    Hughes is a good example — I had the same experience, going from being mildly interested in her story to jumping up and down in amazement and glee a couple of hours later.
    On the other hand, I saw her skate like one more time after that, and I didn't really care. I remember being a little disappointed that I didn't, that she was once again just some mostly anonymous figure-skater.

  • Anonymous

    Jace,
    What you don't remember, and probably even scarier, was my yelling and jumping up and down for Tommie Agee in the 1969 World Series. This was serious bizarre behavior, especially since you were only five months old and II was holding you. My performance for Rusty Staub was mild in comparison.
    Your Mom

  • Anonymous

    Yes Mikeski, there are similarities.
    Like you, my husband grew up a big sports fan – he merely lacked a team of his own.

  • Anonymous

    I believe I've told most people on here why I'm a Met fan:
    My Dad was a Yankee fan until they fired Casey Stengel. “That damn, Weiss! Casey got a raw deal!”
    So, when I was born — during Casey's last active spring training — I was immediately admitted to the club.
    My dad taught me to repect 4 things, in this order: God, Country, Parents, Tom Seaver.

  • Anonymous

    I didn't have a father, and my mother wasn't interested in sports. My only connection to sports at an early age (very late 60s/early 70s or so) was a teenage cousin who was a Yankee fan. I started liking the Yankees mainly to please him (I was a small child and he was my only male influence). And I felt sorry for them, because they were so bad.
    I came to be an actual Met fan at the age of 9, initially at the urging of a favorite aunt, but I got swept up in the drama and excitement of 1973 on my own. I also continued to like the Yankees because there was no reason not to, at the time. I juggled both teams, much as I now juggle the Mets and Twins, until Thurman Munson passed in '79. Then “Reggie's Yankees” really started to leave a bad taste in my mouth. I discarded them quickly and easily, and turned my full attention to the horrible, horrible Mets. Bless their little cotton socks.
    Geography plays no part whatsoever in any of my allegiances. As a kid in NY, I closely followed the Cowboys, the SuperSonics, Duke basketball and Texas A&M football. I was obsessed with the 1934 Cardinals. And as an adult, I am hopelessly devoted to the Minnesota Twins… I either watch or listen to every game. A team's success or failure doesn't faze me either. If I love you in first place, I love you just as much in last.
    But in general, baseball has been a part of me–by choice–since I was a child. My first love, the thing (outside of the standard requisites of family and friends) that matters most. The thing that can make me the happiest or most miserable I've ever been. Politics is a close second, but second nonetheless. From April to October, if I'm not at a game, I'm watching one (or three, or five). And even if I am at a game, I've got my portable satellite radio with me so I can listen to other games. (IT'S THAT IMPORTANT, DADGUMMIT!!!) In the offseason (shudder), I watch old games. It's a sickness.
    PS: Thanks for the shout-out, Jace. xoxo

  • Anonymous

    Of course being a sports fan is irrational and illogical. It's our fascination and obsession with the irrational and illogical that goes a great way in shaping the human mold. Doesn't anybody watch Star Trek?
    I'm a Met fan because I grew up in the 80's, and have lived in Queens my whole life, plain and simple. My earliest memories of baseball was that everyone, everyone, was a Met fan. So I had to be. I still remember the day, in 86 or 87, when I was sitting on the schoolbus on my way home when a girl near the radio yelled out, “Darryl Strawberry just hit a home run!” and the bus kids went wild. It was amazing, and I had to join in (and yes Jason, big surprise: Darryl Strawberry was my first favorite Met). I remember assemblies in elementary school when the principal would lead the entire auditorium in Lets Go Mets chants. He challeneged us to be heard all the way at Shea, and we yelled our lungs off. It was great.
    Then I went over to Junior High in a different part of Queens in 91, and suddenly there are no Met fans. I was one of two. Remember, this was 1991, so I got razzed plenty for it. I would always repond by saying, “you're not a Met fan?” And whomever it would be would always reply, “No way, I've been a Yankee fan my whole life,” and I called every single one of them a liar. They had to be!
    The following school year of the lovely early 90's, we had a remarkable assistant coach in Little League who literally yelled at me for being a Mets fan every time I made an error at practice. “STOP WATCHING THE METS,” he'd yell out. “THAT'S WHY YOU'RE MAKING THOSE MISTAKES! WATCH THE YANKEES, THEY KNOW HOW TO PLAY THE GAME!” The following week, another practice, another dropped ball…
    “Still watching the Mets?”
    “Of course.”
    “I TOLD YOU NOT TO WATCH THEM ANYMORE! THAT'S WHY YOU'RE PLAYING SO BAD!”
    I know that whole scene may seem a little over the top and goofy, but it happened, and this guy was dead serious. As traumatic as it was, I'm kinda happy it happened. It helped form a nice, tough, “fuck you, I'm a Met fan” shell around my existence.
    I realize this is a long-winded response, but it all makes perfect sense when you look at the timeline of it:
    childhood-I was a Met fan because everyone told me I should be.
    adolesence-I was a Met fan because everyone told me I shouldn't be.
    Today? I'm a Met fan because it's all I've ever known, and all I've ever wanted to know.

    Is it April yet?!?!? I'm willing to let bygones be bygones with the 2007 team.