history, not nostalgia
music friday: bruce springsteen, “we take care of our own”

what if cain was one of us

I was having a chat with someone who works for a professional sports franchise (leaving this anonymous … don’t suppose that’s necessary, but better safe than). We were talking about how working for a team gives an additional perspective on how he sees the game. One thing he realized is that fans care much more than the players and coaches who actually perform on the field of play. He wasn’t saying the players etc. don’t care … far from it. But, as he said, they care “in the way that you want to do a good job. Good and bad days at the office are an actual thing, as opposed to so-and-so sucks.”

I think part of this comes from the fact that fans can’t do anything to affect the action. Oh, we pretend that our fervent support for the home team makes a difference. But when it comes down to needing a strikeout or a home run, a three-point shot or a last-minute field goal, it’s all on the player. And nothing is more frustrating than wanting a certain result with all the emotion you’ve got, and it’s entirely out of your hands.

A player can lose and say “I did my best.” A fan can only say, “we lost.”

I’ve long tried to avoid using “we” and “our” to talk about sports teams. “How did we do?” seemed like a silly question, when “we” didn’t do anything. But I’ve also always thought that the fan’s connection to a team is far deeper than that of the player. Take someone like Matt Cain. He was drafted by the Giants in 2002. He’s been a Giant for eleven years now. When he became a Giant in ‘02, I had been a fan of the team for 46 years. My commitment to the team has lasted far longer than Cain’s. It is strange that I avoid saying “we” and “our”. Matt Cain wants to do a good job. He wants to win for himself, for his teammates, and yes, for the fans. But we’re a distant third in that equation. Meanwhile, we want Matt Cain to do a good job for us.

When the Giants came from behind in dramatic fashion to take the series against the Reds, you heard a common cliché, that the guys on the team were playing, not for the name on the back of their jersey, but for the name on the front. Fans like to think we are part of the name on the front, but that’s a stretch. What the player means is that their individual excellence is less important than the excellence of the team. But by “team” they don’t really mean “the name on the front” … they don’t mean San Francisco. They mean “the guys in this clubhouse who work together for a common goal”.

But what fans mean when they think of “the name on the front” is “our team”. We literally root for the name on the front. If you wear a Giants jersey, you are one of us. If you then switch teams, you are no longer one of us. But the fellow Giants fan sitting next to you will always be one of us. As will you.