This is the third post related to my new project: visiting all 30 MLB ballparks this season and writing a book about the experience in the context of spirituality. Click these links to read the first two posts: announcing the project and how i created my itinerary. If you haven’t already, go pre-pre-order my book and help fund this project. Thanks errrbody!
I was sitting with a few of my friends in the cheapest seats available at Kauffman Stadium. Way up in the 400 sections. It was a gorgeous Thursday afternoon game. It was one of those games where you step outside in the morning and immediately start calling the people you have afternoon meetings with asking to reschedule because “something came up.”
The Twins were in town, and the fan split was pretty much even. Half KC. Half Minn. It’s crazy: Twins fans always seemed to have a strong contingency at Royals games before they moved to Target Field in 2010. They must’ve been itching for some fresh air outside the Metrodome. I don’t know if their traveling has dropped off since they made the switch, but I’m pretty sure this game was 2008 or 2009.
Despite the near-50/50 split, we were in a crowd of mostly Royals fans with the exception of a dad and his son a few rows down from us. The kid was probably 8 years old. He was eating Cracker Jack* and wearing a Joe Mauer #7 jersey. The dad was wearing Kirby Puckett’s #34.
* – “Cracker Jack” is plural, by the way. File that under “Things I Learned from Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
A Twins player was batting with two outs – I honestly don’t remember who it was, but lets say it was Delmon Young – and he struck out looking on a knee-buckling curve. Half of the crowd erupted in cheers. I was right with them and shouted out, “Sit down Delmon! Try taking the bat off your shoulder next time!”
The kid down in front of me – the Twins fan – turns around, and squints up in my direction looking simultaneously perplexed and furious.
The Royals come to bat. The first hitter up, Joey Gathright, singles and the Royals chatter raises up a notch. I clap my hands a few times and holler something down to the runner on first base. The whole section is into it. The next batter doubles, and Gathright – who is insanely fast – scores easily from first base. We go bananas.
I pause from my cheering when I notice the kid in the Mauer jersey turned around again. This time he’s giving me a serious death stare. I make eye contact with him and he gasps, panics and abruptly turns back around as if I was the South Bend Shovel Slayer. Then he taps his dad on the shoulder and gestures back toward our group. His dad laughs, shakes his head a bit and pats him on the shoulder.
The kid takes another quick glance back at me then turns his attention back to the game.
I nudge my buddies and clue them in to the kid’s antics. We start experimenting with our shouts starting with the general, “Here we go, Royals!” to more specific comments directed at the Twins players with funny names like “Nick Punto” and “Boof Bonser”. We space the comments out every few minutes so that the Puckett/Mauer Family doesn’t get wise and figure out what we’re doing.
And the kid turns around every single time.
And every time he wields the same puzzled stare.
And then it hits me: he doesn’t understand why I’m not rooting for the Twins too.
I imagine this kid’s whole life has been Twins baseball, and I wonder if he’s ever encountered fans of another team. He’s probably angry that we are cheering against his team, and it probably doesn’t really make sense why anyone would do something so ridiculous. He’s probably wondering why would anyone do something silly like that? The Twins are the best, after all. He’s been raised a Twins fan, and that’s all he knows. I wonder if he’s discovering for the first time that there are other ways of cheering besides his own.
And you know what, we’re all like Kid Mauer.
It might not be the Twins, and we’ve probably (hopefully) encountered alternative perspectives by now, but depending on our family of origin and where we grew up, we have learned certain ways of thinking, certain values and beliefs. From the moment we enter the world we begin a sequence of sampling, testing and drawing conclusions on the world around us. The team we root for is rarely a conscious decision on our own part. Most of us have been groomed in our ways by our family history and our geographical location.
For example, I was raised a Cardinals fan in Kansas City.
My great-grandfather was a Cardinals fan living in the bootheel of Missouri. He raise my grandpa to cheer for Stan Musial, Red Schoendiest and Dizzy Dean. Then Grandpa raised my dad in the years of Lou Brock and Bob Gibson. And sure enough, I was raised in the days of Willie McGee, Jack Clark and, one of my top two all-time favorites, Ozzie Smith*.
* – Alongside Bo Jackson, if you MUST know…more on that very soon.
Cardinals baseball was life for me in the 80s and 90s. It was all I knew. And as such, there is a list of qualities I bring to the game of baseball when I’m rooting for the Cardinals. For example, Cardinals fans are expected to…
- hate/make fun of the Cubs
- label myself as one of the “Best Fans in Baseball”
- hate the Reds too
- whine about Dan Denkinger the 1985 World Series
- brag about the 11 World Series championships
- root for and defend their allegiance no matter what
I have adopted all of these during my life at some point. These don’t make me a better person or a worse person, they’re simply undercurrents of being a Cardinals fan. Probably overgeneralized, sure. And I’m sure you have more scathing things to add to this list of you’re a STL hater, and I’m sure you’re offended by it if you’re an STL lover.
But then I grew up in Kansas City. And with every passing day, I become a bigger KC Royals fan. I don’t know the history of the Royals like I do the Cardinals, but over time I’ve grown to love this team. Through all it’s futility over the last 20 years, I have come out rooting harder than ever. In fact, I’m often asked, “If there’s a 1985 rematch – STL vs. KC – who would you root for?” And today, my answer is easy: I’d be for my hometown team. Mostly because I’ve seen the Cardinals play in the World Series a few times now and win a couple. But also because the Royals fan in me wants it more.
But my Royals fandom has established a totally different outlook on the game and how I approach it. Pretty much all Royals fans…
- complain about teams with larger payrolls
- loathe the Yankees and everything they stand for
- begin every new season with unfounded hope
- brace for imminent disappointment
- expect a different manager every few seasons
- hate the St. Louis Cardinals
- root for and defend their allegiance no matter what
Obviously, I have never hated the Cardinals because of how I was raised, but the rest of these are accurate. I gripe all the time about the unfairness of our small market in Kansas City. What if the Royals could sign elite players to $100M contracts over 6 years? The Yankees do it with little hesitation. It drives us all nuts. It’s an unfair game! Unlike the Cards, there aren’t many “Royals haters” out there, so it should be easy to look at this list, shrug and agree these all make some sense.
All of that is to say – I have a certain set of values, memories, allegiances and enemies based on where I was raised and by whom. And now, when I walk into a stadium, I bring my own personal hermeneutic with me.
When we read any text – billboards, headlines, Scripture, novels – we bring with us our own memories, emotions, histories and traditions. We each have our own point of view. When Yankees, Royals, Orioles and Cubs fans read the headline, “Masahiro Tanaka to Yanks for $155M,” they each have a different reaction. Something like…
- Yankees: “Aw yeah! We got him! Welcome to the Bronx, Tanaka! Let’s bring home championship #28!”
- Royals: “Zero surprise. Typical Yankee payroll nonsense. Grrrr.”
- Orioles: “Oh great. Now we have to face that guy 5 times this year. So long AL East division race.”
- Cubs: “Dang. I really thought we were going to bid enough to sign that guy. Not that it would matter.”
Picture it like a pair of sunglasses. I see the world a certain way because I’m Caucasian, in my 20s, American, Christian, married, from the Midwest, attended the public school system in an upper-middle class setting – you get it. I also bring psychosocial dynamics from my family of origin, both positive and negative. I bring years of relationships, conversations, histories and memories. Joy and sorrow. Celebrations and tragedies. It’s not necessarily good, bad, ugly or beautiful. It just is.
Our personal hermeneutic informs how we naturally interpret everything based on life’s experiences.
If we each have our own personal hermeneutic, when we have a shared experience, our reaction to that experience is naturally going to differ from person to person.
Hence, why I got fired up when Gathright scored, and why Kid Mauer wanted to throw his Jack in my face. Only I was self-aware enough to realize the dynamics happening between us as rival fans. The kid was not. He was experiencing a clash of personal hermeneutics, and he wasn’t quite sure what to do about it.
I think self-awareness is so underrated in today’s world. Amid the informational noise of social media, technology, television and entertainment, I think we’ve become distracted from actually discovering who we are and what has impacted our identity, and our personal hermeneutic. We also forget to consider how our perspective and our reactions, rub up against the perspectives of those around us.
Throughout this project, I want my experiences in each ballpark to be as authentic as possible. I want to understand and experience these games based on the personal hermeneutic of those around me.
Buck O’Neil, the former Negro Leagues star and later scout and coach for the Cubs and Royals, used to always root for the home team. No matter the team, he was there to support the fans that came out to cheer for their team that day. Nobody likes to celebrate while everyone else is glum. You go to cheer for the home team; at least, that was his motto.
In his book, The Soul of Baseball, Joe Posnanski tells a story of Buck leaving a game in Houston disappointed because the Cubs had beat them. “Buck should have been happy with the result, since he had worked with the Cubs organization for more than thirty years. But we were in Houston, and Buck always wanted the home team to win. He never did like seeing the home fans sad.”
One of my disciplines as I enter into this crazy ballpark tour, is to adopt Buck’s mindset. I will try my best to remove my personal hermeneutic and approach the game from the perspective of the individuals I’m sitting among at each venue. In other words, I’m rooting for the home team.
I want to be self-aware enough to understand what it is that I am bringing into each of these games and leave it at the door. I want to enter the gates expecting to experience community and friendship and camaraderie in new environments and without the baggage I bring along. I want to ditch my Kansas City/Cardinals sunglasses and put on a different pair at every game.
It will also give me a better gauge of what it is truly like to be a fan of these teams. Will I step into Fenway Park and allow the history and legend to permeate my soul? Can I enter Yankee Stadium without wrecking the experience with my pre-conceived judgements of Royals fandom?
But…will I root against my own teams?
If you saw my itinerary in my last post, you’ll notice two major emotional conflicts for me in the first and last games on the list. March 31: STL @ CIN and September 24: KC @ CLE. Somehow, someway, I’m going to have to ignore the tension I already feel, and enter Opening Day as a Reds fan. I can do that for one game, right? There are 162, and one game isn’t going to make a difference, right?! It’s a tall order, but I’m going to try my best. By far the more difficult task will be the Cleveland game. I just hope* the Royals have locked up a playoff spot by late September. Otherwise this may be a struggle.
* – there I go with my excessive Royals hopes again.
So as you follow me along the journey, and you see an Instagram update from U.S. Cellular Field, and it says “Go Sox!*,” please, refrain from blasting me with hateful texts and murderous tweets. Don’t look at me like Kid Mauer did on that beautiful Thursday at The K. Try to understand there’s a larger purpose behind it all. And if I have to shelf my fandom for a day to more securely put myself in another’s shoes, so be it.
* – Even as I typed this, I struggled to write the entire name of my least favorite team in the entire MLB. I panicked and just said “Sox”. Help me, Lord, to overcome.
I hope you understand. And I hope I can be remotely successful.