The Accidental Fan: My Boy Benny
Sports can be polarizing. Either two people root for competing teams or enjoy completely different sports, while in other cases, one person is a fan, and another is not. There is also a perceived tension between those who like the arts and humanities versus those who like sports. While people can like both, examples of harmony between the two in popular media are rare. In high school, I was one of those people who participated in the arts and did not care about sports. I knew people who liked both or were high school athletes, but I never took any interest. More recently, however, I have discovered several entry points for the casual fan and have had a lot of interesting sports experiences along the way. This column will explore the position of casual fans as well as the complex culture surrounding sports.
The summer before coming to Dartmouth, I went to my first professional sports game. I was traveling through Seattle with my family and we stopped for a game at Safeco Field to see the Seattle Mariners play the Boston Red Sox. We had an interesting collection of two Red Sox fans, myself included, but only because I had recently gotten Red Sox gear as a present. My dad, who is accustomed to seeing games at Fenway Park in Boston, thought he had gotten a hell of a deal on good seats at Safeco only to discover that the section was empty minus a few lonely Red Sox fans. Clearly Sox fans have a unique perspective on what “hell of a deal” means given the exorbitant prices at Fenway. Regardless, I was excited because this was my first game, but I was barely able to follow what was happening.
However, soon a rookie came up to bat: No. 40 (now No. 16) Andrew Benintendi. For context, I have since been at a game where a man held a sign reading: “My girlfriend likes Andrew Benintendi more than she likes me.” Needless to say, “Benny” is easy on the eyes. When his name and number were called at Safeco, people in the stands behind us let out a huge cheer, which was confusing because there was no way this kid had already built up a fan base. Upon getting some food, we had a chance to closely observe the excitable group. We noticed that they had “Benintendi 40” shirts on and realized these people must be friends and family. This was one of the rookie’s first games. Moreover, this was the “in” I needed into the world of baseball; I felt connected to this player and I have been following his career ever since his second ever Major League game at Safeco. I finally understood one of the many reasons why people enjoy watching sports. In fact, a friend of mine watches basketball, not so much to follow the team he likes, but more to follow individual players that he likes. This is one of the possible entry points for a casual or serious fan.
Soon after the Mariners win in Seattle, I attended another Sox game, although this time the Sox had a home-field advantage over the Arizona Diamondbacks. This time, the Red Sox won, and Fenway went wild. In addition to my interest in following Benintendi, I also felt the energy of the crowd at Fenway. I finally realized why people like to go to the stadium to watch games. In fact, that is usually the only setting in which I watch games. For me and many others, part of the fun is in the experience of being there and watching everything live. Sure, one might not always have a good view, but the people watching is great. That might not be ideal for someone who wants to analyze every play, but for me, it’s perfect.
Going to games has also resulted in a lot of funny moments, precisely because I have no idea what’s going on. When my mother and I attend games, we often resort to texting her sports fan friends in order to understand why both teams doned “42” on their jerseys for Jackie Robinson Day, or why everyone wore their nicknames on their shirts for Player’s Weekend. However, becoming a fan also involves more logistical questions like what any of the calls by the referees mean.
For someone who does not know the lingo, trying to comprehend what is happening can be extremely difficult. A certain vocabulary is required. This vocabulary barrier is ironic because my mother actually played softball in high school and college and was a sports reporter for a number of years. Even so, she too has trouble deciphering exactly what is happening at times. This barrier can be a deterrent for up-and-coming fans who are less knowledgeable. It can even be difficult to watch on television when stats and facts are thrown at you as fast as Chris Sale can pitch. What does this leave fans interested in an entry point into this world?
An interest in specific players or the fun atmosphere at games is a great place to start, and probably more people share that interest than pop culture would have us believe. However, this is not the image of a sports fan presented to us over mass media. It seems that based on this image, every sports fan must have a signed jersey, watch every game and could be a referee if they wanted to be. This simply isn’t the case based on my experience.
For example, I became a sports reporter for The Dartmouth with only a limited knowledge of many of the sports I reported on, but I learned on the job. I talked to athletes and made sure I understood the sport for each article. Working for The Dartmouth, it is very difficult to know everything about every sport that Dartmouth competes in. There is a huge variety of sports, which is something too often passed over in the U.S. due to the prevalence of football.
Sports and sports fans come in all different types. I want to provide something for the casual fan to read because we are out there. Everyone has their own reason to love sports, and that is something to be celebrated. We are surrounded by sports logos and games on television; just as I wrote this, someone with a Patriots change purse walked by my table. Even so, at any given moment, I couldn’t necessarily tell you how the teams I like are doing. I don’t follow scores or watch games on TV, unless it happens to be on in the background. That is something that many fans I know would frown upon. No, I can’t talk to you about who the Celtics have traded recently or how they were playing this past season. I don’t follow any of the early season or the training, but I am open to watching and to learning something new.
I am also always open to news about my boy, Benny, and I will proudly show you my “Benintendi 40” shirt even though he has since switched numbers to 16. I am also willing to tell you that is the only jersey number I know, aside from Tom Brady’s number, and I only know that because my mother owns a Seabags Maine Tom Brady 12 tote bag. So, that is the story of my entry in to the sports world — and yes, I would consider myself a fan, an accidental fan.