To Understand a Fan

Last Sunday night, around 12:45am, I morphed into a cliché. Having watched the New York Mets lose the fifth game of the World Series, I turned off the TV in the man cave, and trudged upstairs towards reality.

Ascending the first flight of steps, Devin’s stroller came into view, poised to take its charge to the park later that morning.  This floor seemed cooler than the cave, but the chill did little to soothe the shame.  The lights were off, and I eased my way up and around to the next flight of steps.

Devin’s bedroom was the first door off the landing on the second floor, and I peeked in.  The one year-old was out cold, the only indication of trouble a slight wheeze as he worked to get over a mild case of the sniffles.  I gazed at the sleeping baby, hoping to snap back into reality.  Tomorrow morning, Devin would greet me with a smile and orders to raise his room’s window shades, I would catch the T to work, and the Earth would continue to spin around its axis. 

This was the perspective I desperately wanted, not the hollowness and angst of having a magical baseball season snatched away from me.   But I wasn’t going to find what I wanted in Devin’s room that night.  I switched off his light and headed to my room.  Not to sleep, but to ponder what might have been.

What is it about dedicated fandom that drives such irrationality?  Is it the contrast with a Hollywood-imagined world where we win far more often than we lose, while in fandom, even Yankee teams lose far more often than they win?  Is it the clarity of the win or loss laid out in a box score, while real life’s wins and losses are far harder to tally? 

Fully aware of my inability to casually follow a sport, I’ve limited myself to the Mets for the past 25 years and to Roger Federer for the past twelve.   During the football season, it’s such a pleasure to hover above the madness, not caring whether a team wins or loses, but being aware of the local team’s record just enough not to embarrass myself at the gym or bar.  For the last few years before Devin came along, my wife and I would have dinner at a popular restaurant on Super Bowl Sunday, enjoying the good food and service in solitude before making our way home for the third quarter.  I couldn’t tell you who won the last Super Bowl, but I could describe the spin on the fastball thrown by the Mets' closer in Game 1, and the exact spot that game tying, ninth inning home run landed in Kansas City.

The rational observer might chastise the fan for rooting for a colors on a uniform, and woudl certainly note that the overpaid, coddled men-children that play the game could care less about the fan.  It’s just a game, the saying goes.  Have some perspective.

I suppose that’s right.  But I was in Chicago the night the Cubs won the right to play the Mets for the pennant, and I was engulfed by the raw passion of a fan base that just knew that 107 years of futility was near an end.  The Mets put an end to those dreams in four quick games, and celebrated in Wrigley Field while Cubs fans looked on in a daze.  Watching that night and reveling in the Mets’ win, I couldn’t help but think that on an absolute scale, having your team win isn’t even close to seeing them lose.

So yeah, Devin’s a great kid, we’ve got another on the way, I’ve lost a few pounds over the last few months as the business travel load briefly lightened, the stock market’s up, and the family is healthy. 

All true, but dammit, it would’ve felt so great if the Mets had won it.