Sometimes, usually when the team is doing particularly well or particularly poorly, I reflect on what it means to be a fan. The pain and the joy; the nostalgia and the melancholy. The A's recent performance, dating back to the strong finish after Bob Melvin took over in 2011, has given me many opportunities to reflect on what it means to me to be a fan. I'm sure that better writers and smarter people have written on this topic, but here are my thoughts anyway. I'll try to keep it brief.
I understand that not everyone is a fan in the same way, and the varying types of fandom are a good thing. I consider myself a serious fan; not in the sense that I find no fun in it, or have a vast intellectual understanding of the game, but because the outcome of the games, win or lose, can have a profound impact on my mood and the way I perceive the world. Essentially giving up a bit of myself and my sense of well-being, and putting it in the hands of 25 strangers. It feels absolutely foolish and futile at times, or sublime and edifying at others. The catch is that those two states are not necessarily in direct correlation to the performance of the team. Some of my most alienated feelings as a fan came after game 162 last year, but some of my highest highs came after they were eliminated by the Tigers.
Some of the most beautiful baseball moments can come during a meaningless September game between two non-contenders. Plays made, or not made, by relatively anonymous journeymen or non-prospects getting their cup of coffee. I'm as much of a fan then as during a pennant race. But do I like those days because they're so easy? No pressure, so just as there is little risk, there is little reward? The lows don't feel as low when you're already down.
As I consider these matters, I find myself coming back to a couple questions:
- Are the highs worth the lows?
- What am I a fan of? Laundry (old cliche, but it holds weight), or an idea, or a geographic location?
To answer briefly: it doesn't matter and I don't know.
Despite the camaraderie of being a fan, it can be a terribly lonely feeling of alienation. Because, no matter how well the team does, I'm not really a part of it. I'm still just watching a group of strangers do incredible things and shouting "me too!" in hopes that my part in this will somehow be validated. Yet, it's not just grasping for glory. When the team hurts, I hurt too. Just as I can't make myself any more a part of the good, I can't make myself any less a part of the bad.
As you might be able to tell, I approach being a fan almost with a bit of mysticism. Sure, I can point to my life circumstances that more-or-less led me here, and I could probably come up with psychological and sociological explanations for the feelings I feel, but that seems largely irrelevant to me.
I feel like I keep going around in circles, but I inevitably come back to the realization that I am a fan of the Oakland Athletics. Win or lose, good or bad, I'm here.