When Do We Start Being Real Fans?

Very Young Houston Buff

Don’t let the worried look fool you. I wasn’t quite old enough in the adjacent picture to care what happened with the Houston Buffs the night before, but I can’t imagine what else might have been on my young worried mind when this ancient photo of me was taken. In fact, I chose to use this photo this morning because the expression pretty well characterizes in my most personal way of showing disappointment how a real fan reacts to the loss of his team.

When the Astros dropped that Opening Day beauty in the ninth inning at Philadelphia by 5-4 on Friday, the expression seen here is exactly how I felt about it. The outside of me may have also have looked the same, but there was no one else at home to see me at three o’clock on an end of the work week afternoon – and I sure wasn’t looking in any mirrors.

I did call a friend to vent my frustration. I told him that Friday’s Opening Day “disappointer” (to dabble in Dubya’s creative use of language) was exactly the reason I held off caring all spring about the outcome of games until the regular season started. There’s no need to take a roller coaster ride on the W/L line until the games actually matter.

Then a game like Friday follows – and it’s now been followed by the Wandy Waste that took the mound in our behalf on Saturday.

Am I disappointed? You bet I am. Should I be surprised? I shouldn’t be. Will I continue to care? Yes, I can’t help but care. For better or worse, this is my team – our Houston team. Maybe that’s not a particularly smart way to be, but we’re talking here about what it takes to be a real fan. The subject has nothing to do with intellect. In fact, as an IQ test, most fans would probably fail if our decisions to follow our clubs in spite of the facts was the test of our otherwise sometimes useful brains.

As fans, and especially in the spring, we tend to allow our wishes to fill the cup of good hope with the fluidity of optimism until it overflows and covers all the major  shortcomings of our clubs. I think we do that because real fans are constantly trying to protect themselves from the hard  emotional pain of reality that our teams may sometimes have a bad year, a bad decade, or even a bad century or so, where they don’t play so well. Still, we always know that caring about what happens to our teams is essential to the status of being a real fan – and to accomplish that end, we have to protect ourselves from disappointment with the harsher side of reality as much as possible.

Unfortunately, Friday’s game for Astros fans was probably the last kind of reality-dose that we needed this early in the season. In spite of all our cliche “blow it out your ear” capacities for writing off an Opening Day loss as simply a sad start to a long season that overflows also with hope for rallies and turnarounds down the road, the way the Astros lost Friday turned and twisted the knife on our worst fears: Starter Brett Myers pitches well enough to win and our power-challenged line-up manages to punch out enough singles and one triple by the speedy Michael Bourn to give the Astros a 4-0 lead over one of the best clubs in baseball and a game we should have squeezed dry into the win column, but, oh no. Closer Brandon Lyons comes into the 9th and gives it all away on three runs from six singles and it’s back to the ugly fear we all harbor: We may be good enough to hang tight in some games, but we eventually will get blown away by a lack of power hitting and a relief staff that cannot hold leads.

Nothing happened on Saturday to assuage those fears. In fact, all Saturday did was open the door on the other bigger, even more abysmal fear that we do not want to acknowledge – and that’s simply this: Sometimes, and maybe too often, the starter will just get blasted and the Astros will be out of it from the git-go.

So, in the middle of all this actual “help, the season has started” angst, what’s the answer to our question: When do we start being real fans?

Well, I think it’s more of a process than a date certain. We just ooze our way into becoming real fans, day by day, as we risk more caring about the outcome of our club’s games and daily goings-on. When are we there? I’d day it’s when our “happily or unhappily ever after” capacity for caring binds us individually into supporting our team over time, through thick and thin – and  even when excessive losing pushes us full bore into a dedicated pattern of reality-avoidance – and also onto a belief level that dictates that we will never give up – ever – even if our club has not won a World Series since 1908.

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