Monday, March 31, 2008

... Be a Believer (?)

The older I get, the more I care about baseball (or at the very least, my interest has leveled off at its peak), the more I know about baseball, the less invested I am in the performance of my team, the Indians.

Some of that is surely natural. After all, as a kid my levels of attachment were clearly unhealthy. I was despondent for at least a week after the World Series losses in 1995 and 1997. Only kids or mentally unstable adults have such reactions to mere baseball games; fortunately, I was the former, so I grew out of it (and started obsessing over much more important sporting events, in which there truly is an epic struggle between good and evil).

The last point is actually one that I think may help explain it. When one is a child, he does not control his own destiny, and he is not free to form his own associations. Latching on to the sports team that is geographically closet or that his parents root for may be an act of convenience, or an act of conformity. In my case it was the former. Rooting for some other team has the potential to serve as an act of rebellion, a small outlet of individuality that can be expressed without any real repercussions.

When one becomes an adult, though, choices can be made (more) freely, and one can form his own identity. What are the first choices of importance that many young Americans make in adulthood? Choosing a college to attend is one for many people. I may have been born in the Cleveland area, through an act of God or parents or however you’d like to phrase it, but I chose where to go to college. I could have gone anywhere (not really, of course; intelligence, academic accomplishments, and certainly not least of all finances has bearing on that matter) or nowhere, but I chose my school. Perhaps that is why college sports loyalty runs so much deeper than pro (and if you went to a university with a Division I athletics program and disagree with the premise of that sentence, than I would humbly suggest that you went to the wrong school).

However, my love for the game itself has never waned--it has only gotten stronger with time. Stronger despite quickly abandoning any notion that I could actually play at a level above the backyard (my baseball career highlight is either a catch made on the street or…never mind, it’s too pathetic to detail here. Suffice it to say, I suck). Stronger despite recognizing that the league and its teams are businesses with an eye on the bottom line just like any other (of course, that helps the decline in devotion to any one team, but it doesn’t explain why I follow that league more closely than before).

The recognition of the business-nature of professional sports is, along with the college/free will explanation, the best explanatory factors that I can come up with. As a capitalist, recognizing that all businesses are out to maximize their profits in no way causes me to revile them all. However, it does compel me to choose between them on a rational basis (Which will be the best investment on the stock market? Which will offer the best career opportunity?), rather than on a matter of where they are located (What would one think of an investor who says "American Greetings is from Cleveland, I should buy their stock"?)

In the same way, while I can still pull for the Indians because they are/were my “hometown” team, I can also look around the league and see teams that I admire for other reasons, like the philosophy of their GM (Oakland) or the players they happen to employ at the moment (the Chicago frickin White Sox of all teams). The Indians are still #1, and will always be, (and they are helped by the fact that I like Mark Shapiro and Eric Wedge and Chris Antonetti), but there’s no blind devotion to the cause anymore, and there’s no hating whoever knocks them out of the playoffs just because.

In the final analysis, the childhood favorite team served as the hook that got me to bite on baseball. Had the Indians not opened a new ballpark in 1994 and emerged as a contender, who knows when or if I would have become a baseball nut? But they served their purpose in that regard, and then I somewhat discarded them.

On the other hand, there are folks who are older, well-rounded baseball fans that remain fanatical followers of their team. Perhaps I’m just too cynical or too wrapped up in singing Hang on Sloopy to relate to the average baseball fan. Either way, it is the general prospect of Major League Baseball being played that has me smiling, rather than the fact that the Cleveland Indians will open their campaign with a decent chance to return to the playoffs.

NOTE: For those who are not familiar with official Indians team jingles (hopefully 99% of the audience), the title of this piece and the Indians preview are derived from a 1980s entry in that genre. Unfortunately, I cannot find the lyrics to this song online, so you will have to make due with my memory of what they are (also, I did not hear this song when it was actually in use):

Indian Fever; it’s catching fire with everyone
Indian Fever; you can be part of the fun
Go to (winner?) at every game, that’s when the excitement begins
So catch Indian Fever, be a believer with the Cleveland Indians

Indian Fever; it starts from the very first inning
Indian Fever; each game is a brand new beginning
It’s the hits, the homers, the double plays, it’s how you feel when we win
So catch Indian Fever, be a believer with the Cleveland Indians

3 comments:

  1. I happened to search the lyrics of that very jingle today out of the inevitable boredom that winter break has created for me. So, despite the 7 months between when you posted and when I comment, I can commend you on (almost) getting all of the lyrics correct. The only mistake: 'You're the winner in every game, that's where the excitement begins.' And how do I know this? My dad has this jingle on a record which I listened to hundreds of times when the Indians made their playoff run in 1997.

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  2. You can listen to the song "Indian Fever" here:

    http://a1135.g.akamai.net/f/1135/18227/1h/cchannel.download.akamai.com/18227/podcast/CLEVELAND-OH/WTAM-AM/Indian%20Fever_2.mp3


    It truly is a great song!

    Catch Indian Fever!

    Be a Believer!

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