Monday, July 6, 2020

Be A Real Fan

My Dad likes to tell the story about how I turned out to be a left-handed baseball player.  Apparently, he would toss a ball towards me with his right hand and I would pick it up and throw it back with my left.  When he decided to test this out by tossing one my way with his left hand, I returned it with my right. 

Yes, I was an observant child - even if my observations were very much colored by my own personal perspective.  That explains why I throw left-handed.  It may explain some other things, I'm just not sure what.

Growing up, I would certainly participate in football and basketball, but baseball was the sport that attracted me the most.  I played all the way through high-school and considered college, but found time to be too limited and had to make choices.  Once I graduated, I found fast-pitch softball and then rediscovered baseball when my brother invited me to play in a baseball league centered around the Newton/Des Moines area.  I was still playing in that league until about 2012 or so.  I didn't stop playing because I couldn't or didn't want to.  I stopped because the combination of the drive and conflicts with the farm and other duties became too much. 

Who is that "00" guy?
You're Garbage!

Our high school home games were called by the local radio station and we did have someone running the PA address and scoreboard.  There was even a concessions stand.  One of the things I recall is that our Newton Cardinals did not have terribly many 'fans' who attended our games at Woodland Park.  But, there was a core group consisting mostly of parents and family and a few good friends. 

Then, there was the group who came to the park and used the game as an excuse to gather.  In a very loose sense of the word, they were 'fans.'  They would cheer our team if we did something good - if they managed to notice.  What they were really there for was the 'sport' of jeering our opponents.

"Heyyy #12!!!  You SUCK!  You're GARBAGE!  Go back to your hole in the ground!"

Normally, they were not terribly creative because the only thing that changed was the uniform number, the rest of the words were essentially the same.  The players could usually ignore it as background noise.  But, I will tell you this - very few of us, if any, found it to be of any real value when we were the home team.  When these people didn't show, we didn't miss them one bit.

This group would cross a line if, heaven help you, you were the away team and there was a player on your team who had a physical characteristic that made them stand out.

"Hey FATTY!  Get off the field and go eat more candy!"
"Go gnaw down a tree for a new bat Bucky!"
"Nigger!  I've got a rope right here for you!"

Yes.  I heard each of those at high school games.  The last was directed at one of our Junior Varsity players when I was a senior (and not on the JV squad).  You see, each school had an area where a group of people who were not really fans would come to hang out and use the game as an excuse to belittle and abuse others.  And yes, players were instructed to ignore them regardless of what was said.  But, it did not stop the entire varsity squad from sending a collective glare towards the source of that last comment.

It wasn't right then - and it isn't right now.  And I see that this still goes on with a sad example at a recent Waverly-Shell Rock game

What Real "Fans" Do

I have something to tell you - I AM left-handed - sort of.

Why would a person drive 2 to 2.5 hours, ONE WAY, to play one or two games of men's baseball every weekend during the Summer when there was a farm to take care of?  I was asked that question frequently when people learned how far away from the ballpark I lived.  It wasn't until I was also asking that question a bit too often that we stopped making the trip.  It certainly wasn't because I was tired of playing and it was not because of the wildlife.

Obviously, there is a love for the game and a joy that comes with participating.  But, I would not have continued if I didn't have Tammy's support.  She typically drove both ways.  As a passenger I could begin prepping by putting on the suntan lotion, stretching etc etc.  She also drove back because someone who was functioning well should be driving!  After a double header in Summer heat, that was not me.

But, I want to go back again to my high school playing days to memories of what the true fans did that encouraged me to continue to play this game well after most had tried slow pitch softball for a few seasons before ceasing to play altogether.  The things I remember hearing were words of encouragement and praise for effort.  Perhaps my Dad didn't think I was listening for him, but I heard his words and his tone that encouraged all of us to do well.  And, by that I mean the whole team.  He bothered to learn names.  He didn't have to say too much either, because even a little bit went a long way.

The great news?  He was not the only parent who was at many games and who dished out the praise and the support.  I remember Mr. Trease doing the same - I recognized his voice because I played on the same team as his son through little leagues and into high school.  No one blamed them if they reserved more support for their team - but they also applauded fine plays by the opposition as well.  If someone crossed the line, they would say so.  The problem of course, is that the group that was there to jeer were typically well away from the rest of the fans.

Even better news?  There were parents like that at most schools I remember playing at.  It was actually a bit uncomfortable when we played at a school where there wasn't a positive fan base for the home team.
We Need More Real Fans
Let me be perfectly clear here.  I loved playing baseball.  And I got to be quite good at the "Do or Die" play from Right Field.

But, looking back, I learned more while I was playing baseball than you might think.

- I learned that there are people who love getting attention and approval by attacking others.
- I learned that people like that are motivated by someone else's failure because it makes them feel better about their own shortcomings.
- I learned that there are some pretty ugly ideas out there and that it is good for me to think harder about my own assumptions regarding other people.
- I learned that heckling and jeering has no real value overall.  At best, it is ignored as background noise.  At worst it can permanently wound a person.
- And, I learned where some of those 'lines' are that should not be crossed.  When they are, it is time to push back rather than ignore what is going on.

Even better - I learned some things from the real fans!

- I learned that I can achieve and I learned to adjust my goals based on what I had achieved thus far.
- I learned that it isn't just about me - it's about making all of us better.
- I learned to appreciate the success of others, while I also learned to celebrate my own accomplishments.
- I learned the value of encouragement and enduring support.
- I learned that role models have power, but it is up to those of us looking at the model to decide what sort of power we will give them.
- I learned how to give constructive criticism blended with praise for effort and encouragement to learn and improve.

And, I learned to appreciate the people who showed up and gave us real support and real encouragement.  As far as I know, none of the Newton Cardinal teams I played on had players that went on to professional baseball.  But, because there were some real fans, I suspect there were a number of young ball players who turned into pretty good people.

Today's challenge to us all - be real fans.

1 comment:

  1. Rob, please find a way to distribute this post to a larger group- more people need to hear this. I will do my part and send links around too.


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