Monday, February 27, 2012

On Multiple Allegiances

By: Cee Angi 

It was recently brought to my attention that I may be committing one of the biggest faux pas in sports fandom.

Of course, I've heard rumblings all along that perhaps my ability to maintain multiple allegiances for teams might be a little bit strange-- I never realized that to some it was such a big deal.

When it recently came to light on Twitter that I do, in fact, support two Major League Baseball teams, you would be surprised the reactions I got.

After all, I assumed that supporting more than one team was probably the norm. But when someone realized that both of the teams I support are American League teams, a discussion (or argument) ensued.

Is it possible to like more than one team? Is it possible that those teams could play in the same league? What was the reasoning behind liking more than one? And why didn't I choose the Chicago Cubs?

I guess I should preface this whole conversation by admitting that while I have two teams, I also have other teams that when I hear their names mentioned I am flooded with memories of childhood and I feel a kindred spirit with those teams. It adds yet another level of complexity to the conundrum to say the least.

Perhaps I am atypical and the definition of a baseball polygamist, but before you condemn me, at least hear me out.

I will preface this entire conversation to say that at this stage of my advanced baseball fandom development, there is absolutely no team that could usurp the Boston Red Sox' place as the team that I support without wavering. It has been this way for the past 12 seasons, through World Series victories and Aaron Boones. Through starts like Pedro Martinez and idiots like Kevin Millar, I have been there and they have been there, too.

But, I do have a complicated history with being a fan of other teams, which is a product of how I was raised: moving frequently.

When I made the decision to move to Washington, DC I calculated my own stats. I am in my late 20s and I have lived in 17 different cities, 25 different houses, and 10 different states. And somewhat consistent with so many moves, it is easy to invent new iterations of one's self.

Baseball started for me as it does for most children: in the town where I was born. My parents were born and raised in southern Ohio, so I entered into a bond with the Cincinnati Reds from birth. Part of my childhood education from my father involved learning the roster of the 1975 Big Red Machine, even though they won the World Series ten years before I was born.

But as a talkative small child who enjoyed my fathers' attention, I'd start my own line of questioning similar to Abbott and Costello, and ask him who played first.

And he'd respond Tony Perez, then it would spiral into naming the rest of the starting lineup. I remember liking names like Dave Concepcion and Cesar Geronimo. I also thought it was silly that the catcher whose posture was so perfect it appeared he was sitting on something was named Bench. All of this occurred before I realized Joe Morgan would be terrible at broadcasting.

My first games were Reds games, in the seats in the upper level, terrified that I would fall down the extremely steep stairs at Riverfront Stadium. My dad would bring us Capri Suns to drink and we would stay for as many innings as young children are capable of sitting still. My sister would get restless much earlier than I would, and when it was time to go, we would listen to the game on the car ride back to our house.

But in 1992, I left Barry Larkin behind for the Atlanta Braves. To be fair, I could not really help it. My dad started a new job in Georgia and it was much easier to see a Braves game on television than it was to keep up with the Reds back in Ohio.

On the weekends, I would play catch with my father and he would help me with my catching skills while he showed me his fastball. In the evenings, we would watch the Braves games together, and I learned their roster much in the same way I learned the Reds. My favorite was Chipper Jones, and I liked Fred McGriff solely for his nickname: The Crime Dog.

During the 1995 World Series, I would fall asleep every night in my Chipper Jones T-shirt and a Braves hat, believing that it would bring good luck to the team...and history shows that I must have done something correct.

But the following season, we had relocated to Milwaukee, leaving the Braves behind. While it was easier to keep up with their Braves because of their nationwide broadcasts on TBS, admittedly when we moved, I stopped watching baseball regularly. There were a multitude of reasons, most of them personal. I still loved to go see a game, but I was more focused on my being an awkward child transitioning into an even more awkward teenager who spent a lot of time playing, not watching, sports.

When I returned to baseball a few years later, Pedro Martinez caught my eye. And rather instantly, I became a Boston Red Sox fan. Then I learned that Jason Varitek and Nomar Garciaparra were players I had a connection with because of my Georgia past, and I liked the team even more. And though I picked up the Red Sox at a time when the team wasn't exactly impressive (a 85-77 finish to the season), it did not really matter.

And the years that followed, I transitioned into a full-on Red Sox fan, with pilgrimages to Fenway, road games, and spring training. While some shake their head at the fact that I was not born in New England, I do not have a 100 year history with the team, nor do I have a wicked cool accent, there's nothing that can really change my connection with the team. I consider it a woman's prerogative to change her mind, but I also consider my decision to abandon two teams of my childhood a product of moving around frequently, and the lack of at the time.

But the hardest part of being a Red Sox fan and not living in Boston for me is my desire to watch live baseball: it makes life a bit more complicated.

When I lived in Louisville, it was not an issue. Their minor league team, the Bats, was stacked full of talent like Josh Hamilton and Joey Votto, and they were fun to watch. But when I moved to Chicago, I felt inclined to adopt a local team.

It was never my intent to adopt one of the two local teams as a replacement for the Red Sox. But, I did set out to find a team that was nearby that I could experience and enjoy in conjunction with the Red Sox as I lived 1,018 miles away from Fenway Park.

Realizing that life would be easier if I had an American League and a National League team, I decided to try the Cubs. But the ticket prices at the World's-Largest-Dilapidated-Beer-Garden, the fans, and a roster of milquetoast players that did not appeal to me. After witnessing two people throw up, a fist fight, a small child with a bladder problem, and an Old Style spilled on my messenger bag (all in one afternoon), I decided I would give the White Sox a try.

There was something about attending White Sox games that felt like home. It was a combination of the tailgating, the clean ballpark, and the attentiveness of the fans that worked to draw me in. And in my three year tenure, I attended over 60 games at US Cellular Field.

And with frequent attendance came a lot of memories.

I spent Sunday afternoon games alone in the upper level with my scorebook and company of a stranger seated next to me. My friend heckled Brennan Boesch for three innings while we sat at a picnic table just beyond the right field fence. I watched the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup on the Jumbo-tron in center field after a White Sox victory. I was there for the Frank Thomas statue dedication, and during a season ticket holder event I leapt for an imaginary fly ball at the fence as a friend took a photograph.

According to my notes saw Ozzie Guillen get ejected four times.

And so I have spent the better part of three years balancing two teams. Same league, both sox. It may be crazy to support two American League teams; it may be crazier still that I abandoned the teams of my youth instead of keeping with family tradition and maintaining allegiance. But even though some critics would say I am breaking the rules of traditional baseball fandom, I don't see it that way.

My view is that there should not be any rules that dictate how anyone chooses to enjoy the game, as long as they are enjoying it. Whether that means fervent support of one team or a passive interest in all 30, that's the beauty of baseball: as much as it is a team sport, for fans your experience is a self-created and personal happiness of which you are the keeper.

And on that note: Go Sox....and Sox. 


Jason Collette said...

Next year will become a challenge for me as the Astros join the AL. The Astros were my first love since I grew up with them in Houston but I took to the Devil Rays once they came into existence after relocating to central Florida and have stuck with them through all of it.

David said...

Many, many thoughts. Here are a few:

1. Dave Concepcion, not Jose. Your dad would be ashamed.

2. I know the reason you stopped following baseball. You moved to Milwaukee in 1996. I'm just a year your junior, and grew up in Milwaukee, watching those Brewers teams. Trust me. You didn't miss much.

3. I, too, support multiple teams. I'm a Brewers fan, first and foremost. But I also spent five years (four in college and one afterward) watching the Twins. Plus I'm married to a Twins fan, and it really wouldn't be any fun if we rooted for different teams. Actually, the six games per year the Brewers and Twins play against one another can often be wrought with conflict. But I think that's a pretty legit reason to like two teams.

timmy! said...

I've had somewhat of a similar trek, From picking an Expos hat to Ricky Henderson Athletics to Kirby Puckett Twins to George Brett Royals to the now Biggio and Bagwell-less Astros. I have found memories of each of those teams growing up.

I've tried following a second team but I have other interests outside of baseball that take up my time. I don't think it's weird having two teams, even if they're in the same league, because you can't force the experiences you have with certain teams.

Great post!

Bill said...

I'm an anonymous agitator on my own blog (I'm assuming I'm the "someone," anyway, though there were several of us)? That's kind of awesome.

This is a great post, and I think you're totally right about all this. It's weird to say I'm a "fan" of more than one team, since my feelings about the Twins are very different from anything else, but I suppose I could be described as a very casual Mariners and Cubs fan, too (I like a winner, obviously). My real problem was that it's the White Sox, easily the least likable team in all of sport, but I suppose that's a topic for another day...

HitTheCutoff said...

If someone says, "Hey, I'm going to start rooting for two (or more) teams so I can increase my chances of celebrating a World Series," I find that a little distasteful.

But when fandom springs up organically, I think it's something that's beyond control. I "grew up" a Cardinals fan because my dad is from St. Louis and much of his family still lives there, so I was raised as such. But I spent most of my childhood in L.A., and once I started listening to Vin Scully and going to a lot of games at beautiful Dodger Stadium, I found myself developing a deep fondness for the Dodgers as well. So I would root for both unless they were playing each other, in which case my original Cards allegiance would shine through. Multiple playoff series have proven to me that my original love always will be strongest, but I still hope the Dodgers do well for ~155 games/year.

Jason Wojciechowski said...

I became an A's fan when wee moved to northern California in the late '80s, and I've never been truly tempted by another team, but I married into a Mets family, and all of my good law school friends are Mets fans, too, so I've formed a healthy disrespect for the Phillies in the last eight years.

It's the rare fan who has a truly conscious say in her or his fandom -- accidents of parentage and geography and circumstance are the stories of every fan I've ever talked to about why their team is their team. I think this post shows why we should hear people out before we condemn them as bigamists.

Anonymous said...

Booo! Multi-team fans!!!

I kid, I kid.. I got into baseball when I first got bored and played the demo for MVP baseball 2004.

So my favorite teams in the start were the Yanks and Sox. Ha. That lasted until the day I found out about their rivalry. Seems hard not to but easier if you got no baseball fans in the family, period.

Then I became a fan of the Dbacks because of Randy Johnson, until I heard about 2001.

A fan of Royals until I heard about 1980. But I found out about 1985 and a Royals fan again. Plus, there's something with the letters KCR I cannot describe.

Sometimes you just support teams for the wrong reasons, but sometimes you can't help it but support a team whether they win or lose. There's absolutely nothing wrong with being a fan of multiple teams, especially with rather complicated geographical ties.

amr said...

As I Twins fan in the early 00's, I started following the Royals to better mock them and fell in love with their scheduled bus from AA to KC and back, and role players and AAAAers forced into full-time duty. And also their beautiful blue caps. So, my rooting preferences are:
1. Twins
2. Royals
3. Team playing the BoSox
4. Team playing the Yanquis
5. Meteors (Only if team 3 is playing team 4.)

Bryan said...

This is similar to my baseball evolution as well. Started as a Mets fan as a kid in upstate NY. Adpoted the Blue Jays when they got good in the late '80s. Hated the Yankees all along, so when I moved to Boston in '98, it didn't take long to become a Sox fan. Like you, I'm still a Red Sox fan first and foremost, but I love the way Friedman and Maddon have built the Raysna and think every Rays win is good for the game, so I have a hard time rooting against them. My NL allegiance wavers too, depending on personnel. If that makes me a dirty polygamist, who cares? I love baseball.

Theo said...

I'm glad I'm not the only person with co-favorite teams (as well as a few sympathies). I've always felt awkward saying that I support both the Cardinals and Orioles, particularly since I've never lived in St. Louis or Baltimore (long story, also involving many moves).
I've always wondered how being a fan of two teams in the same league would work. I feel like it would be more difficult or awkward, but I don't know if it's quite to the faux pas level if you have good enough reasons.

iftheshoe_fits said...

Great post. I get it- I've shared Yanks tix for 10 years with a baseball bigamist. 2009 was really tough for a Philly/Yanks fan, and it took the fun out of wanting to torture him.

The idea that there are teams that speak to you for different reasons resonates.

Sometimes its otherworldly talent (like Pedro),others its personalities. But those things make sporys fun. Sadly, upon getting older, most of us (tcm fits the mold too) are too set in our ways to think of switching.

But to some degree, I think we all 'adopt' teams we want to pull for at different times. That has a lot to do with loving sports (at least to me), and why some teams and narratives are so compelling. We just usually don't allow it to usurp our primary allegiances.

Rob said...

I grew up a Dodgers fan, going to sleep as a child by the sound of Vin Scully calling games. I drifted away from the game, came back to it -- dragged, in some wise, by my wife, whose Cubbies fandom was a product of her working nights, and the Cubs played (still do) so many day games. Still later, the Angels surprised everyone by winning 99 and a title in 2002.

So I follow the teams of my geography, and cheer for the Cubs when they do not interfere with the operation of the others.

Mark said...

I think your choice of fandom is entirely reasonable. Geography is one of the, if not the single most, obvious reasons for choosing a favorite team. I, too, have moved around a great deal, and while I have never replaced my favorite team, I've certainly flirted with others.

I've been a Mets fan for as long as I've known the game. I spent a few years in San Francisco and enjoyed the Bay Area teams, but never got truly involved with them. I went to LA for the next 12 years and fell in love with a number of things: Dodger Stadium, Vin Scully on the radio and Mike Piazza at the plate. I never fell in love with the Dodgers, but I grew up detesting them, so they had a long road to go. I even enjoyed the Angels, who were always trying so hard to distinguish themselves.

After that, it was Colorado and the Rockies. That's the team that almost came close enough to exist on the same plane as my Metsies. Most beautiful stadium I've ever regularly attended (what a view) and a team that spent most of its' time being just as frustrating as my Mets. Frustration, loss and hope are essential to me as a fan. I don't need to win all the time; some of the time will do. And the run the Rockies made to the World Series (only to lose to your Red Sox) will always be a magical baseball memory.

I'm back in NY again, with my Mets. But every once in a while I look up at a television in some sports bar and watch Todd Helton or Troy Tulowitzki do something wonderful and I cheer. And the New Yorkers around me are only momentarily reminded that there are teams between the coasts.