The Accidental Fan: The Return of My Boy Benny… And Others (Who Are Less Relevant)
Have you ever experienced that feeling when your favorite character gets phased out of a television show or maybe just gets mercilessly killed off? “Game of Thrones” fans, I’m talking to you (RIP Ned Stark — The North Remembers). It can be devastating to lose a favorite character, especially if they were your connection to the show.
Well, in sports something similar may occur. What happens when your favorite player gets traded? I’ve written before about my connection to baseball because of Andrew Benintendi. Part of the reason why I love the Red Sox is because I saw one of Benintendi’s first games and have been following him ever since. He’s “my boy Benny.” And you can read all about it in my first column, “My Boy Benny” (yes, this is a shameless plug).
If the Sox were to trade Benintendi, I would probably be devastated. I’m not saying I would start rooting for the other team, but I would certainly still be cheering for Benny. Yet I suppose this depends on if your appreciation for a team is driven more by your love of the team as a whole or by a specific player.
As I’ve said, in the case of the Red Sox, I am more invested in the player: Benintendi. By contrast, I’m also a Bruins fan, but in that case I am more invested in the team as a whole than any specific player. I suppose this could also be the case with a TV show. Perhaps as a “Game of Thrones” fan, you didn’t really care about Ned Stark dying, but were more focused on the show as a whole and just wanted to know who was going to seize power next. Thus, as actors get traded in and out, you as a viewer have to be more focused on the storyline of the season. Ironically, “season” works for both TV and sports, so maybe I’m on to something.
Regardless, I found myself actually confronted with this problem of a player being traded quite recently. Former Harvard Crimson player Ryan Donato, began his Bruins career in March 2018. At TD Garden, I saw him score his first goal in the NHL during his first game with the Bruins. Donato had a strong end of the 2017-18 season. However, this season he was relegated to the AHL and played for Providence. On Feb. 20, Donato was traded to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Charlie Coyle. He had a very strong debut with the Wild, winning him the “hero of the game” hat for his two assists and three shots on goal.
I know I said that I wasn’t connected to the Bruins players as much as Benintendi, which is true. But even so, I was honestly very sad when I heard that Donato was traded. When my mom and I were at his first game, we were discussing how he was kind of living the dream. His dad, Ted Donato, was a former Bruin, and is currently the head coach at Harvard. Both father and son were born and raised in Massachusetts. Naturally, Ryan would want to be a Bruin. Now, my mom and I also understand that actually being able to play is more important to him than who he plays for, and he seems to be happy with his new situation. So I can also be happy for him on that front. However, I can’t help personally being a little sad now that I can’t follow his career as a Bruin specifically.
At the end of the day, I’m still primarily a hockey fan because I love the fast-paced action inherent to the game rather than due to a specific connection with any given player. Nevertheless, it was really fun to witness Donato’s first game, as was the case with Benny. More importantly, it can be really useful to have those little personal connections, especially as an Accidental Fan. Oftentimes, that has been my entry point. With the Bruins it may not have been the original hook, but it certainly helped to propel me as a fan.
To reiterate, I think feeling a personal connection with a player can be an awesome thing for fans; you feel more invested in the game and you have someone to cheer extra loud for. Like I said, this can be problematic if a favorite player is traded and you are left with the dilemma of who to root for and your connection to the whole team is put in jeopardy. But it can be even more problematic if you begin to think of players too much as characters. After all, they are essentially performing live under immense pressure. That is what they signed up for, to be certain, but I’ve seen that pressure turn nasty. Oftentimes, cheering for favorite players when they are doing well devolves quickly into jeering and booing when beloved players are doing less well. Although we can accept that these are amazing athletes, we have to accept that they are still humans and thus flawed.
Once, at a Red Sox game, a woman and her party near us were aggressively screaming at Chris Sale, telling him to pitch better and that he sucked, etc. You get the picture — it’s Boston, after all. We pointed out to them that this was counterproductive. As I’ve mentioned before in previous columns, my mom is always defending Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask from similar harassment.
Although we can love our favorite players and be invested in them, it is important to remember first that they are just human, and second that they are only one part of a larger team. They aren’t characters; they have good days and bad days and can be affected by the negativity of their own fans screaming at them. If you scream at your TV, at least they can’t hear you; but with a whole stadium booing, perhaps it has gone a little too far. Enthusiasm for particular players is great, as long as it remains healthy. As fans, we have to accept that means having bad days and getting traded. So, get invested in players if that serves as your entry point into a particular sport or team, but just be conscious of your actions. And expect that if Benintendi gets traded, I will have to invest in some merch from his new team!