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Our first ever Rising Apple fan post comes from Larry DeBoer. He is an agricultural economics professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. He grew up on Long Island and has been a Mets fan since 1965. His favorite Mets moment is Mookie Wilson’s groundball, but Willie Mays’s homer in his team debut is a close second.
For the second time this year, one of my favorite teams has abandoned one of my favorite players. I live an hour from Indianapolis, and earlier this year the Colts cut Peyton Manning. I grew up on Long Island, and now the Mets have traded R.A. Dickey.
“Sports is a business, Larry!” is the first response I get when I object. But professional sports is not a business in the usual sense. If General Electric produces light bulbs that don’t light, I switch to another brand. But if the Mets don’t win the World Series, I don’t switch my loyalties to another team. Most fans would be ashamed to do such a thing, and professional sports teams depend on that loyalty.
May 22, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher R.A. Dickey (43) pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Only one team wins the World Series each year. Twenty-nine teams lose. If fans treated sports as a business, we’d all switch to winners. There would be no Cubs fans, no Indians fans, and let’s face it, the Yankees would be the only team in New York. The Mets survive on their fans’ loyalty, through thick and (mostly) thin.
The loyalty runs only one way, though. Teams with loyal fans can dump their payrolls, raise their prices, abandon our favorite players, and still we come back for more. This one-way loyalty makes us suckers. Fools.
“Trading R.A. may help the team win, Larry!” is the next response. Now I’ll write something that will make half of you stop reading.
Why this obsession with winning?
Met fans have a history. When nearly a million paid their way into the Polo Grounds to watch the ’62 Mets, they were called “The New Breed.” They rooted hard for the worst team of the century, and had a great time doing it. Met fans learn how to root for a losing team.
I root for the guys on the team. That’s easy with baseball. The players are not encased in armor, so we recognize them on the field. Baseball games are played almost every day, so we get to know them, though the medium of Gary, Keith and Ron.
I think of the Mets as “us.” When “we” win, I celebrate with the guys. When “we” lose, the guys and I suffer. Of course, it’s more fun to win, but day-to-day, game-by-game, the difference between a winning team and a losing team is very small. Win one extra game a week, and you finish first. Lose that game, and you finish last. One game a week doesn’t seem like much.
Surely Met fans know this! The season may be lost—but we might win today. That’s why we keep rooting, even when we’re 20 games out with 19 to play.
Rooting for the guys, though, depends on having a bunch of good guys. They need to keep playing hard, even when they’re 20 games out with 19 to play. If they give a good interview, or have a great backstory, even better.
That brings us back to R.A. Dickey. He’s a good guy, easy to root for. He plays hard. He’s intelligent and well-spoken. And backstory? He’s the most interesting man in baseball. Now he’s gone.
R.A. Dickey. Peyton Manning. Once again it’s clear that I’m a fool and a sucker. Sometimes I laugh and remember that the derivation of “fan” is “fanatic.” Rationality is not a requirement.
Today, though, I’m wondering whether it’s worth caring about professional sports.