In a few weeks the start of baseball season begins and I will commence my 44th season of being a fan. Since following the National Pastime at age eight, I long ago reached that journeyman status and can classify myself as what I consider “a real fan.”
Much has been written over the years about the “real” type of individual. It basically started with “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche,” with offshoots of “Real Women Don’t Diet,” “Real Men Love Jesus,” and one of my personal favorites, “Real Cops Don’t Pay Full Price For Lunch.”
A baseball fan comes from all walks of life and varied backgrounds. At any ballpark you can see them all together. An eclectic mix sitting next to each other from a random designation of a box office seat assignment, with the game being the only thing they all have in common.
Take, for example, the honored tradition of buying a hot dog from a vendor and the passing of it and the money from hand-to-hand down the row.
The vendor hands the dog to an elderly man who grabbed an aisle seat, who hands it to a long-haired English teacher with the day off, who passes it to an unemployed construction worker, then to the mid-30’s father of two who escaped household chores to go to the game. The money back to the vendor follows the reverse path, each one’s eyes not leaving the field of play. All of these persons could qualify for what I call the “real fan.”
The topic of discussion for a “real fan” at the game won’t include Charlie Sheen’s latest antics, the rising price of gas, or any of the finalists for American Idol. The chatter is all about ERAs, batting averages, strategy, and coulda-woulda-shoulda’s.
Other things you would NEVER hear a real fan say: “Did you catch Glee last night?” “I sure miss Astro Turf” and definitely nothing like the taboo of, “Three more outs and it’s a no-hitter.”
The “real fan” wears his team’s cap and logo embossed T-shirt or authentic jersey. Throwback jerseys are like formal wear to the real fan. They’re mandatory attire for turn back the clock dates, when a player’s number is retired, or when a historic championship team is honored before the game. Unlike women who can be catty if attending the same party and another has on the same dress, two real fans who’ve never met that attend the game and see each other with the same throwback jersey act like lifelong buds.
A real fan will never wear a stadium giveaway ‘replica uni’ instead of an authentic one. They will not subject themselves to be walking advertisements for financial institutions, soft drink companies, or any store ending in “mart.” A real fan would never allow a bull’s-eye on his jersey.
The real fan can also dictate what those attending the game with him should wear. If his wife or girlfriend can set a dress code of what’s acceptable when they go see the girls from work, he can do the same when they go see “the boys of summer.”
Show of hands: Agree?
Balls hit into the stands are fair game to the real fan. They’re permission for a managed chaos of a scramble of hands and jumping over seats. (The keyword here is “hit.” Balls tossed by ballboys or base coaches are just “gimmes.”)
The real fan also doesn’t bring a glove to the ballpark – they’re for kids and sissies. He appreciates the sting of catching a liner off the bat in the palm of his hand and the throbbing of a broken digit or two. If it gets too annoying, that’s what Advil is for.
(Advice: Be mindful of who hit the ball toward the stands and who on the field is fielding. While it’s OK to become the next Jeffrey Maier at your ballpark, no one wants to be Steve Bartman.)
Catching a home run ball from your team is like finding the Hope Diamond – only without the curse. A real fan will proudly display the cherished souvenir next to his wedding photos, business awards, and college degrees. The tale of the catch compares to any angler’s fishing stories.
The real fan respects the honor of having seats rows from the field. There’s a gift of being able to smell the new cut grass and hear the players’ cleats crunch the warning track dirt. You will never see a real fan be “that guy” on his cell phone waving at the TV camera before each pitch.
It angers a real fan seeing good seats vacant when he has to sit in the Bob Uecker section breathing thin air and ducking low-flying aircraft. The real fan will be scoping out better seating, but only after the third inning. Anyone who shows up that late doesn’t deserve the privilege of the front rows.
The real fan doesn’t do “The Wave.” It may have been unique in the ‘80s but its time has since passed. Nothing says ‘we’re not watching the game and don’t care about those that are’ more than a section-to-section surf of arm raising fools.
The real fan will travel to another stadium to watch his team. While it’s OK to cheer your guys on another’s turf, it is improper (and probably dangerous) to jeer the opposition. Also be mindful of the baseball history of the city you’re visiting. A wise and safety minded real fan would never wear a Kurt Gibson Dodgers jersey to the Oakland Coliseum, a Joe Carter jersey in Philly, or a Bucky F. Dent jersey to Fenway Park.
There’s a good chance that you will be out soaking up some rays or enjoying a summer night attending some form of a baseball game this season. The standard of perfection of the “real fan” is there for you to strive for. If not, go back to Farmville or X-Box or whatever else those that avert the joys of a ballgame do.
Remember, your team is always in first place on Opening Day.
Richard Paloma is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at 847-3021.