How long does it take to be a "true fan"?

Rob Carr

Did you know that the Nationals have a reputation for having bandwagon fans? Me neither. Huh.

One of those newfangled Internet trends is to do a map about how [fans of a particular sports team/people who live in an specific region/people who hold certain political beliefs] see the rest of the country. Or world. Now that I think about it, I guess it's more of a tested-and-true meme than a newfangled trend. For an example, here's how Giants fans see the rest of the baseball world:


Completely accurate, if I don't say so myself. This comes up now because a pretty good Nationals one is making the rounds. I saw it at DC Sports Bog, but they found it somewhere on Twitter, which found it ... dunno, someone made it, and it's pretty good (edit: It was @FakeFP):


(Click to enlarge!)

But a funny thing happened when I entered a thread about the map on Reddit: I found out about a stereotype that was new to me.

I didn't realize there were any Nats fans...just bandwagoners.

Hey Hey now, some of them have cared for at least 10 months.

"The United States as seen by *the* Nats fan"

There's this weird stereotype about Nationals fans being bandwagoners, non-existent or, worse, turncoat Orioles fans. I don't really know the ins and outs of N.L. East social interaction, but apparently this is a thing that a few Braves and Phillies fans have at their disposal to shoot down lippy Nats fans.

It's kind of odd, really. I never thought there was anything different about Nationals fans when the Giants played there. They didn't seem like they were cheering loudly whenever one of their hitters hit a pop-up, and they seemed to go goofy for Stephen Strasburg in his debut. But the goal today isn't to dig into whether or not Nationals fans are TRUE HARDCORE Y'ALL, but to ask a simple question:

How long does it take to be a hardcore fan of any given team?

This question applies to fans of a team that just moved into the area, and it goes for "bandwagoners" who latch on to the thrilling success of a local team they didn't previously care about. How long does it take a person to go from "Say, this team is somewhat relevant to me and my interests" to "DAMMIT ROWAND STOP SWINGING AT THAT OR I WILL CUT MYSELF"?

My answer: one year.

That's all it takes, especially with baseball's 162-game season. And now for some anecdotal support, which is almost like data! When I was in high school, I didn't care about baseball. I went to a few games every year, but I had other interests. I camped out in a friend's car before the '94 season to get Opening Day tickets, but that was because there were going to be things in the car that a 16-year-old wasn't supposed to have. The strike didn't bother me a lick.

When I reconnected with my first college roommate on Facebook last year, he asked what I did now. I told him I was a baseball writer. His response: "You like baseball?"

For some reason, in 1996, I got really into the Giants. On a bus trip home in March, I found one of those Street & Smith's or Athlon's previews, and I read it for the just about the entire 12-hour trip. Over the summer, the easiest way to escape parental supervision and pretend you were still living the college life was to tailgate before a baseball game, so I went to a dozen or so.

By the time the 1997 season started, I had opinions on Mark Lewis and Osvaldo Fernandez. I wondered why the Expos let Kirk Rueter go so cheaply. I was arguing on the Internet about the relative merits of Julian Tavarez.

I was a superfan. And when the Giants improbably won their division in '97, I became obsessive. But even if they hadn't been successful in '97, I would have lived and died with the team from then on.

Now, I had advantages that others didn't. My parents had season tickets for a few years when I was growing up, and my mom taped almost every game. They indoctrinated me as best they could from the time I was about five, but I think I just liked the baseball cards. Another advantage is that I had friends who were already pretty serious fans. I was just going along with the pack.

Even then, though, I felt the transformation from baseball being an ancillary interest to a primary interest. And it took a year of watching the 1996 Giants, which was a pretty lousy team.

When the Diamondbacks won the World Series in 2001, they had existed for only four years. The crowd went nuts when Luis Gonzalez fisted a walk-off single to win the World Series, of course. And in that crowd, there were probably thousands of people who didn't start caring about the team until August, and they were jumping up and down because that was what they were supposed to do. If there were a strike in September that canceled the Series, they wouldn't have minded.

But there were thousands more who followed the team for the whole year. And there were yet thousands more who spent a lot of time dissecting the Curt Schilling trade, wondering if it was too much to give up Travis Lee. And there were thousands upon thousands who followed the team from the day of the expansion draft, who watched just about every one of Amaury Telemaco's starts in '98, and who went into '99 thinking the Diamondbacks had a shot to win the division.

It takes a year. Which is a fancy way of saying: I think we can retire the bandwagon stereotype for every team by now. There are Marlins fans who watch every single game, and when that team is good again, they'll be rewarded. When the Astros draw 40,000 fans someday, don't pick on the 30,000 who suddenly decided the Astros were interesting again, think of the 10,000 who were going there in the first place, and note that the 30,000 can become that passionate in a snap.

Your mileage and anecdotes may vary, but I'm going with a single 162-game season. Ride those ups and downs for a year, and you don't have to answer to anyone about anything.

Unless you're a new Yankees fan who just picked the team because you knew they were the most successful franchise in baseball history. Gross. It takes 20 years for you, Mr.or Mrs. Low Self-Esteem.

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