Reflections on fan-dom
by, 08-28-2012 at 12:52 PM (902 Views)
So what kind of fan am I? When I was in Fort Myers that was one of the season-long advertising gimmicks they were touting – the varied nature of those who attend ballgames. Yesterday, attending my first Twins game since my minor league trip (I love watching a pitching duel!), I found myself thinking back to the various minor league parks I was at and comparing them to the relative cathedral that is Target Field. I also found myself thinking about who had attended those games, and who I saw around me last night.
I have never been a big fan of “there are two types of people...” mantras, but in this case it seems appropriate. On the one hand there are those for whom the game itself actually matters, whose primary purpose in attending is to watch and follow a game of baseball. There are various subgroups they divide into, which I will touch on later, but for them the game itself is the center of the experience. Then there is the other segment for which the game may be interesting but they are there more for the whole package, on-field and off-field. This includes the family outings with kids (most of whom have lost interest in the game by the fourth inning but still enjoy going to the park); it includes those who focus as much or more on the culinary options than upon the construction of the lineup; it includes those who are there for special events or group outings, or who are attending their first game with a group of their friends. Personally I tend to fall into the first group – when I go to a baseball game, I want to focus on the baseball (which is part of why I like keeping score so much – it keeps me focused on the action on the field). I suspect, however, that I am in the minority on most nights.
Even in that first group I see some differentiation, however. There are those who are schooled in the game, most of whom have played the game itself. These are they who know the nuances of how the game is played, who recognize the variations in where the fielders station themselves based on situation, who can tell a “good at-bat” from a “bad at-bat,” and who avidly watch, not just the pitch, but the pitch location and type, watching a gameplan unfold for each hitter. For the rest of us (and I include myself in this) we simply watch to see what happens, much as we watch the Vikings, enjoying the action but not really seeing the defensive shifts and offensive strategies or recognizing the meaning of the substitutions. One of my fellow participants on this site has a signature line “Baseball is like church; many attend but few understand.” Being in the “church business” myself I recognize how true this is in reference to religion, and I accept that in baseball I am one of the multitudes who attends but doesn’t truly see what it is I am seeing. Some days I think it would be neat to learn what it is I am missing, to become a true student; other days I am happy where I am at, just watching the action unfold.
There is also another differentiation among those who attend for the game itself, or among those who are fans in any sense. There are those for whom the driving goal is to win championships, to “win silverware” as they say overseas. For this group, everything should be done with this in mind. If that means gutting a team for young prospects to increase the odds of success three years down the line, then the question is “why haven’t we done that yet?” Another group, and I put myself in this category, doesn’t go to the ballpark with hopes and dreams for 2015; we want to see a good game tonight. Competitiveness, even in a down year, is something we value. That’s not to say I don’t dream of another World Series win as much as the next; I would love to see it happen. But what is more important to me is that, going to the ballpark, I have a reasonable chance of watching a Twins win, and that it be a well-played game regardless.
So where is all of this going? Just with the realization that all of these various types of fans have to be part of the equation. No one fan type is more or less worthy; no one group is right, and no one group is wrong. The job of the Twins (and any organization that plays a spectator sport) is to find ways to speak to all of the above. It’s important to put a quality product on the field; it is also important to pay attention to the rest of the game-day experience (that’s why I’m not as cynical as some when the Twins spend promotional effort highlighting a new culinary option). Certainly any organization wants to win championship, but at the same time there have to be players on the field who can excite the crowd today, not just three years from now. Is this going to create tension among the fanbase? Inevitably. Do you trade Morneau for prospects or keep a crowd favorite even if he is on the wrong-side of the career bell curve? Do you spend your money fixing the rotation or sprucing up the ballpark? The challenge is to do both, to find the right balance, to find a way to simultaneously appeal to both the purists and to those who just want to have a fun night at the ballpark. Because both matter.