On Generational Fandom

As most of you know, I grew up in Seattle. My parents owned their own small business not far from Sea-Tac Airport, which meant that I spent a lot of after-school time at an auto parts store, trying to entertain myself with things that were of minimal interest to a child. But the store had a radio, and in the spring and summer, KIRO 710 broadcast baseball games. Combined with access to 25-cent packs of baseball cards at the 7-11 down the street, baseball became my babysitter.

We didn’t have a television until I was a bit older, and my parents worked too much to take us to the Kingdome very often, so I fell in love with the sport through the radio broadcasts of Dave Niehaus. I was taught about the game by his play-by-play calls, as neither of my parents were big sports fans, and the mid-80s Mariners weren’t exactly the kind of team that drew in anyone but those who truly loved the sport. I essentially became the sole reason my Mom and Dad paid any attention to baseball at all; even their moderate interest was mostly because, being good parents, they wanted to be involved in the things that I enjoyed.

I’m writing about this because, two weeks ago, I became a father, and in between diaper changes, I’ve been thinking about my son’s future relationship with baseball. How am I going to introduce him to the game? How am I going to teach him not just about the sport of baseball, but about being a fan?

The real answer is that I don’t know yet. Given that he’s only a couple of weeks old, I’m pretty sure I don’t have to know for a while longer, which gives me some time to ponder. And it gives me some time to ask for some insights from those of you who were introduced to the game differently than I was. I know the traditional notion of generational fandom is a father playing catch with his son in the backyard, and perhaps many of you were introduced to the game that very way. Perhaps you were raised in the same city where your father was raised, and your bond to the local team runs back through your grandfather or even your great-grandfather.

That is not going to be my son’s story. My Dad spent most of his childhood in Rhode Island and Maine before moving west, and his Red Sox fandom faded away as he dug roots in the Pacific Northwest. He still lives in Seattle, but I moved to North Carolina back in 1999, and while I might not be here forever, a move back to the increasingly expensive Seattle area seems unlikely. So he likely won’t be raised near my childhood home, and neither sets of his grandparents have a strong baseball heritage to pass on.

Even my own personal Mariners fandom has faded dramatically since baseball writing became my profession, to the point where I’d probably describe it as mostly dormant. It wasn’t through some choice to try and be more objective; it just kind of happened. The work/life balance is definitely part of it — it is difficult to have your profession and your hobby occupy the same space — but I also think that being involved in the community of shared fandom is perhaps the most rational argument for cheering for an individual team, and location has a significant role in the rationality of that decision.

As someone who spent over a decade rooting for a team 3,000 miles away, I can say with some certainty that it’s simply a worse overall experience than cheering for a team in your home city. And it’s not just the time zone differences; it’s mostly about being by yourself in an environment that was meant to be communal. Starting USSM helped fill some of that void, but as great as the internet is at connecting people, it is not a replacement for getting together in a stadium and participating in the emotional ups-and-downs of watching a game live. Or even simply having a shared connection with your neighbors.

As much as civic pride helps push us towards rooting for the local team, I don’t think we can understate the advantages of being part of a shared community. And that’s mostly not available for those who live in a place where few others share their passion. So, even if I had retained my own personal Mariners fandom, I’m not entirely convinced that I would want to pass that on to my boy. Is it better for him to be connected to me through shared rooting interests, or to those future friends who he might end up playing Little League with? I can see some benefits to having a tie to your family’s rooting interests, but I think I may see more benefits to devoting his passion to the same players that his classmates will be cheering for.

Perhaps I’m overthinking all of this, however. Perhaps in today’s day and age of MLB.tv, location isn’t as important as it used to be. Maybe he doesn’t even need to pick one team, or any team at all. Maybe if we continue to live no closer than six hours from the nearest Major League stadium, he’ll simply become a college basketball fan instead. Or maybe, like me, his interests will vary dramatically from his father, and I’ll end up getting sucked into impressionist paintings or classical music. Maybe this doesn’t need to be planned. Maybe he’ll just root for whoever he roots for, and that’s okay.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences, though. Especially if you weren’t raised in the same city your parents were raised in. Did you become a fan of the local team, your parents’ team, or neither? Or if you’ve already gone through this with your children, how did you pass on your love of baseball to them, especially if you weren’t able to actually take them to the ballpark that often? Or does it just happen naturally, regardless of who you’re hoping your kid grows up rooting for?

Tomorrow, I’ll get back to writing about actual baseball. Today, though, I’d love to hear your stories about how you found baseball, and how your Dad may have played a part in that story.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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9 years ago

Make sure you teach him how to blink first.

Malcolm-Jamal Hegyes
9 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

And the bar has been set for the 2015 Comment Of The Year