Tuesday, September 8, 2009

of fans and faith

I was thinking about winning today. Not winning a game or a series or even the World Series, but just winning in general. Having a team you can be proud of. A team you can have fun with. A team you can have faith in, even in the midst of a losing streak.

Cardinals fans like to call ourselves "the best fans in baseball". Sure, I've said it. I mostly even believe it. Of course, a blanket description like that leaves a lot of room for contradiction and argument, and for the most part, I've never really dissected the statement.

Well, today I was reading a blog post from a Reds fan, and suddenly I realized who the "best fans in baseball" really are. 

It's not us, even as much as I'd like to say it is. It's not Yankees' fans or Angels' fans or Royals' fans or Rockies' fans. It's not Reds' fans. In fact, it's not any one team's fans at all. 

It's the fans who don't give up, and they come from every corner of the baseball universe. 

It's the fans like the blogger whose story I was reading today, whose team is flagging and flailing, and who still get up in the morning excited about watching or listening to or attending the game just because it's their team

It's the fans whose teams haven't won anything for longer than anyone hasn't won anything, and yet they wear their team colors with pride. 

It's the fans who watch every game, not because their team is in first place, or because they came so close last year, or because the GM just signed a big-name player to save the day. 

They watch for pure love of the game and unconditional love of their teams. 

They watch to see their favorite hitters steal second. 

They watch to see their favorite pitchers drop a nasty curve. 

They watch to see their favorite managers get ejected for arguing balls and strikes.

Obviously this can apply to Cards fans, and often does. It applies to fans of every club, from the reigning World Series champions to the last place team. Sure it's hard to believe anyone living in Florida is a "best fan" (at least if you've ever seen the attendance at their stadiums), but they're out there. They're watching while they work in the garage or wash dishes, and they're listening in the car on their way to the store. They check box scores when the boss isn't looking, and they catch the replays on Sportscenter while they're getting ready for work.

I was really moved by the post written by this fan, and it made me take a good look at how good a fan I really am. Cardinals fans haven't always had it easy, but with more World Series rings than any franchise other than the Yankees, we haven't exactly been the worst off, either. In the last decade, we've been to the playoffs 6 times and had only one losing season. 

The Pirates have 5 World Championships in their history, but only two of them have come since the 1925 season, while the Cardinals have won all ten of theirs in that time span, with four coming since the 60s. Therefore, watching every game, buying all the merchandise, and supporting all the players isn't exactly a challenge. Sure, we face our rough patches. We've had losing seasons and losing streaks and bad games, but think about the Pirates for a second. 

Yesterday marked a milestone for that club, and although the team was quick to point out that it is most definitely not the same group of guys throughout that streak, it is the same group of fans (more or less). The same fans have seen this club lose again and again, and yet when you watch the broadcasts, you see them there at the park, dressed up like pirates or in their best home jerseys, cheering for their team as though the last 17 years hadn't even happened.

I've sometimes wondered how Pirates' fans and Nats' fans and Royals' fans and Reds' fans (et al) can keep going in the face of so much disappointment, and reading this article gave me a slightly better idea. Being a fan is not always easy. Sometimes you just have to turn the game off and take a little break. Heck, even players get discouraged. 

The really inspiring thing, though, is that I know at the end of the day, true fans will still peek to see how it turned out. 

They'll come back to the game and to their team. 

True fans will still care.