The worst part of being a fan is not the constant heartache of watching a losing team. No, more often than not, it’s trying to cheer for your team while enduring the most infuriating aspects of humanity on display.
Here are the three worst offenders and their surprising redeeming qualities:
The Drunken Loudmouth
Drunken loudmouths consider themselves to be real fans. They drink themselves into a fury, turn their house into an offshoot of the team’s retail store, call out to the players at the top of their lungs, shout themselves hoarse at an umpire’s “Ball Two” ruling, wear the jersey of the guy who was traded away 15 years ago, and issue unveiled threats at anyone clad in anything approaching enemy colors.
These are the sorts of people who claim to bleed their team colors, name their children after favorite players (who are spoken of with the reverence reserved for a deity), decide within one at-bat whether the new rookie’s going to amount to anything, and are liable to throw a destructive temper tantrum in the event of a two-game losing streak.
The natural habitat of the drunken loudmouth is the row directly behind you.
Drunken loudmouths ruin the ballpark experience for me, you, my friends, your wife, my grandparents, your in-laws and all parents with young children within a half-mile radius.
They can be perfectly right – the umpire did miss the call, the manager should have gone to the bullpen sooner – and you’re still rankled by their intoxicated buffoonery.
In your heart of hearts you wonder: “Someone married this idiot? Really?”
Drunken loudmouths keep losing teams afloat. They really do love their teams and they care about them through thick and thin, hoping the thick times arrive again someday. Teams with a large enough percentage of drunken loudmouths in their fanbases are teams that never have to worry about moving to a new city.
Beyond this, drunken loudmouths add color to a ballpark, even if that color is mostly blue. When the Baltimore Orioles left Memorial Stadium for Oriole Park at Camden Yards, they traded an old field that was sorely behind the times in exchange for the best digs in all of the Majors. Ask any Oriole fan old enough to remember and you’ll learn that there’s an enormous difference between the raucous atmosphere at Memorial Stadium and the quiet confines of Camden Yards. Blame Peter Angelos if you’d like, but the loss of the trademark Oriole fanatic has taken away what was once a very real hometown advantage.
Stadiums without drunken loudmouths are sterile and lifeless, and, very often, taken over by Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies fans.
A bandwagon fan is an oxymoron. Bandwagoners aren’t fans at all; they only bought those hats and shirts because they were “cool,” they don’t know who any of the players are, and sometimes they don’t even know anything about the game (the Heat play basketball, right?).
Frontrunners know a good thing when they hear it – because they only care to hear about who’s good. They read bestselling books, listen to Top 40s radio stations and buy their team’s apparel in colors and styles that work best with their outfits. A green Red Sox cap? Perfect. A pink Packers jersey? Goes with the lipstick.
The frontrunner sits at a game wearing a perpetually confused expression, wondering when to cheer, when to boo and why in the world everyone is standing up in the 7th inning.
However, the frontrunner wants to have the emotions experienced by the drunken loudmouth, and so every now and then he or she will randomly express a severe level of frustration with the superstar first baseman for daring to strike out in his last at-bat. He’s a superstar, right? He’s not supposed to strike out, is he? How much are they paying him anyway?
It’s enough to give you a headache from gritting your teeth so tightly.
Want to get on ESPN?
The frontrunner brings national attention.
Drunken loudmouths and normal, reasonable fans like you aren’t enough to drive the ratings. It’s the bandwagoners on both a local and worldwide level who amass the numbers that networks and mass communication businesses love.
If you don’t want your team to feature in nationally televised games, be discussed in national sports talk shows, or receive prime time attention on SportsCenter, Twitter and the finest in web space along the sports internet landscape (thus creating a legion of fans for miles around, including perhaps star young athletes who now dream of playing for your favorite team regardless of where they grew up), then by all means do your very best to discourage any interested frontrunners and bandwagoners. (You can win championships without building an impressive continent-wide bandwagon, after all, as the San Antonio Spurs have proved.)
If, on the other hand, you don’t mind seeing your favorite players get their just dues, it doesn’t hurt to have a few casual folks; the sorts who don’t really care about anything, deciding that maybe they might start caring about your team.
That Rich Guy in the Box Seat Directly Behind Home Plate
He doesn’t care to see the game, but he does care that he is seen at the game. And since he’s sitting directly behind home plate, we can see exactly how often he talks on his cell phone, conducting an important business deal or perhaps informing a close acquaintance, that, hey, I might be on TV right now, in case you happened to be watching.
(He’s still dressed in the clothes that he wore to the office, because, really, why bother dressing down for a baseball game if you’re going to sit somewhere so public and obvious?)
The worst part about the rich guy in the box seat behind home plate: He’s got the best seat in the house and, judging from the expression on his face and his continued fascination with his phone rather than the action in front of him, he doesn’t appreciate it in the slightest.
There’s a niche that the rich guy fills – literally: seat-filling. A team with a primarily middle class fanbase may jam its grandstand, but that empty lower level will cause more than a few red faces.
When the New York Yankees opened new Yankee Stadium, they initially were unable to sell out their big-money home plate seating. As a result, the sight of rows of empty seats behind the catcher was publicly embarrassing for the proud Yanks. College and professional teams alike require dozens, if not hundreds, of distracted rich guys to avoid the same embarrassment.
Then there’s the substantive justification, the money they supply the home team. The more box seats sold, the more money the home team makes, the more free agents signed, and the better the team gets.
It’s tough to argue against success, even if it comes dressed in a slightly ridiculous tie and waves at the camera in between pitches.