Here's a piece I originally wrote for school about reasons for being a baseball fan. It seems like it might fit well on this site. Please excuse any proof reading errors I may have made, my last round of proof reading never got saved by the computer. Nothing terrible, I hope. I hope you guys like it.
Earl Wilson, the Boston Red Sox first African American pitcher, once said, "A baseball game is simply a nervous breakdown divided into nine innings." For any true baseball fan, these words are sure to ring true. A baseball game can be simultaneously both the most beautiful and most nerve-racking drama ever acted out on a sports field. To no one is this truth more evident than to me. As a fan of the San Francisco Giants, I know to the fullest extent the emotional powers of baseball.
The 2002 baseball season was an extremely formative time for my baseball psyche. It is the first season I can remember following the Giants, and the first season that I was truly involved in baseball. 2002 was also the first season that the Giants made it to the World Series in thirteen years. I remember vividly dancing around the house with glee as the Giants played their way to a series lead. I savored every moment of the first five games as the Giants took a 3-2 lead. The Giants would need to win only one more game to come away with their first World Series Title in 48 years. I remember this being the first time my parents significantly extended my bed time, making the gravity of the moment crystal clear to me. If Barry Bonds and the 2002 Giants could hold off my bed time, no group of rag-tag Angels was going to stop them. I was part of a wonderful ride culminating in a historical climax. The half-man, half-legend that was Barry Bonds had put me on his shoulders and carried me, along with every other Giants’ player and fan, to this point.
In a matter of minutes, minutes that today I only remember as one terrible and earth-shattering blur, all this optimism came crashing down. The Giants’ manager, Dusty Baker, in a much maligned move, awarded his starting pitcher the game ball with a full nine outs yet to play. During the break in play as the Giants reliever began to warm up, the Angel played a video of their mascot, the "Rally Monkey" a monkey so insane that his screaming and carrying on was only outdone by the Angel fans themselves. In the next at bat, a career utility infielder sent a 400 foot dagger over the right field fence and into the hearts of Giants fan everywhere. The remainder of the game has been erased from my memory. I do not remember the college punter turned professional baseball player lining an eighth inning homerun to continue the comeback, nor do I remember a misplayed fly ball leading to the winning runs crossing the plate.
I remember only two images from the 2002 World Series. The first is of Scott Spiezio, hitting a ball, which seemed bound for his kneecap, deep into the right field bleachers. The second is the haunting, infuriating, and still perplexing gaze of the Angels simian idol, the Rally Monkey. That a team named the Angels could use as their mascot a monkey and such an obvious gimmick of a monkey at that, was infuriating, made even worse by the fact that it worked. From that day onward, I had a deep loathing for small, white, utility infielders. The Angels’ roster was littered with them, from Darin Erstad to David Eckstein to Scott Spiezio. Sports writers love to label them as "gritty" and "scrappy," but Giants fans have another word for them: "Assholes." To this day, whenever my father hears David Eckstein’s name, he releases a string of words, of which only "David" and "Eckstein" are re-printable. These players’ incessant fouling of pitches and their uncanny ability to tire out the pitcher would, if Giant fans had their way, reserve players like Eckstein an eternal home next to Dante’s makers of discord.
Humans are bizarre creatures. So much of our lives are spent attempting to avoid pain and suffering, and yet we willingly invest staggering portions of our mental health and emotional sanity on baseball teams and players who do not care even the slightest bit in return. Such an investment seems wildly miscalculated, and it would appear to an objective observer as though baseball were the Bernie Madoff of leisure activities: making an investment that gives illusory returns. Nevertheless, millions of fans root tirelessly for their favorite teams, no matter what boneheaded mistakes they may make, on the field and in the front office, day in and day out. Baseball has a tremendous staying power in our hearts and minds, because of the emotional connection it gives us to the sport, as well as to players and fellow fans.
Baseball fans share a special bond with one another that is hard to fathom. Whenever I see a fellow Giant fan, it is almost as if I have met him before, because as Giant fans, we have both gone through events together, shared experiences, even without having been anywhere near each other. Being a baseball fan is a baptism by fire into a worldwide brethren of fans who have all experienced identical traumatic events in the same way. The pain involved in rooting year in and year out only to have a team tear your heart out once again is an experience that only baseball fans can understand, but this unique understanding provides a common ground upon which friendships and relationships can be built.
Recently, I walked into a neighborhood deli for the first time, where I ordered my lunch. I was, as I am wont to do, proudly sporting my Giants cap, holding my head up high the day after a bases-loaded walk to the pitcher in the bottom of the 13th inning had effectively eliminated us from the playoffs. The utter insanity of walking a pitcher, much less with the bases loaded, much less with the game on the line, was consuming me as the four straight balls replayed themselves over and over in my mind. It was a time of complete loneliness, when I felt that once again my hopes had been built up for the sole purpose of having them smitten down again. The baseball gods were not happy with just giving me a pathetically mediocre team; they had to allow that team to play just over their heads long enough to allow me some breath of optimism, before crushing it once again. It was as if I was a young child who had just awakened to see a beautiful blizzard outside his window, thinking that school was sure to be canceled, before being reminded by my mother that I lived in New York City, and instead of playing in the snow, I would be walking to school in it. It was in these desolated spirits that I approached the deli’s cash register. I looked up, and saw that the man behind the counter was also a Giants fan.
"Tough game," he said. I nodded weakly. "I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you take this meal on the house? Just be sure to come back to keep a fellow Giants fan company. It gets lonely in NYC." Overwhelmed by his generosity, I thanked him profusely and left. This is an example of the tremendous brotherhood shared by fans, across any divide, whether geographical, racial, or socio-economic. We are all bound together by the common thread that is our team, and despite their struggles, we stand by them, united in solidarity by our brotherhood. Being part of a fan base is almost like being on the team itself, and it allows anyone who wants to become part of something bigger than just themselves to do so.
Being tossed around from wave to wave on the sea of emotion, from high to low and back to high again, is an experience unlike any other. To so involve yourself in the lives and performances of other people that it opens you up to vulnerability when they fail is a fascinating phenomenon. Fans feel a connection with their favorite players, despite never having met them, and never having that connection reciprocated. In many ways, the life of a fan is a strangely masochistic one that brings, far more often than not, only disappointment and a bitter taste at the end of the year. And yet the fan remains optimistic, with the eternal refrain "Wait ‘til next year." Thus the baseball fan embarks upon a painful yearly journey; yet it is such a special journey that the fan would not trade it for anything. And when, by lucky chance, the fan does experience even the most fleeting taste of victory, that taste dissolves all the bad memories. Who, then, would not be bold enough to take the risk of fandom?