In Defense of Casual Fandom
The Rangers have the best record in the American League right now (you're probably going to read a lot about the Rangers on this site). I'm not going to lie, I didn't know this two days ago. It would make perfect story sense for me to say that I looked it up just for the purpose of writing this piece - it would add coolness to my casual fandom, like I just blithely fired up the old word doc, started writing, and did some quick "research". The truth is that I looked it up yesterday. I had just bathed my 23-month old daughter and sat shell-shocked in the aftermath of having been yelled at for doing EVERYTHING WRONG, really just the end of bath time...mom is way better at the launch sequence that gets our girl out of the bath without causing a major meltdown. I sat in the dark of the living room - we have a procedure where the girl walks around and turns off all of the lights; it culminates in her turning off the TV. When my wife takes her upstairs for singing and tucking in, I can normally just pop the TV back on and get down to the business of having a couple of adult hours. Yesterday, though (I'm writing this on a Saturday, after a mercifully better bedtime), I was beat after a long work week and a nuclear tantrum from a (to her credit) sick, cranky daughter. I just sat in the dark and consoled myself with happy thoughts. Football is coming back. That means it's September. That means, holy shit, that my daughter is almost 2. September. Hot damn. Where'd the time go? I realized how close we are to the new year (another good thought). Just September, then October, then turkey...
Holy hell, what the fuck's going on with my beloved Rangers? Best in the AL? Cool!
I mean it when I say the Rangers are beloved to me. This doesn't have to do with wild, wonderful, worst-to-first recent seasons. This doesn't even have to do with how just goddamn fun the Rangers are to watch - that doesn't hurt, though.
I inherited the Rangers in 2 of the most common ways one can: My first tee-ball team was, fate smiled down on me, the Rangers; and one summer my grandmother decided to take my family along with her to visit one of her brothers up in Dallas. My family never could have afforded the trip - come to think of it, I don't think she could either, but whatever. She's dead, and we all took a trip to watch the Rangers play. I don't remember too much about the game. I remember ice cream in a helmet and keeping that helmet for what seemed like years, and I remember Nolan Ryan. See, Nolan Ryan didn't pitch that game, but before the game started, he stepped out of the dugout to huge applause. I don't think he came out just to wave his hat at the crowd, but the roar from the crowd couldn't be ignored, and wave he did. Like so many events from when I was 4, I didn't know what was going on. There was hubbub, but I didn't get it. My dad sat me up and pointed down at the guy I couldn't really see. Nolan Ryan. I was hooked.
The story's pretty similar with the Spurs, except I never played organized basketball. That statement is true on so many levels - I'm the guy who when pals are playing pickup ball, someone will always try out some dumb And-1 shit on me (Hey, Sergio, I still remember when you dribbled between my legs when we played at Crockett. Dick move, Sergio. Dick move.)
My mom taught at my middle school. It was the same middle school she and her siblings went to. My oldest sister went on to teach there. One might assume it was horrible attending a middle school where my mom was a teacher, but it wasn't too bad. The kids kind of all loved my mom. She was one of those teachers who was always at school, sponsoring everything. One of the clubs she sponsored was the student council. The year I inherited the Spurs, the organization was starting a community outreach program where they sent game tickets to inner-city schools. They did a kind of soft-opening where they sent handfuls of tickets to school that would potentially participate, I guess so sponsors could use them. My parents drove my two sisters and me up to San Antonio to watch a game. We stayed at the same rattrap Motel 6 on the other (bad) side of the Market Square we always stayed at whenever we splurged on the 144-mile trip up. My sisters and I ducked down in the car when my mom checked us in, like we always did. My parents shared the bed that night while my sisters and I slept on the floor. We binged on cable TV we didn't have at home, and the next day we went to a professional basketball game. It was heaven.
This was '97, Robinson's injury season (We had Avery Johnson and Vinnie Del Negro, as I recall). The free tickets we got were on the first level of risers on the floor. I remember they played the Hawks and that it was a fan weekend. Half of the Alamodome was curtained off due, I guess, to the small crowd, and on the other side of the curtain there was an interactive fan event where people could shoot baskets, pose with cutouts, and stand in shoe prints of basketball players. I still remember how sublimely big Shaquille O'Neal's shoe was - they had one there in a display case. I don't remember who won that night, but I know I was a fan for life thereafter. My mom took several busloads of kids to the Alamodome over the next 2 years. Every time we would go, the seats would get worse and worse, as attendance was getting better and better. When we went at the beginning of the 98-99 season, the championship season. Our tickets were literally on the top row of seats. I was 13 years old, and I could stand up and touch the roof of the Alamodome. It was heaven.
We saw the Hawks (twice), the Blazers, the Magic, and the Jazz. My mom still, if I bring up our good fortune at having been able to go to these games for free, will bring up the Jazz. "We saw the Mailman deliver," she'll say matter-of-factly. It's sounds as uncool when she says it as it did when you read it.
I know Timmy retired at the end of last year. I watched every playoff game I could. I cried a bit when Pop spoke to reporters about the loss of his work friend - because isn't that what they were, the Riggs and Murtagh of professional basketball? They certainly were getting too old for that shit. I heard Manu re-signed, or at least is still on contract. I know Pau signed. I think I read a headline and saw a pic of a swarthy veteran Argentinian (a new one) having been signed to the team. That's about all I got this off season (I didn't watch the Olympics. Fuck the Olympics, but maybe more on that later. Maybe...). I'll try to watch as many games as I can this coming season. I will miss FAR more games than I will watch. But don't you dare tell me I don't love my Spurs.
It wasn't always like this. When I got to college, the dorms had basic cable, so I fell in love with ESPNs 1 & 2. I also joined a fraternity. That much dumb, sweet maleness in shitty, falling-down houses meant a lot of what we all shared was either sports or video games. I didn't have video games as a kid, and I certainly didn't have a Playstation or a PS2, which was their console of choice, but I had learned to watch people play games, and I could fake my way through basketball talk and actually hold my own when the topic was football or baseball. Throughout college and grad school, I followed my teams with a fervor. In recent years, when I married and my wife and I had our jobs, I got the big TV and the sports package. I was DVRing more games than I could watch, always making sure to watch Rangers and Spurs games.
Around 30 months ago, my wife and I learned that we were expecting a child. We'd been in our house for about two years. It's a great place. All we really need, but there was baby-readying to do. Our time and money was precious, and an easy way to save a little of both was to cut the cord. It was the smart choice, but it wasn't always easy. We have the digital antenna and even Sling TV (ESPN 1 & 2), but I was used to so many sports options. I had networks from all major college conferences. I had the network dedicated to content from my alma mater (yes, I'm a Longhorn; yes, the network's absurd) I had the Foxes and the Versuses and the Obscure MMA, Tapout/Mountain Dew commercial networks. I had ESPN 8. I had The Ocho!
I've made due, obviously. I mean, how important is any of it? When we're talking about T-ball love, and riding on a school bus up to San Antonio in the 6th grade and talking with an 8th grader the whole way back and her holding her head next to mine so I could hear the Makaveli, Don Killuminati album playing in her Discman headphones, and she, I swear, held my hand for a little and nuzzled her nose and lips into my cheek, when we're talking about a Burnt Orange team I rode in a car with 3 frat bros half a continent away to watch in in the Rose Bowl, when the Rose Bowl game I went to wasn't even the National Championship game, but the Michigan game from the year before...when you've built real love for teams, you keep up as you need to. Sometimes the need only extends as far as exhaustedly flicking through an iPhone to learn that your team is doing pretty great this late in the year.
I read comics as a kid. I watched wrestling, too. Some of my favorite memories as a kid were traveling to my dad's home town. I mean, it really shaped me, to the extent that I wrote a third of a collection of short stories and a novel set in that town, only calling it by a different name. Most of the times we would head over were holidays, and so my cousins would be there too. We would all stay there in this two-bedroom house that had, in its prime, housed 7 people. At times, two of my aunts and one of my uncles lived there with my widowed grandma, which would lead to my parents usually sharing my grandparents' marital bed, me and my sisters, and my cousins sometimes, too, sleeping on the master bedroom floor, and various grownups in various places in the living room and back bedroom.
One cousin a couple years older than me loved wrestling. We would huddle around the TV in the back room and watch WCW shows on TBS. We would beg my mother to take us to the video store to rent old PPVs - one of my favs was a War Games, the one where the turnbuckle came off the ring and the heels used it to beat up one of the faces (to this day I think it was "real", that the turnbuckle coming off was a botch and the performers engaged in some improv with the newly available prop, but what do I know? I haven't seen it in a couple decades). We, my cousin and I, would wrestle outside - he was the kind of cousin who would invite you to stay the night, but then turn into a dick and make you call your mom to pick you up later - and of course we would end up actually brawling. A couple times, our dads and uncles watched and cheered us on. They would drink in an alley behind a gas station - think King of the Hill, but in Spanish, is how I usually describe it. No bragging; that's just how it went.
I also did most of my comics reading during these trips. I didn't go to shops, see. I just would grab comics off the spinner racks. My folks didn't always have money to spare for some funnies, but when we were in my dad's hometown and I was expected to pile into the back of a rusty-floorboarded, white Rocket 88 ("The boys with the boys, and the girls with the girls..." never mind the fact that I was really just tagging along to watch my forbears get trashed on Schaefer Light), I would always take advantage of an uncle or two who felt like tossing an easy gift my way. Whenever we would go to the store to stock up on beers and get some distraction for me, I would hit up the spinner racks. I would often get 3 issues at a time, likely clearing out dusting-over issues no one wanted. I loved these books. I got into various Superman, Batman, and X-men runs. For reference, I recall Jean Paul Valley taking up the mantle of the Bat from Bruce Wayne when he was hurt in Knightfall, as I had first-run issues from then. I even lucked into getting 3 of the 4 Marvel vs DC comics just by luck of being in a convenience store with a grown-up or three who needed me quiet for a while. I loved the characters. I still do.
I bring up comics and wrestling to illustrate a point. These things mattered to me. They matter to me. I read through most of the New 52 Batman and Nightwing, and even Red Hood and the Outlaws stuff. I like Snyder, Higgins, and Tynion all very much. I bought a few trades (paperbacks collecting parcels of issues), a single issue or two here and there, but I mostly checked them out from the library.
I'm a writer. A big-boy, working-on-his-third-book writer. Whatever time I have, creatively, has to go to that. So I read comics. There's something beautiful about getting into and out of a single issue of a comic. It's like wrestling. We know the beats: The bad guy (heel) is going to come out glowering at the audience and making like he's going to backhand an old lady or two; the good guy (face) comes out smiling and showing bold, confident swagger. Goodie and baddie tie up. Goodie is clearly a better performer. He mops up the floor with baddie. Baddie gets an underhanded advantage (maybe he punches when the ref is separating the action, maybe he uses an illegal weapon). Baddie hurts goodie for a while. Goodie gets the fire, the Hulk Hogan-about-to-pass-out fire, comes back against all odds, and regains control of the match. What happens from here depends on context:
If it's a normal match, the baddie will usually cheat to win. We still love goodie. He tried, and good would have prevailed over evil if evil weren't so gull-durned, fricken evil.
Also with normal matches, the baddie can just up and cheat so blatantly that he's disqualified. The scoundrel!
If we're at the apex of a program (a storyline carried out over many matches by 2 wrestlers or teams), the goodie or baddie (usually goodie) can win clean. This means a pin or submission in the middle of the ring, no cheating or cheating overcome. These usually happen at what used to be Pay Per Views, but now with the WWE network, that term is somewhat antiquated (there are ROH, PWG, and various other indies or international organizations who do still use the PPV model), and most times, a long-run storyline is ended, or it's continued by an even bigger cheat or outlying circumstance.
This is all very similar to comics, where teams of writers and artists are brought in (typically principles in each - a head writer and head artist) to create new "programs" to borrow a wrestling term. We'll be introduced to a new baddie. He'll confuse and even almost defeat our hero. At his/her lowest, our hero will get "the fire". They'll remember why they fight and, in the face of despair, they'll push themselves to places they never thought they could reach to win. This is usually after several issues. A special issue, like a PPV usually culminates all the action. Of course, goodie wins. Sometimes, as with wrestling (hair/title/anything vs contract, or loser leaves town matches), the baddie seems to be done forever. As with wrestling, we always need new issues. Sometimes writers/creative teams will wheel out new villains, but there's always that one big baddie that can be counted on to come out of retirement. The Joker will always come back. As will the Undertaker. As will Triple-H.
As with any ongoing story, the old classic villains are all we can really count on to validate our new or changing heroes. Because our heroes are supposed to change. They're either supposed to find new vulnerabilities or overcome old ones. Sometimes, they're supposed to step aside, give up the mantle, for the new folks. But just like with the villains, our heroes are on standby in the collective unconscious of every comic reader and potential writer. They're there, toys in the box, just like the villains. The same, sadly sometimes, is true for wrestlers. For the right price (and notwithstanding a lawsuit about a sextape and, worse, racist claims) Hulk Hogan would wrestle tomorrow for the WWE or for TNA or even, and let me repeat FOR THE RIGHT PRICE, in Japan.
I know that Marvel is about to end Civil War 2. I know it's about some precog bullshit, and Carol Danvers is set against Tony Stark. I know that, in this one, Tony Stark is not the asshole. I read most of the first Civil War. Tony Stark was a real asshole in that one. It was kind of terrible. But I read it through, because I watched the first match or two of a program and, why not?
I know that DC has launched a new reboot of its books. I know it's incorporated Dr. Manhattan into its new universe. Cool! I'm not going to read or buy those.
There are myriad sites where I can see what's going on in Marvel or DC. I can be kept up do date with the storylines of these companies without having to buy or seek out (though I truly am willing and able to do so, if they give me a reason!!!). I know that we might learn about where the writers have put Cyclops for so long. I know that Lois Lane got super powers after Clark Kent died. I know that Justin Fuckin Trudeau is a goddamn character with whom Starks spars. I know all of this bullshit, just like I know that Kevin Owens is finally getting his BIG break in WWE after a long career in the indies.
You see, I know about what's going on in the WWE in the exact same way I know what's going on, as far as I care to, in Marvel and DC comics. Life's about, hell, identity's about nuance. It's about where you're from and what that does to you. It's about what's in your immediate sphere and what that does to you. If you've ever watched Ice Road Truckers (a show I know exists, but have never seen), and wonder why these people do what they do and why those who love them actually love them enough to endure their risks, the answer has a lot in common with why you'll likely be a Broncos fan if you grew up in a certain part of Arizona, and a Chargers fan if you grew up in another... It's why Canadians love curling and Americans love Football and Mexicans love fùtbol (just kidding, not really).
But, with each of these things, I've paid more in attention span than money. Is it okay that I've only been to one live WWE event in the last 22 years? Does the fact that it was Wrestlemania 30 lend me any more street cred; does it detract? Does the fact that I didn't know what my baseball team's record was mean I'm a bad fan? Does that mean that they matter to me any less?
I know more about the current slate of even more newly rebooted DC comics than I should. I mean, I haven't even bought one issue. But that does not make me any less a fan. My not liking this run or that of a comic, or this program or that in wrestling, does not mean I'm done. It only means I'm ready for the new and (hopefully) better.
All of this is pertinent to legit sports.
Every season of a team you love has played out like a pro wrestling program. It's just that sometimes your team's face, and sometimes your team's heel; hell, sometimes, your team's the Brooklyn Brawler. But if you love it, your team, your league, your obscure sport, keep it up. Even if the most you can do is browsing headlines and peeking at a sweet blog or two, keep it up. Because it matters to you. Your sport and your team matter to you. No one can take that away from you. Wear your hat; wear your jersey, because you love your team, and if someone asks you what the score was last night and you don't know, you don't have to tell them. It's okay to not know. It's because you just wrestled a wet toddler into PJs. You don't have to tell them it's because this was your second week (if you're a teacher) in front of kids who are now feeling free to be as shitty as they want to be. You don't have to tell them shit. Ignore them, if you can. You don't owe them shit. You know, in your heart, which team is yours. If you don't know who started in left last night, if you don't even know their record in the first week of September. You're not a bad fan, you're just a casual one. There's nothing wrong with that.
Rene S Perez II is the author of two books, Along These Highways (2012) and Seeing Off the Johns (2015). A father and teacher in Austin, TX, he is currently working on his third book.