As a baseball fan, I’m interested in fans. I know what makes me tick as a baseball fan, so I’m always a little interested in what makes other fans tick. There are the die-hard fans, the casual fans, wannabes and pretenders, and probably some kind of definable fan all along the spectrum from die-hard to… eh, I guess. I even know of quite a few who follow the Braves (and other teams as well) just because they like the way they look in tight baseball pants.
I consider myself a die-hard fan, and I define it like this: I’m always thinking about baseball, whether it’s those wondrous days of Spring when the boys of Summer have yet to fully bloom (please ignore how that kinda sounds), or November when all you can do is count the days until the holidays, the dead of winter, and all the other non-baseball stuff are over, and the rites of Spring can begin again. I love the Hot Stove season almost as much as the regular season, because I can surmise, speculate, search, and continue to think about baseball and next year’s what-ifs.
Casual fans disturb me. I don’t get it. Oh, I have friends that are casual fans, and I pick their brain to try and understand what makes them tick – why any thoughts of baseball shut down once October has come and gone. I just get no answer that satisfies me. Some of my friends, purportedly Braves’ fans, watch them fairly religiously until their season is over, and then stop altogether! They won’t even necessarily watch the World Series if the Braves are not in it. Hrmmm!
I tell people often that I am a baseball fan first, and a Braves’ fan second. I was pretty much grandfathered in to Braves’ fandom because I was born in Atlanta, and went to games often way back when it wasn’t cool to be a Braves’ fan and when Atlanta couldn’t win a damn thing! All that stuck! I’m hooked! But if the Atlanta Braves ceased to exist as a team completely (Yes, I know that borders on sacrilegious), I’d still be just as hooked because of the pure simplicity and majesty of the greatest game of all time.
I even hear people say that baseball is boring! What!? My reply is that it’s only boring to you because you don’t fully understand the game. You don’t understand that every moment within a game is a chess match, pitting pitcher against hitter in a timeless battle for domination. You don’t understand the subtleties of the game, where an outfielder may shift slightly right or left in anticipation of where the ball might be hit, because he’s done his homework, knows the hitter, and is adept at his craft! You don’t know that when a coach is touching his privates, or the tip of his nose, or crossing himself like a good Catholic – spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch – that he’s communicating strategies to his players that could make all the difference in the world in the next few moments. Baseball is a glorious game, not just when home runs are being driven out, or amazing double plays turned – it’s glorious even when it’s seemingly boring, with no score or a paltry 2-1 contest.
If baseball is a science, then fandom is a science as well. Douglas Holt earned his Ph.D studying fans! Holt was an assistant professor of marketing at Pennsylvania State University when he got the bright idea of actually making fans the subject of his 300 page dissertation. The study entailed Holt attending a minimum of 100 games, and taking notes on how the fans behaved. The title of Holt’s dissertation was, A Theory Building Case Study of Baseball Spectating, and while it sounds quite boring, the results of his study were anything but!
Holt noted the casual fan, perfectly content to just sit and watch the game. He also noted the more active fan, actually taking a notebook to the game to chart the progress of the pitcher. He also noted the fans looking to make some sort of personal contact with players. ”A lot of fans spent lots of time trying to get the attention of outfielders,” said Holt. “They try to get players to bond with them. And when a player turns and waves his cap, it makes their day.”
Holt even noted the category of fan he called the predictors (and many of you know what I mean!), fans who “call it” and then take some sort of personal credit when a play goes they way they predicted. Holt’s findings are very interesting, and while I read an article about his dissertation at Philly.com, I would absolutely love to get the chance to read his actual dissertation!
All these thoughts about fans and fandom get me thinking specifically about Braves’ fans. I’m one of them, so I think I have some pretty interesting observations of my own. I’ve been going to games for a long, long time, so like Holt I’ve observed Braves’ fans in all their glory, and in all their shame. There are fans who go to a lot of games, fans who go to a few when they can, and fans that never go to games but sit each night religiously watching the Braves from the comfort of their caves. If you follow many Braves’ fans on Twitter, you’ll no doubt have noticed that they are a peculiar lot. Antsy, nervous, exhuberant, angry, and several other words aptly describe the typical Braves’ fan, and there are a few words that describe some I cannot use here.
Whether you fall into one of Holt’s categories of fandom, or some category you like to think is all your own, my hope for every Braves’ fan is that they will become, like me, a die-hard fan. It’s certainly not necessary to enjoy the game, but it is necessary if you want to understand and fully appreciate the finer nuances of the game. Like anything else, the more you know, the more you appreciate. To be a true fan, you should never, ever stop thinking and following the Braves when the regular season or post-season is over. The Atlanta Braves are an organization that functions 365 days a year, and even in the dead of winter, baseball is being played somewhere in the world, trades are being made and considered, strategies formed for next year, and a plethora of other baseball activities are going on . We affectionately call this time of year, the Hot Stove season, because even in the dead of winter, we die-hard fans will gladly sit or stand around a warm stove talking baseball, and we’ll stay there so long because of the subject at hand, that the stove will eventually get HOT! Even if you get burned, it’s well worth it!
So come on Braves’ fans – turn your fandom up a notch. Have you already stopped thinking about baseball because the Braves’ season ended when it did? Do you wait until March or April to start talking about your favorite team again? Shame! There’s a lot of baseball discussion to be had all year long, and at Tomahawk Take we’ll do our part to keep the conversations around the stove going. Why don’t you join us?