Apropos of Little: Four Pleasures of a Team Allegiance

A common sight at Safeco Field.

Central to the enjoyment of baseball for many of that sport’s fans is the cultivation and maintenance of a team allegiance. Below, apropos of little, are four pleasures derived from same.

Family Tradition
Frequently, children inherit the team allegiances of their parents and, before them, grandparents. There’s a certain pleasure to be derived from this continuity within a family. Our bodies seem predisposed to derive pleasure from the passing down of rituals from one generation to the next. One remembers, for example, being taken at a young age to Fenway Park, and looks forward, perhaps, to taking his or her own child to Fenway Park.

Reinforcement of Regional Identity
There are many symbols which surround a baseball club designed to celebrate and reinforce the collective values or organizing ideas of a region. Some team names (Brewers, Twins) make specific reference to a region or city’s unique qualities. Some ballparks possess visual reminders of regional — like Coors Field’s mile-high seats, for example, or the view afforded of the Roberto Clemente Bridge by Pittsburgh’s PNC Park. Fanbases themselves have reputations which augment a region’s identity — like vomiting on children, for example.

Shared Experience
Not dissimilar to, but distinct from, the two qualities noted above is that of the shared experience provided by a team allegiance. Two strangers from the greater Seattle area, for example, can embark upon a relatively intimate discussion (probably one which involves considerable sobbing) after learning of each other’s allegiance to the Mariners. Likewise, a team-specific blog (like Lookout Landing or USS Mariner) provides the opportunity for discourse and relationship-forging between individuals who have only one specific thing in common.

The Role of Chance
In 2003, after Tim Wakefield conceded a game-winning home run to Aaron Boone in the ALCS, a friend of mine told me: “I keep betting on the Red Sox, Carson, not with money but with my emotional well-being.” In a sense, team allegiances are defined by a series of small wagers of well-being — on the result of a pitch, a game, etc. Late French philosopher Roger Caillois identifies chance (or alea, as he calls it — a Latin name for the game of dice) as one of the four main types of games. With regard to games of chance, he writes, “[D]estiny is the sole artisan of victory, and where there is a rivalry, what is meant is that the winner has been more favored by fortune than the loser.” Because of other qualities mentioned above, of course, there is even some pleasure to be derived from losing these emotional wagers — because one can also grieve communally.

Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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9 years ago

Just as my father switched from rooting for his childhood team, the San Francisco Giants, to the team of his adulthood home, the Atlanta Braves, so too have I switched from rooting for my childhood team, the Atlanta Braves, to the team of my adulthood home, the Washington Nationals. And just as the Giants and Braves engaged in pennant races in my father’s adulthood, so too have the Braves and Nationals in my own.

Perhaps this is not the family tradition you meant, but just as there are many kinds of families, so too are there many kinds of family tradition. My father and I can watch the same games and both of us root passionately, each for the other’s team to lose.

9 years ago
Reply to  cass

This year’s is more of a pennant walkover than a pennant race, at least so far. Still, I take your point.