Anti-List: The Unwritten Rules of Being a Baseball Fan
Yesterday, Grant Bisbee posted an article to SB Nation about the unwritten rules of being a baseball fan, covering topics such as saying “we” when speaking about your team, giving foul balls to children, and throwing back an opposing team’s home runs. It’s an interesting read. I urge you give it a look before finishing this piece because what I am writing here is a response to Bisbee — my thoughts on his thoughts and on these topics as a whole, which I feel is necessary because reading it felt like he woke up on the wrong side of the bed that day.
I’ll deal with each of the same categories as him, though going less into the points on which he and I agree. I don’t pretend that any of these are rules that you have to live your life by. Rather, these are my takes, and I like to think they’re the right ones. If you disagree, let’s talk about it!
Saying ‘We’ When Referring to a Team
This is a very common yet somewhat controversial trope. As Bisbee lays out, a dedicated fan spends hundreds if not thousands of hours over the course of his lifetime supporting a team, and it’s easy to feel like he’s truly a part of something.
Bisbee then turns around and makes the same point that non-sports fans often make to sports fans to make them feel silly for being a fan in the first place: You’re not on the team, you’re not traveling with the team, you don’t share in the pains of injury, therefore you don’t get to say “we.” That right is reserved for the players. How dare you act like you have some role to play with this group of players and staff.
To that, I cannot say he is wrong. I am not on the team. I do not travel with them. If you look on the New York Yankees’ website, you can search as much as you want, but you will not find my name anywhere.
But this does not mean that a fan cannot share in the emotions involved with being on the team and that fans are not a part of what occurs on the field.
In Seattle, Seahawks fans are known as the 12th Man. In 2013, the crowd set the Guinness World Record for crowd noise at more than 137 decibels, the rough equivalent of a jet engine. The crowd noise was so loud that it registered on the frickin’ Richter Scale! Opposing teams have long tried to figure out ways to compete in such a hostile environment. Before a playoff game in 2014, the Saints blew out two speakers in their practice facility attempting to simulate the crowd noise present on the field. Since the 12th Man set that record, Kansas City Chiefs fans broke it, but the point is the same: When a team has to game plan for the crowd, you can’t say they are not a part of that game.
Seahawks fans and Chiefs fans can say “we” when referring to their teams because opponents have to dedicate time to how to deal with the fans. So if some fans can say it, why can’t others? Are we going to limit this right to only these teams? Opponents of Duke University men’s basketball have often said Cameron Indoor Stadium is such a difficult place to play because the noise can make the building and the rim shake in certain situations. Opponents who played in the old Yankee Stadium said something similar.
The above are just a few examples of how fans are a part of the game. But fans don’t have to make a building shake to be a part of the game. Fans create the atmosphere of the stadium. They create the environment in which the game takes place. To say they’re not a part of the game is just silly, so they should be able to say “we.”
There’s also the point that someone saying “we” when referring to their favorite sports team literally doesn’t affect you at all, so how about you just stop judging people and let them be happy? Saying “we” doesn’t give that person an advantage in life, and having them not say it doesn’t give you some kind of benefit other than the joy of making someone else sadder. Let people be happy. The only people who get upset about the word “we” are probably the same people who skipped to the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at the midnight release just to shout out that Dumbledore died.
They’re the same people who slow down well before a yellow light turns red just because they can — and technically, they’re not wrong. Just drive through! We both could’ve made it!
Bringing Your Glove to the Game as an Adult
Bisbee and I are actually mostly in agreement on this. If you want to bring a glove, bring a glove. You will look ridiculous if you are wearing a mitt and you miss it, but it’s your life. If you’re OK with that, then bring it. If you’re at a minor league game, the glove makes a little more sense because it’s a smaller stadium, which Bisbee also points out.
I do think this depends somewhat on where you’re sitting. If you’re up in the nosebleeds behind home plate, are you really expecting a ball to come to you? If you are, you know what? I love your excitement. Four for you, Glen Coco. You go, Glen Coco.
What to Do with a Foul Ball
This is a topic that has gained a lot of traction over the past few years as more and more videos have emerged of cute kids being given foul balls by adults. Because of this, I’ve seen adults pressured into giving up their foul balls. I want to address this topic head-on because it’s something I feel very strongly about.
Rule No. 1: If it’s thrown by a player or team employee, it goes to a kid
More often than not, the player/employee is looking at a specific child or group of children and throws it in that direction. Let the kid have it because it wasn’t meant for you. This is very different from a foul ball that was hit with no individual target in the stands in mind. I’m talking end of the inning or foul ball is thrown into the stands targeting a very specific person. Let that person/child get it. Definitely don’t do what these people did:
However, if there are no kids in the area for whatever reason, that ball is fair game. You don’t have to find a kid to give the ball to.
Rule No. 2: There are no other rules
If you want to keep the ball, keep the ball. If you want to give it to a kid, give it to a kid. It might make a nice memory for them. But I don’t believe in just handing kids things — make them work for it. It’ll make that time they actually catch a foul ball that much more memorable. Ultimately, you got that foul ball, whether you caught it in your bare hands, in a mitt, or grabbed it loose off the ground, and it’s yours to do what you please.
Bisbee made a point to shame the people who grab a rolling ball on the ground, lift it up, and get the adoration of their section. You know what? That section loves that guy. He fought for that ball against a bunch of other out of shape dads. Maybe that guy needs that brief moment in the spotlight, so I say give it to him. Let him have his perceived moment of triumph and fame, and then move on with your day. I think the same guy who doesn’t want you to feel excited about getting a foul ball is the same guy who hates you saying “we” about your sports team.
Wait, they are the same guy? Interesting.
Throwing an Opponent’s Home Run Back on the Field
See above. It’s your ball, do with it what you want. Bisbee says instead of throwing it back, you should give it to a kid. If you want do that, it’s your prerogative, but I won’t be the person judging you for throwing it back onto the field to a chorus of cheers.
Just a heads up: If you’re booing the guy doing that as the whole stadium cheers, maybe you’re in the wrong about it.
Quick aside: I do know that the popular opinion isn’t always the right one. But in this case, people are having fun, so just let them.
Where I do agree with Bisbee is that if your kid catches an opponent’s home run, don’t force him to throw it back. If he wants to, he can, and I’d suggest ensuring he understands the tradition before letting him do so.
If you want to give it to a kid, go ahead. That kid will probably be super happy for it. But I won’t fault anyone for wanting to huck that ball back onto the field. If I’m in left field at a New York Yankees game and Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts launches one over the fence right to me, that ball is going back onto the field. Sue me. At the end of the day, I just don’t feel it’s anyone’s place to tell someone what to do in that situation.
Putting Your Own Last Name on the Back of a Team’s Jersey
If you want do it, do it. It’s fun and adds extra flair to your fandom. It’s not for everyone, but who cares? That jersey is not for everyone; it’s for you. Oh, and the same thing goes for ridiculous costumes. That’s what you want to wear to the game? Go ahead.
I love seeing fans go all out for the game.
Being on Your Phone at the Game
This is not one that Bisbee mentions. The only other one he talks about is leaving the game early, and I wholeheartedly agree with him on that. As an adult, if you’ve got things to do or kids to take care of, do that. That comes before the baseball game. But I’d like to discuss something completely different: the people who go to the game and sit there on their phone the whole time.
I’ve got some advice:
Now, I’ve spent most of this article as a freedom fighter, a vigilante against the fun police, an uncaped crusader who wants to preserve your right to enjoy baseball how you wish. But within each argument, I’ve advocated to let people live their lives how they want and to not judge them. It’s a philosophy of mine in life.
This one reeeeeeeally bugs me though. But not everyone who does it bugs me. It’s the people sitting in amazing seats who you can even see on the telecast are not even paying attention. Like this guy:
At least he went old-school with a book. If you’re a fan of that team, it looks so bad for a fan in the front row to not be paying attention. But I recognize there are situations where one does not really want to be at the game in the first place.
If your significant other is a huge fan, chances are they’ll want to bring you to a game at some point. Maybe you’re not really a fan. Maybe you just figure you can waste away a couple hours on the phone and the experience will be over quickly.
“What was your favorite part, babe?”
“Um, the nachos?”
But seriously, if your significant other brings you to a game despite knowing you don’t really like it, make an effort to enjoy it. It’ll mean a lot to him because he’s just trying to share a passion with you. That, and you’ll avoid some drunk idiots jawing at you for “not being a real fan.” Not that it’s your responsibility to not draw attention; I just think it’s better for everyone.
If you’re a parent and your young child has zero interest in being at this baseball game but your whole family is going, sure, give him a phone or a tablet as a distraction to ensure a peaceful day for not just your family but your section. Part of me wants to say just leave the kid at home with a baby-sitter, but that’s probably way more expensive than your ticket. Plus, you do want to spend time with your child, so I get it.
At the end of the day, you paid for that ticket (or someone did), and you’re spending time at the game. Spend it however you want.
Some fans may not like it if you’re sitting in great seats and not paying attention. I’m one of those fans. But that’s their (our) problem.
Ultimately, baseball is about bringing people together. It’s about everyone getting to the ballpark and having a good time.
The best experience I’ve ever had at a ballgame was at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. My buddy and I wandered into the center field beer deck wearing Yankees jerseys (the Yankees weren’t even playing), and we were greeted by a whole bunch of Orioles fans who were just having a great time at the ball game. We explained it was our first time at Camden, we made friends, they bought us beers, and nobody cared about anything else that was going on.
This doesn’t have a ton to do with the 2000 words I wrote above, but it does tie together with one common theme: be friendly at a ballgame. If someone is doing something you don’t like, ignore it. If they’re harassing you or making it a truly unpleasant experience, talk to security. But if it’s not something that someone should be kicked out of the game for, let it go, move on with your life, and enjoy the game.
If you cling too hard to some “unwritten fan rules,” the only person stopping yourself from having fun is you.
(Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire)