Who are we as fans? Are we allowed to do what we want when we are in the stadium? Does my ticket to the game entitle me to call an opposing player everything but a child of God? What type of access to the players should we be granted? Do the players owe us anything at all?
The last couple of weeks concerning the New York Mets have the nature of fandom on my mind. Readers of my blog, or listers of the Dingers And K’s Podcast are aware of my Mets fandom, but I feel this applies to fans of all teams. It is widely known, Steve Cohen, the owner of the New York Mets is a lifelong fan of the team. He doesn’t merely see the ballclub as some sort of investment. The Kumar Rocker fiasco can call that statement into question, but it is true the wins and losses of the club affect his daily mood more than most baseball owners. His comment on Twitter set the mood for what has gone in Queens over the past few days. Questions about the quality of the at-bats of the players were definitively warranted. One can have a quibble with the comments coming from the team owner, but it would be par for the course for these statements coming from a fan.
According to FanGraphs, the New York Mets started the season with a 57.8% chance to win the division and an 82.2% to make the playoffs. Those odds are 1.7% for the division and 2.3% now. Needless to say, there are some frustrated fans around town. Taking their cues from the team owner, the fans have taken to booing the players for their poor performance. Having two weeks playing against the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Franciso Giants, the teams with the two best records in the National League, drew into sharp relief how far off the pace the Mets actually are. There was no getting behind a plucky group of guys who were punching above their weight; it was just plain old bad baseball. As the boos rained down on the Mets players, they decided to close ranks and take an “us against the world” mentality. The “thumbs down” reaction to the fans was misguided and naive at best. The fans are the lifeblood of the sport. Without them, the business of baseball goes away, and it is simply reduced back to the game we played as children.
This brings me back to what it means to be a fan. A real fan of a team wants to see their favorite team win, plain and simple. How the team performs and who their favorite heroes are may vary from person to person, but they are unified behind the one common goal. For this reason, I do feel fans should be free to boo their own team in order to voice their displeasure with perceived underperformance. It is part of the social contract of being a sports fan. Fans cheer when the team wins and boos when they lose. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.
Any professional athlete, as much as they can, need to see the world through the eyes of the fans. A fan who works all year to attend a few games deserve to be honored with the best efforts from the athletes on the field. Notice I said efforts, not success. Success is not guaranteed. Fans of any team can easily forget the players on the other team get paid too. However, I understand how it can be frustrating to see a player from your local team striking out on pitches out of the strike zone, or not running out a ground ball to beat out a double play. We have all had those moments where we think “I could have hit that”, or “I would have caught that”. Here is a remember-we can’t. Otherwise we would be getting paid to do it. The one thing we can ask of our team is they try their best to win every day.
I do not feel being a paying customer at a sporting event gives a person free reign to do or say whatever they want. The players are humans doing their days work. The average sports fan would not appreciate a customer in their place of employment an berate them for any perceived failings they may have. The salaries of the players do not mean their humanity evaporates. A lot of the venom and vitriol directed at the players comes from a place of jealousy and envy on the part of the fans. Athletes are often reduced to their stats and salaries, with little consideration of the person involved. I challenge anyone to really examine why they feel the way they do about a player they don’t like. Think about how many times has it been said “We are paying him all of this money and he can’t get a hit?”. The “we” in this equation isn’t the fan, it’s the team owner. We have to think less like we are ina position of ownership, because we are fans.
The home teams should expect support from their local fans, but it is a two-way street. The fans should be allowed to expect performance from the players. It appears the Mets have already changed their tune as I have seen pitcher, Trevor May, engaging with fans today. Franciso Lindor as signing autographs at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, all the he was giving the thumbs up to the fans. No one wins when the players have an antagonistic relationship to the fans.