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Fledgling Fandom: The D-Backs & Me

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Scott Howard describing one fan's (his) struggle to fall in love with the local baseball team.

I feel strongly that when you're reading the work of a columnist, you should understand the biases and preconceived notions of that person. With most of the columnists on this site, you'll probably learn a bit about their distinct personalities from the intricacies of their writing -- lucky for you, that is not what I'm about. I'm more of a punch-you-in-the-face-with-it sort of dude -- subtlety is for suckers.

So, confession time: I'm not a big Arizona Diamondbacks fan. As I've previously alluded to, most of my interest in this state leans towards the Suns or Cardinals (and apparently offending Coyotes fans ... but I mean no harm!). Thus considering I'm going to spend some time writing about the D-backs on this site, I want you to know who you're dealing with, so you can at least despise me with good reason. 

My love for the Suns and Cardinals is pretty easily understandable: The Suns functionally introduced me to sports in the 1989 playoffs (it's my first sports memory) while my family had Cardinals season tickets starting in 1991 up until we moved to Kansas in 2000. Thus, it's no stretch to say that I grew up with both teams and sports.

Then there's the sport of baseball -- America's Pastime. I suppose the threshold question would be whether I like the game itself. Well for the answer to that question you can ask any member of my family what it was like to listen to the audio version of Ken Burns' Baseball on one of our many trips to California in the early '90s. Basically, the answer is a resounding yes, despite the fact that I hit well below the Mendoza Line during my tee-ball career. But here's the rub about my appreciation of baseball as a youth ... I was a die-hard Mets fan (insert menacing music).  Right there on the same level with screaming and yelling Suns fandom. 

My parents were New Yorkers who grew up Mets fans so it became a natural thing to join the family bandwagon. Now when I say I was a die-hard, I'm not talking about a guy who just liked the Mets. I was this guy:

  • I used to pretend to be Bobby Bonilla in my backyard. Yes, seriously. Bobby freaking Bonilla.
  • I spent most of my childhood allowance on building a Dwight Gooden card collection. I still wonder how fun it was for my mom to explain what a coke addiction was.
  • I owned a "1999 NL Wild Card Champs" hat. Anyone want to bet on how many times I actually wore the thing? 
  • I'd say that's plenty good enough. The general point ... I was a big Mets fan. It's also worth noting that my love of the Mets also bred a legitimate despise of the local baseball squad. The team didn't show up until 1998 -- at which point I already knew everything about everything and couldn't well be swayed -- so their early success and the grating pipes of Thom Brennaman (and my acne) made me a bitter teen.

    When the D-backs faced off with the Mets in the 1999 NLDS, I was the obnoxious youngster gleefully skipping out of Bank One Ballpark after Bobby Chouinard surrendered a game-changing ninth-inning grand slam to Edgardo Alfonzo to decide Game 1. In fact, I was actively pissed off when the D-backs won the one major sports championship in Arizona sports history -- it was that bad. I think it was jealousy or something. 

    So what's changed? I can't exactly pinpoint it, but whether it was growing up or just feeling emotionally separated from the team, I just fell out of love with the Mets. By 2003, I didn't have the MLB Extra Innings package anymore and by 2006, I was only pretending to give a damn when Carlos Beltran couldn't get the bat off his shoulder in Game 7 of the NLCS. I never really thought fandom disappeared, but apparently for just the fifth time in my life, I was wrong.

    Losing my love of the Mets has been a bit of a pain in the ass as it pertains to being a baseball fan. I don't know if you've ever tried it, but it's pretty hard to be passionate about a sport when you don't have a favorite team. You can still watch and attempt to appreciate the game, but I've always been of the opinion that you need to have support behind a team to really be invested in the game. To that end, I've spent the last few years trying to get into the D-backs -- you know, that team I used to really dislike. 

    I figured hey, I live in Phoenix, I like living in Phoenix, and we have a major league baseball team within a short drive of my house, so why not? With that strong logic backing me (and the acne cleared up), I attempted to make the D-backs my team. 

    I maintained a decent rooting interest in 2007 as the Baby Backs made it all the way to the NLCS. Yet I missed multiple playoff games for no apparent reason, which is really no way to be a fan. I improved a bit in both 2008 and 2009 as I was making a bit of an effort to catch games, but at the end of the day I really just didn't care all that much. 

    The concept of "caring that much" probably doesn't seem like that big of a deal to casual sports fan, but I'm not what you would call the casual sports fan. For me, the living and dying with the team type of attitude is what sports is all about. Now I'm not in some way suggesting that I am running around acting like Gil Renard on Juan Primo or anything, but I like to be passionate about my teams. 

    This season I've made a few positive changes that have helped move my progress (D-progress?) along. The first improvement was getting together with my buddies and buying a 10-pack of tickets for the season. Not to turn into a team ticket representative or anything, but 10 tickets for $130 is a good idea and it's been pretty awesome so far. I mean how often do you get the opportunity to get a $9 beer? Talk about your smoking deal. 

    The second improvement has been the purchase of a second TV for my living room. For a little background, I have my pals over each Sunday during football season to watch NFL games at my house. Being that all of them are ungrateful savages, they decided I should have to get a second TV so we didn't have the horrible problem of not being able to watch two games at once. In what can only be described as Hall of Fame-level justification, I decided that the second TV was vital as a relationship tool.

    Not following? Well think about this, if you want to watch your favorite team play, it's not hard to just put that out there to your wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/lover and have them understand. Yet where such an explanation fails is when you want to check out some random MLS match featuring 22 guys you've never heard of before. 

    If I'm going to watch the Suns, Cardinals or Kansas State, it's pretty clear that I'm going to own the TV. But with the D-backs, I don't have such an obviously drawn line with the girlfriend. Throw in the second TV, and we can both win. I can be the class dude by letting her have one TV while I put any sporting event I want on the other (I don't need volume). This has pretty much allowed me to watch every single D-backs game this season.  

    With the team struggling, this definitely hasn't been a great season to try and turn into a D-backs super fan, but I'm not deterred. I figure ripping on Chad Qualls and the rest of the bullpen can only be a sign that I'm moving in the right direction.

    To sum up my self-indulgent fandom article I'll say this -- I'm a work in progress. The D-backs are a team playing a sport I like in a city I love -- it's a natural fan fit. Maybe I'll never get to a point of Suns-level paranoid pessimism, but I'm making a good faith effort to become a respectable fan. Bear with me, seamheads.