Fandom is a funny thing.
I grew up in Virginia long before baseball returned to the Nation’s Capital. Friends who were baseball fans followed the Baltimore Orioles. This was back when Earl Weaver prowled the dugout and Jim Palmer was on the mound. I remember Palmer appearing in an underwear ad. This probably isn’t the best way to begin an essay on unhealthy obsessions, but there it is.
I tried to convince myself that Al Bumbry was my favorite player. It didn’t stick. I’ve never even been to Camden Yards.
Despite my love of the game, or at least the version of it we played in the sandlot, yes a sandlot, behind my friend’s house up the street, it didn’t translate to an undying devotion to a professional sports franchise. Despite the fact that my dad was born and raised in the Bronx, we were not a baseball family. We had no strong allegiances to one team or another.
I moved to L.A. in the late ‘90s and I became a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers thanks to the Clash. I’d “discovered” that the Clash’s first album was released in the UK with different songs in a slightly different order than their much inferior American debut. I listened to that tape over and over again in my truck until it wore out and the tape got stuck.
That was the day I turned on the radio. A Dodgers game was playing. Vin Scully was the broadcaster.
That was the day I became a Dodgers fan.
Although I had no great love for baseball, I was a sports fan and sports on the radio is all about numbers. No sport is more obsessed with stats than baseball and no one can spin a narrative out of numbers like Vincent Edward Scully.
I started listening to games on my way home from work. Then I learned that the company I worked for had season tickets to all the Dodgers home games that were only used when clients came to visit.
Whenever I could, I claimed all four ticket and went to games for free with friends who were all too happy to pay for parking and beer. It was a win/win situation.
Even though the Dodgers weren’t very good, it didn’t matter. Dodgers Stadium showed me a different Los Angeles than the one I thought I knew. It was one of the few places, perhaps the only place, where money and status and fame didn’t matter. It felt like the most democratic place one could be on a Friday night in L.A.
Eventually those tickets went away, and then I moved to San Diego, but I kept listening to Vin and the boys in blue.
I almost never watch the games. I’ve replaced the AM radio in that dusty truck with the MLB radio package, which is the best deal in all of sports. Every game, home and away, in English or Spanish (where available) right on my mobile phone.
I listen in the car, while working at home, even while walking on the beach. In a very real sense, baseball is always with me. And by baseball I mean the Dodgers the team that has given us one of the most amazing World Series ever.
This series had it all: long games and short games, pitching duels and slugfests, great defense and costly errors. It was a spectacle in its purest form. A feast for the senses. There were balls deflected by gloves, hats and slow umpires. Weird beards in every color of the rainbow. Outrageous haircuts. You had bat licking, coach kissing, ball jacking, and long walks around the diamond – and that’s just Yasiel Puig.
You had triumphant veterans and free agent flops. Racist gestures and cultural insensitivity trumped by the magnanimity of the human spirit.
And I soaked in every last inning. Well, almost every inning. Okay, most of the innings because that is a lot of baseball. And because the Dodgers have never gone this deep into October since I started paying attention, it’s the most baseball I’ve ever watched in October.
It was thrilling. It was heart-wrenching. But mostly it was exhausting. In addition to all the baseball I watched and listened to, I consumed almost an equal amount of reportage, criticism, and analysis. Plus, the emotional labor invested in liking posts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and sending texts to similarly afflicted sports fanatics who will read things like “Someone needs to murder that umpire with a rusty dagger” and not think poorly of you as a person.
And you know something?
Even though the Dodgers lost.
Even though I put on 10 pounds from all that bar food and stress eating.
Even though no one should have to listen to that much Joe Buck…
I’d do it all over again.
Because there may not be another “again.” The Dodgers may not go back to the World Series in my lifetime. Such is the fickle hand of fate for sports fans.
Fandom is stupid.
Love what you want, but be careful what you give your heart to. It might get stomped on by a right-handed outfielder with a ridiculous on-base percentage.
On second thought, maybe I should stick to the Clash.
Jim Ruland is the books columnist for San Diego CityBeat and the host of Vermin on the Mount. Follow him @jimvermin. Or don’t.