Over at Pitchers & Poets, Patrick Dubuque -- who, by the way, also writes for SB Nation's Lookout Landing -- penned an outstanding essay about being a sports fan, generally. It's also about being a fan of the Seattle Mariners, specifically. But I think he speaks for most of us, just as Nick Hornby speaks for most of us in Fever Pitch. Here's Dubuque:
Baseball is not a democracy. The teams and players we root for are not ours. We’re not rooting for laundry, as Jerry Seinfeld once joked, but for a sort of brand loyalty once reserved for Ford and Chevrolet, and envied by every corporation. We give our money and rest our hopes in our baseball teams because we feel like we can extract some small fraction of their victory when they attain it. Or, at the very least, we can feel some satisfaction when we understand how they achieved it. We’re social creatures, even when we’re sitting in a family room alone. We want to feel like we’re part of something.
It’s hard to feel that with the Mariners these days. I could perhaps look past the team’s failures, the exodus of its employees and its apparent dysfunction. But then there’s the philosophy of the franchise itself, as relayed by Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln:
"So there’s a lot of things going on at Safeco Field for the fans to enjoy besides watching major league baseball. And I would point that out to them. Many of our fans are thinking about things other than just what’s on the field, so we have to provide a really good entertainment experience across the board as well as getting that major league team to perform."
Clearly, I am not my team’s target demographic. And so, faced with a team that has dwelled in mediocrity for a decade, whose youth is no longer young, whose philosophy for roster assembly has proven historically barren, and whose management appears entrenched despite continual failure, it’s hard to find a way to be a Mariners fan. That, in the end, is what’s important: a way to do it. Because like my three year-old self, I can’t seem to help turning on the TV and watching. I can’t make myself like red.
Well played, Patrick. Just a couple of quick points...
One, I continue to believe that it's not just Patrick Dubuque that isn't his team's target demographic. I keep thinking that someone like Howard Lincoln doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. I think it's ridiculous to believe that someone would shell out $50 for a ticket, $20 for parking, and $10 for ONE CUP OF BEER to ... what? Watch the dot race on the SuperJumboTron? Sing God Bless America? Try to corral the latest offerings from the t-shirt cannon?
There are a lot of people working for baseball teams who believe exactly that. Who believe the baseball is essentially an afterthought, something to do between musical snippets and video-board entertainments.
I believe they're wrong. I believe that people have an incredible range of entertainment options, and if they're actually going to take the time and spend the money for a baseball game, it's probably because of the BASEBALL. Or the baseball team. Patrick Dubuque might not be the Mariners' target demographic. But he should be. I believe that baseball would be even more popular, believe it or not, if the game were the thing for the entire three hours. If the ballpark became a self-contained world where nothing mattered but this wonderful sport.
I might be wrong. But I would like to see someone give it a shot. Whether it happened in Safeco Field or my local ballpark, I think the people running the show might be pleasantly surprised. But first someone would need the courage to lay off a few of the marketing and promotions people, and occasionally say no to those who are left.
Two, I know exactly how Patrick feels. As you probably know, I became a baseball fan because of the Kansas City Royals, and was obsessed with that team for ... oh, maybe 30 years, give or take. I'm no longer obsessed. This does bother me some. I do miss that little passionate piece of me. I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe it's just the time and the distance; I left the Midwest nearly 20 years ago, and it's been even longer since the Royals were consistently competitive. But my physical and temporal connection to the Minnesota Vikings is even more tenuous, and my ardor for that franchise took even longer to cool.
More than the time and the distance, though, I think it's simply that I'm not the Royals' target demographic. For 25 years, the Royals have made move and move after move after move after move that defied logic, and eventually they just wore me down.
You might consider this a good thing. Dan Shaughnessy believes that one can't want a team to win and be objective about that team. I don't know. Maybe he's right. But I think we're all masses of biases and prejudices and desires, and if one of those is wanting your team to win ... well, that seems manageable enough. Especially if you're honest about it.
I don't live and die with the Royals any more. But I would like to feel that way again about a baseball team. I hope they someday give me a reason to.