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Fandom: once you’re gone, can you come back?

Jan 26, 2011, 5:35 PM EDT

Royals fail

Rob Neyer has a very good — and uncharacteristically personal — post up today about the Royals.  He was a fan dating back to 1976. Then, six or seven years ago they lost him through mismanagement, contempt for their fans and overall misery. And now he wonders: is it too late to come back?

Is my love for my Royals gone, or merely dormant? I don’t know. I will be checking the minor-league stats for all those prospects Dayton Moore has assembled. Maybe that means I’m already there. But checking stats for a few minutes every week is one thing; investing three hours of baseball time every night is quite another.

When the Royals’ hot prospects begin joining the big club, I suspect that I’ll tune in, for curiosity’s sake. Will I stick with them through 2012, when they’re fighting to avoid 90 losses?

That will be the real test, and I don’t have the slightest idea. For most of my life, I was a Royals fan, that particular shade of blue coursing through every vein in my body. Today, I don’t know what I am.

I don’t know that you can come back once you’re gone. Sports mean a lot to us, but once we lose that connection — be it to a certain team or to a sport as a whole — we also realize that the connection is tied up in sentimentality and irrationality and all kinds of things that we realize, ultimately, we can do without if forced to.  In some ways it’s like love: you don’t fall into it consciously, via some studied decision. And when you fall out, you can’t decide just to fall back into it again.

Which, in Rob’s case, is probably OK. He’s immersed in baseball every day and has obviously learned how to find joy in it without an active rooting interest. And of course, because of what he does for a living, he’s not going anywhere.

But your average fan can decide to move on if they find themselves in Rob’s shoes vis-a-vis the Royals.  It’s probably a good thing for those who own and run sports teams to remember that there’s no law of nature that keeps us watching, rooting and buying.

  1. ahealthyscratch - Jan 26, 2011 at 5:53 PM

    My buddy was a huge Flyers fan. When they were awful in 06-07 he gave up on them. Even now that they are great, he could care less. On the flip side, he’s stuck with the Phillies for 27 years, including the lean ones.

    • Chris K - Jan 27, 2011 at 12:06 AM

      I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to the Maple Leafs. They hurt me too much in 2003. Seeing as how I could never get tickets for a reasonable price anyway, I don’t miss them that much.

  2. sportsdrenched - Jan 26, 2011 at 5:55 PM

    I’ve had this same debate with my friends. I damn near did what Rob has so publicly professed…quit being a Royals Fan. But for some I reason I can’t do that. Being a Royals Fan is an abusive relatationship, it’s unhealthy. But for what ever reason I am a Royals Fan, and I have to take that to the grave.

    Fans can blast their team better than non-fans.

    Rob Neyer? No way can he come back.
    Rob’s negativity is why he doesn’t write with Rany Jerilli anymore. The fact that Neyer is having second thoughts about his resignation tells me the Royals are headed in the right direction.

  3. apbaguy - Jan 26, 2011 at 6:05 PM

    I’m confronting my A’s ambivalence this year in a different way. Dish has claimed that Comcast is making it impossible to carry the A’s games (A’s are broadcast exclusively on Comcast CA). I could go to mlb.com, but, just that move requires a renewed commitment, a commitment for a team that for the last 5 years has seemed to buy into the Orioles empty stadium, high profit model. Contrast that to the Giants and their new stadium and shiny WS trophy. It is a dilemma, because I just don’t feel drawn to this A’s team anymore, even though on paper they have a chance to compete in the West.

  4. xmatt0926x - Jan 26, 2011 at 6:12 PM

    I can see giving up on a franchise of you can see that ownership is not only bad year after year but they also have zero plans to sell the team. It leaves you with a hopeless feeling for sure. At the same time I dont see how you lose them forever if you still love the sport in your heart. I can see how the royals and Pirates have likely lost a generation of fans based on their 2 decade long futility but if for some reason it turns around I would think you have to rekindle some kind of feelings for your home team. The Phillies are my team and they went for just about 2 decades telling us they were small market and they played in a lousy stadium and free agent signings in the offseason were the bottom of the barrel players. Lets face it, there are many things a young guy can do on a summer night than support a team that has told you year after year that they will not be competing for a title. I never lost my love for the team itself and now thanks to better financial status they are competing. I have to imagine that there are many old-school Pirates fans out there that remember the 70′s and 80′s and early 90′s when the Pirates were an elite franchise who are just chomping at the bit to rekindle the fire. Something tells me that Rob Neyer is feelign a little guilty about rejoining the Royals fanbase now that they might be looking better fold after abandoning them. Get over it Rob. Be a fan again.

  5. thinman61 - Jan 26, 2011 at 6:37 PM

    I think every fan gets one free pass per lifetime to jump back on the bandwagon, and you have to wear a pink hat for a one season probationary period when you come back. Fall off a second time, and you’re dead to real fans of your former team.

  6. Chris Fiorentino - Jan 26, 2011 at 6:48 PM

    Sorry, but if you stop following your team then you weren’t a true fan to begin with. If your team sucks then you show your fandom by calling radio and posting on internets ripping them. If you “stop following them” as Rob has done, then to be honest, he was a phony fan who only liked them when they had guys like Brett, Quisenberry, and Saberhagen and were winning. It’s EASY to follow your team when they are good. A true fan also follows them when they suck.

    • Alex K - Jan 27, 2011 at 8:54 AM

      He did follow them while they sucked….but it got to be too much.

  7. tomrogers8120 - Jan 26, 2011 at 7:20 PM

    I was ten years old growing up in Los Angeles when the Dodgers moved there in 1958. I was entranced immediately, listening to Vin Scully on my Dad’s transistor radio game after game. I even got to go to the Coliseum to watch them, twice. I followed them closely, even worked at Dodger Stadium in the early 70′s, where I got to see the last few innings of every game. I read about the Brooklyn years and loved those guys as well. The team was so popular that a TV was brought to my grade school so that we could watch the 1959 World Series in class.

    I identified as a lifelong Dodger fan, until the team, since sold by the O’Malleys, traded Mike Piazza. The star, leader, and by far the best player on the team. Something snapped, and although I remained a fan of the teams of the past, I no longer cared about them going forward.

    So, it happens: fandom can end. In my case, however, I remained a fan of baseball, as most of the team-less fans doubtless do. I eventually fanned up with another team. In a strategic move, I chose my wife’s favorite, the Chicago Cubs. I had lived in Chicago and watched them on WGN from 1978 to 1983, and had been to Wrigley Field whenever the Dodgers came to town, so was familiar with them and enjoyed their broadcasters. Now, I watch every game I can catch on satellite. We go to Spring Training in Mesa every few years. I’m a Cubs fan.

    But it’s not the same. With the Dodgers, I was excited. With the Cubs, I’m hopeful.

  8. Bochy's Head/Timmy's Bong - Jan 26, 2011 at 9:01 PM

    I grew up in pre-Padres San Diego. As I had been born in Milwaukee, and visited relatives there some summers (and saw a few games at County Stadium), I became a Braves fan. Hank Aaron was my childhood hero. When the Braves moved to Atlanta, I continued to follow Hank, but my Braves’ fandom slowly died. When San Diego got a franchise in ’69, it took a few years but by the mid-70s I was a full-fledged Padres fan, no matter how awful the teams and the uniforms. Tony Gwynn sealed the deal for me, I thought, Padres fan for life.

    Funny how starting to play fantasy baseball well into middle age changed things. It led me to learn more about the game, and more about the players beyond the Padres and former Padres. I’m now much more of a baseball fan than a Padres fan. I still hope I see the locals win a Series before I die (and I pray they wear the glorious mustard-and-brown when they hold up the trophy), but if not, I’ll still have enjoyed being a fan of the game itself.

  9. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Jan 26, 2011 at 9:13 PM

    “When you’re a Jet,
    You’re a Jet all the way
    From your first cigarette
    To your last dyin’ day.”

    True fans never give up. Some old people in Brooklyn still love the Dodgers, even though their hearts are broken.

  10. dsmaxsucks - Jan 26, 2011 at 9:15 PM

    I was a Twins fan who cried when Harmon Killebrew left for KC. (That’s about 1974, kids). Eventually I moved away from MN; but then they won a couple WS. I was with them big time.

    But eventually I got to Neyer’s spot. They stunk in 93, lockout, stink stink stink. I was done with the Twins. didn’t even know half their players by 1999.

    But something always brings you back to your team. Its called a pennant race. You don’t have to win the Series, you just gotta put up a good season, and they’ll be back.

    I feel guilty for ever having left.

    Howeve, this only works for the hometown team. Your fake other league favorite team you loved as a kid (Hello Jack Clark and your San Francisco Giants) simply fades away.

  11. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Jan 26, 2011 at 9:17 PM

    “When you’re a Jet,
    You’re a Jet all the way
    From your first cigarette
    To your last dyin’ day.” – Stephen Sondheim

    True fans never give up. Some old people in Brooklyn still love the Dodgers, even though their hearts are broken.

  12. Jonny 5 - Jan 26, 2011 at 9:52 PM

    I can’t relate. I don’t know what half of you are talking about. Ending my fandom would be impossible. I had to hear for years about how my team sucks, I had to agree. Even fellow fans would talk about the different levels of suckdom and keep on rooting still. Victory still happened, it’s baseball. I was content. And tickets were plentiful. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with anyone for not being like me, just that It never, ever crossed my mind to drop my team. I guess when you’re born rooting for mediocracy in your team, with the best expectation being a “lightning in a bottle” season, you don’t know any better.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Jan 26, 2011 at 10:20 PM

      Jonny, anyone outside of Philly would never understand what you are saying. These are the same people who can’t understand why we didn’t watch a pitch of the 2010 World Series after Juan f’ing Uribe hit that home run in Game 6 of the NLCS. These are the same people who can’t understand why many of us haven’t watched a Super Bowl, except maybe for the commercials, EVER. Their team loses, and the next day, they are happy and everything is right with the world…we’ll get ‘em next year. Makes me sick. That’s why Philly fans are the #1 fans in America hands down.

      • Bochy's Head/Timmy's Bong - Jan 26, 2011 at 10:58 PM

        You know what, Fiorentino, I’m a gonna give you this one. You Phillies fans are the #1 fans in America, hands down. You make those kids in line at midnight in their sleepers for the latest Harry Potter book or movie look like amateurs, you can scream and holler louder than any Barbie-toting pre-teen girl at a Justin Bieber concert, and you probably even wear more make-up and higher heels than Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters. You are no doubt America’s #1 fans. How incredibly proud you must be.

      • Jonny 5 - Jan 27, 2011 at 8:29 AM

        Well Chris, I’m apparently a differnt kind of fan than you as well. I did watch every game of the NLCS till the very end. And I do watch the superbowl, although I must admit I do find more enjoyment in the commercials. And maybe it’s that I’m a glutton for punishment? Or maybe I’m just different, but I am happy the next day after a loss by my team. Not as happy of course, but I don’t let it get me down too much.

        And this leads to another point, which is obvious here. Phillies fan’s don’t equal _____. Just as Mets fans don’t equal ______. Everyone is different. Everyone handles wins, losses, championships,etc… differently.

        I think the reason why Philly has such a strong fan base now is directly due to the fact that they are now doing what no Philly fan ever expected. They’re winning, so they sell out. They’re spending big bucks on top notch players, So they go insane as their hearts burst with pride for the team they have but never expected to see in their stadium. It’s like having a son with a learning disability start his own buisiness and become filthy rich, when you expected him to be living at home with you the rest of your life. Or something like that.

        I’m not throwing any punches here at all Chris, I like you, you’re passionate about your team. Just pointing out the facts as I see them. I handled the NLCS loss pretty well. And I think it’s because the 2010 team is the best I’ve ever seen from Philly, or expected to see from Philly. My ability to handle this well is probably directly related to me being used to taking gut shot losses. I froze my a$$ off at the Eagles Vikes game, and I froze my a$$ off at the Eagles Green bay game. Both losses, and I still had fun, and still was able to smile the next day. I was disappointed, sure, but life is full of them, and handling them well is a good thing imo.

      • Jonny 5 - Jan 27, 2011 at 8:31 AM

        Bochy’s Head/Timmy’s Bong, Don’t make me puke on you. I’ll do it.

  13. Jacob - Jan 27, 2011 at 12:18 AM

    I was a Braves fan all through my childhood, but in the mid-’90s, I developed different interests. I probably didn’t watch a baseball game for close to ten years. When I went back to baseball in 2006, I thought I couldn’t root for the Braves again, because they weren’t the teams I remembered. But, I saw a couple of Braves games toward the end of that season, and it felt right to cheer for Chipper, Smoltz, and Andruw Jones. The rest of the team soon grew on me. By spring training of 2007, I was as die-hard as I had been in 1995.

  14. thelucasjj - Jan 27, 2011 at 7:43 AM

    I can relate to what Rob is going through here. I was born outside of Pittsburgh but moved when I was only a couple years old. My first memories of baseball where the last two competive teams the Pirates fielded in 91 & 92. However my favorite player was Bonds and since I was only 10 and had no outsie influence pushing me towards the Pirates my fandom followed Bonds to Giants. As I got older and understood the game more what I saw and heard of the Pirates frustarted me. However since the change in management a few years back I find myself more interested in the Pirates and what they are trying to do. I didn’t have the long following Rob has, but I do feel the urge to connect again. I also think there probably is some guilt tied to it for leaving in the first place, and not wanting to appear as a band wagon fan now.

  15. strandedtwinsfan - Jan 27, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    Who knew that fandom was a platonic ideal? From the comments above, the rules of fandom seem very strange. 1#. Once your a fan you must always display intense devotion #2. If you stop being a fan, you have betrayed the team and your fellow fans (it’s almost like a prison gang “blood in, blood out”). We don’t have these sort of rules for anything else. No one ever says that a forgotten friend was never really a friend.
    Why can’t we acknowledge that fandom is wonderful but completely irrational. It’d be one thing if baseball teams (or any professional teams for that matter) were mostly made up of players that grew up in the state they play for, then fandom could at least be based on a certain kinship or shared sense of place. But most players don’t even live in the state they play for! Fandom is an irrational gut reaction not a choice (I’ve been trying to like the cubs for 3 years and I can’t make myself) and like all gut reactions, it can leave. I love watching the Twins, but if they were God-awful for several years maybe I wouldn’t anymore, all I know is that it wouldn’t be a choice, it would just happen. Rob Neyer felt a connection with the Royals that left and may come back, but he doesn’t owe anybody anything.

  16. Reflex - Jan 27, 2011 at 2:12 PM

    I’m late to the discussion but I will point out that there is a huge difference between fans of a city, fans of a team, and fans of a sport. Fans of a city tend to root for all the cities teams, regardless of the sport. Fans of a team root for that team no matter what happens. And fans of a sport may or may not have a rooting interest in the sport, but mostly just like watching games and seeing good contests and/or the playoffs and championship games.

    I am in the last catagory. I didn’t grow up in a MLB city, the minor league team switched major league ownership several times(Royals, Cubs, Padres) and so no strong MLB team following grew out of it. I’m in Seattle now so nominally I root for the M’s, but honestly I don’t really care so long as the game was fun to watch when I go. I did lose interest in the mid-90′s, but came back to baseball after I moved to a MLB city and had a chance to actually see games in person.

    I find the uber team fans and city fans to be difficult to deal with, if only because they remind me of religious fanatics in their often complete irrationality and at times abusive behavior towards those who are not the same. I’ve met many who are very nice, but I’ve met many who frankly I can’t be around for more than a few minutes.

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