I went to the Mets’ home opener last Friday and had a good time. Sure, it was drizzling and the temperature hovered around 40 and the Mets played pretty uninspiring baseball. But it was baseball after all, and following a deathless winter that still refuses to unleash its icy grip on New York, being at a baseball game–even in near-Arctic climes–warmed me in a small way.
Not everyone agreed. When the Nationals expanded their lead to four runs late in the game, many spectators left. On a such a day, completely understandable. Those who headed for warmer spots didn’t bug me. The ones who stuck around did.
I’ve always thought of people who show up and stay for days like this are The Die Hards, the ones who will stick with their team through thick and thin. And that is true, to an extent. But in this case, the people who stuck around seemed to do so for the express purpose of voicing their discontent. And not in a Peter Finch “I’m mad as hell” way. More like someone ahead of you on line at the post office, who feels compelled to sigh loudly and mutter “unbelievable!”, just so everyone else queuing up knows how annoyed he is. The air was thick with a positively DMV-esque atmosphere.
We spent the last inning at field level, watching the action from behind the best seats in the house. Even for a crummy game on a crummy day, being that close to Actual Baseball Playing by Actual Major Leaguers is pretty great. On TV, every pitch looks hittable and every hit routine, but in close proximity, you realize that you are really witnessing the best of the best. Even the worst person on any roster is better than 99.99 percent of the population at what he does. It’s awesome to contemplate.
Unless you were the gentleman standing just behind me. Because with each pitch, he let out an anguished mantra: SAME OLD, SAME OLD! The message was obviously meant to be,”The Mets suck again, don’t they?” This is seven games into the season, mind you. But just in case you were unsure about how much he believed this, he repeated it literally with every pitch, as if it were a phrase he himself popularized. Larry The Cable Guy does not say Git ‘er done! with as much gusto as this man invested into SAME OLD, SAME OLD!
Writing this down does not do it justice. The phrase had an amazing cadence to it. Rising…SAME OLD…then deflating…SAME OLD. He sounded like an angry W.C. Fields, or an angry Peter Brady-imitating-W.C.-Fields. (“Pork chops and applesauce!”) His voice was loud and brassy enough to rise above the angry chatter of all the well-lubricated cops and firemen that make up the vast majority of any CitiField crowd. The tone was equal parts hate, bitterness, disappointment, and wan acceptance.
SAME OLD, SAME OLD gained resonance every time it was intoned. Not because it was profound, but because this man was so convinced of the necessity and righteousness for his muse to be expressed. I couldn’t see him from my vantage point, so it was almost like he was an oracle, blasting his pronouncements from Olympus itself.
As the Mets flailed through their final at bat, and this man kept saying SAME OLD, SAME OLD!, I got the feeling that he didn’t mind that they were losing. That he preferred it, in fact. Because it gave a certain weight to his performance, to his presence at that place and time, and maybe to his existence.
There’s one kind of sports fan that roots for whichever team is ascendant at the time because that team’s triumph serves as a proxy for success in his/her own life. These people are douches, very obviously so. But the flipside is just as douchey in its own way: The Long-Suffering Fan. By that I mean the fan who needs the entire world to know just how much they “suffer” for their chosen team.
These people are douchey because they don’t “suffer” in silence. They have to let everyone know how much “pain” a team has put them through, how whatever athletic misadventures a team is going through is just “typical [TEAM NAME]”. It is a pious, preachy form of fandom, the sports equivalent of screaming in the subway about Jesus’ magic spaceship.
A championship enables a Front-Runner Fan to believe he too is winning at life, even if his day job is eating diarrhea. Likewise, a team that struggles and fails allows the Long-Suffering Fan to believe that he too is pure and untainted by compromise, even if he lives the most compromised life imaginable. It’s an aggressively narcissistic worldview. That’s why such fans are so vocal about their “suffering”.
Cheering a team that’s winning? What would that prove! You have to root for a truly miserable team in order to display your true passion! And to further display that passion, you have to buy a ticket for a game, then vocally proclaim your disgust in person so everyone can hear you! I’ve proved that my fandom is far more righteous than yours!
The Mets are not the only team that has fans like these. In fact, more teams have them than don’t. Apart from the Yankees, every major sports team has, at one time or another, actively tried to adopt the mantle of long suffering. If a team goes a few years without making the playoffs or falls into some bad luck, fans can salve themselves with the balm of Die Hard. And if the team every does start winning again, they can lord this over the Front-Runners who jumped on the bandwagon, thus fulfilling a Long-Suffering Fan’s psychic desire to be both judgmental and unhappy.
I’ve written about this before over at Amazin Avenue and here, too, but I can’t stomach this view of Mets (or sports in general) anymore. I have no patience or room in my life for such Theatrical Negativity. To me, there’s no difference between the guy who has to show you all their “scars” and the guy who bellows 27 RINGS, BABEEE! They’re both psychotic, deluded nutbags who have completely missed the point of sports, and life.
After the last out, My Wife and I left CitiField through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. The loss bugged me, but I still had that vaguely happy feeling of being in close proximity to baseball after far too long. Meanwhile, SAME OLD, SAME OLD had somehow gotten in front of me. I saw him for the first time. He was far thinner than his voice implied, tall and angular, with wire-rim glasses. And he had two boys with him, presumably his kids, their heads aimed down at the pavement, shoulders hunched up.
On his way to the 7 train station, he let out another SAME OLD, SAME OLD!, made sure to pause for an acceptable amount of time, then bellowed another. His kids sunk their heads even deeper into their jackets, mortified. If they could have pulled their heads completely into their chest cavities, they would have. Those poor kids, I thought. Not only is his dumb act humiliating them as collateral damage, but he’s undoubtedly going to make them listen to Mets Extra the whole way home so he can sigh and shake his head while he also sighs and shakes his head at traffic on the LIE.
Me? I’d already shaken off the loss and going to meet up some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, and wound up having a great time. Who did Opening Day better?