Friday, April 28, 2006

The Making of a Royals Fan

When I hear fans of good teams take shots at fans of bad teams, I don't believe that the offending fan even understands what it means to be a fan. I discount him as yet another bandwagon-jumper who claims he's been with the team since day one, but the empty stadium during that same era indicts most such "fans." But being a fan is about so much more than cheering during the good times and then slinking away into obscurity during the bad.

I met a man in church a few years ago. Everyone calls him Bear. He hadn't been to baseball game since the early 90s when he lived in Pittsburgh. He's never really considered himself a baseball fan, generally speaking, or of any team specifically. But as we became friends, he listened to me talk about the Royals and how I've been a fan since I was a little boy. I never imagined that it would prompt him to turn on the television one night a few weeks ago to watch a Royals game, but that's what happened.

He began asking me all sorts of insightful questions. He wanted to know how certain statistics are tabulated, what the difference between the American and National League is, and he even asked me what the difference between a four-seam and two-seam fastball is. He's curious about the strategy of the game and he's doing a little research on his own to find out more about the players on the Royals. Most of this happened during the 11-game losing streak. The goal is to win, but the struggle to build a winner is part of the fun and Bear already seems to understand that.

A couple of weeks ago Bear sent me an e-mail. He wanted to go to Kauffman Stadium to see a game. I took the day off yesterday and we ventured down for the series finale against the Twins. Bear and I had a great time talking on the three hour car trip to the stadium. When we got there, he seemed to be drawn to the field. So, we walked closer and I started explaining why the numbers 5, 10, and 20 on the bottom of the scoreboard are retired. And about where the monster home run that Emil Brown hit in batting practice last season landed (over the truck in left field). We watched the fountains, and the video display board. And the magical baseball atmosphere began to do its thing.

Bear and I headed to the Royals gift shop. He looked at Royals caps. He examined the Royals banners. And he looked at various other trinkets that intrigued him. Then I took him to the Royals Hall of Fame display. I rattled off everything I knew about each player and coach and he took it all in. As game time approached, he treated me to lunch, and then we took our excellent Club Box seats on the first base side—we had to have good seats for his first game.

Throughout the game, Bear stayed engaged. He listened as I complained about Redman not throwing strikes, and then about Bell leaving him in too long. He clapped when Berroa hit his first home run of the season. He commented about how hard Santana threw. He stayed optimistic even though we were down 6-1, and then 7-1, throughout most of the game. He cheered again when we posted a two-spot in the bottom of the eighth. And he never suggested that we leave early. In a sense, I witnessed the making of a real Royals fan, and maybe even a baseball fan.

Here's a photo of Bear at his first game in Kauffman Stadium:

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