On fandom and the faithless.

Fairweather fans, bandwagon fans, you fickle, fleeting, flighty fans… I have a confession to make: I envy you.

How incredible it must be to get only the good. To cheer and revel and talk shit to the other team and then promptly disappear when the going gets tough. How simple and lovely, to hop on the highs and avoid the lows. 

My fandom is not fandom; it’s love. It’s obsession. When I refer to the Cardinals as “my boyfriends”, I’m not being cute. It’s not a joke. I spend time with them every day. I follow every pitch of every game when possible, often at the risk of being absurdly rude. I listen with one earbud at dinner parties. I am an asshole for the Cardinals, because sometimes, you must be an asshole when you are in love. I commit. I plan my schedule around important games. In October, I blow people off because “I am busy”. I am busy — because I am in love. I cancelled the dinner reservations to celebrate my first wedding anniversary and made my husband drive to Milwaukee for Game 6 of the 2011 NLCS instead. I told my boss I couldn’t possibly work anymore and drove the 5 hours to St. Louis on a whim, arriving just in time for the bottom of the 1st inning of Game 7 of the 2011 World Series. The Cardinals are my priority, and I regret nothing.

During this bitter 7-game losing streak, I grieved. I became tense and snappy; there was a knot in my chest that I could not shake. When the boys are playing poorly, I grow anxious in helplessness, clutching in a vague, aimless way for comfort, desperate to do something. That is where fan superstition comes from, you know — it comes from this insane kind of love that drives you to believe that you have some kind of power to affect the thing you love, even when you so clearly do not. You start to think, maybe if I don’t watch. Maybe if I wear this shirt. Maybe — if only! I’d do anything. I really, alarmingly, would do just about anything.

One by-product of that superstition: I don’t trash talk. I believe in karma, and I work to do my part to produce only positive vibes for these people I love so much. I smother my frustrations and bite back retorts. The season is long, and I know all too well that anything can happen. You can have a dominant regular season and get crushed in the World Series (2004); you can win 100 games in the season and get stomped out in the NLCS (2005); you can have two 8-game losing streaks and squeak into the playoffs on 83 wins and WIN THE WHOLE DAMN THING (2006!); you can slump and surge and slump and SURGE through September, you can be down to your final strike TWICE… look, you can experience miracles, and that’s why we’re in this. That’s what this love is all about. And that’s why I don’t trash talk — anything can happen, good or bad, and I can’t bear to bring the bad upon us. Since I control that and all, with my love.

So go forth, you happy bandwagon riders. You’ve done it best, done something I couldn’t do if I tried — you’ve given yourself the gift of baseball as a carefree, enjoyable pastime. You’ve gained cold beers in the hot sun, fun summer days and warm summer nights, the ecstasy without the agony. You’ve never cried for “your” team or picked a totally senseless fight with your spouse after an especially shitty playoff loss (2009… sorry again, dude) or hidden under your bed during Game 4 of the 2004 World Series, unbelieving and broken. You get to make rude remarks with no care for the karmic consequences. In short, you’re not insane. You are a sexy, flirty stranger, in for a fling, and I am the staid wife with her curlers and cold cream, the one who’s always there. I envy you — of course I do, for all these things that I will never do and can never be. 

But then I remember. Sitting on a couch at 11:00 am in Asia, alone, clutching a stuffed animal cow wearing a Cardinals hat and jersey, as Adam Wainwright strikes out Carlos Beltran (whom I now love, of course) on three pitches in the bottom of the 9th with the bases loaded. Pacing and skipping laps around my tiny downtown Chicago living room during THE Game 6… breathless, weightless, elated. Speeding down I-55 in a black Cadillac because it is the only car left at the dealership as we decide last minute that Game 7 is not to be missed, at any cost. Swarmed in that sea of red as our comeback Cards no longer had to come back. Sneaking in (yet again!) past the Braves (now there is some bad karma); Pete Kozma stunning the Washington Nationals and me. I remember and I realize, I wouldn’t trade with you, with your small hearts and your fancy freedom, for anything. That I will take this impossible love and all its hardships, I will take the struggling and weeping and biting of the tongue and the BEING BATSHIT CRAZY that you’ll never get, because the rewards…. oh, the rewards — well, you’ll never fully get those, either.

I’ll take the love.

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