The Lament of the Middle-Aged Sports Fan

Dale Kasel

Spectator sports, like therapy sessions, have their ups and downs. For the middle-aged baseball fan, even some of the downs have value. And so, as a public service, I will offer you a few thoughts on why millions of people spend billions of dollars watching something they can’t do and probably never could do very well; something that causes much aggravation and that, by season’s end, leaves most of them disappointed, year after year.

First, the painful fiscal facts. There are thirty Major League Baseball teams. In every season, the fans of 29 of them will observe that they rooted for a team that did not win the World Series. In the 2012 season:

The Fan Cost Index, the total price to take a family of four to a game increased by 2.4 percent to $207.68, according to Team Marketing Report’s exclusive survey.

The Fan Cost Index is created by combining four non-premium tickets, two beers, four soft drinks, four hot dogs, parking, two programs and two adult-size hats.

I’m thinking the two adult-size hats were included because the alleged adults needed to cover the hole in the head that allowed them to spend over $200 for the privilege of a bad seat and a day shot on fighting the traffic just to watch the home-favorites lose. And remember, I’m a baseball fan!

So what explains this exercise in self-flagellation and taking the fast-track to a life of poverty?

  • Comradery. Most of us find it very easy to talk at least a little to our fellow-fan of the home team, for the simple reason that we know he thinks like us and feels our pain; he experiences the same joys and sorrows as we do. We are bonded just by sitting in adjacent seats. It is a pleasant feeling and people out for a day in the sun usually start that day in a pretty good mood.
  • An Opportunity to Complain. Complaining, unless you are a member of the Tea Party, is seen as being a bad sport here in the USA. We think of ourselves as a “can do” people, who need to be blindly optimistic no matter the circumstances. But sports gives us a socially approved opportunity to vent and we all need some venting. That’s why we purchase air-conditioners and keep the windows open when we drive.
  • The Illusion of Youth. Where else can a 350 pound middle-aged man get away with saying, “That was an easy ground ball. Heck, I could have fielded that.” This, from a man who cannot see his own shoe tops while standing. Really. We all want to think of ourselves in the heady and fit days of our youth, when agility had not yet been replaced by flaccidity and ill-timed flatulence. For $207.68 you get four tickets to a place where people don’t laugh at you when you imply that you are a better man than someone half your age.
  • Distraction. Baseball is a pastime. It takes you away from the fact that your car needs repairs that you can’t afford, your son needs braces on his teeth that you can’t afford, the boss needs work you can’t afford to botch, and your spouse wants you to repair 18 different parts of the house that you can’t afford and have no idea how to fix on your own. A baseball park offers a place of escape, a Never-Land of illusion, a temporary refuge from the steam-roller of life.
  • Identification. Most of us lead pretty ordinary lives. We are not great heroes and athletes. No one we pass on the street points to us and says, “There goes godlike Achilles! Wow, I wish I could be like him.” But at the ballpark we can identify with wonderful athletes who can do things that we can’t and never could. When they hit home runs, so, in some sense, do we. For our $207.68 we borrow the hero’s prowess and glory in his achievements, at least a little bit. And, should the team actually win a World Series Championship, we hold up the foam finger we bought for even more cash and shout “We’re Number One!” We?
  • Looking for Something Bigger than Ourselves. Nietzsche said “God is dead.” That wasn’t entirely good news. Most of us seem to need something bigger than ourselves to attach to and believe in. We need other fellow-worshippers, too. And so we go to the ballpark, where the faithful at the green cathedral continue to hold on to the belief that, finally, “This will be our year.” That all those who believe in other teams are actually worshipping false gods. That the ballpark is a substitute for a church, a temple, or a mosque. And that the cost of admission is like a donation or a tithe — a small price to pay for the privilege of worship; to see the ballplayers, AKA the priests, perform (we hope) their magic on the field of play and give us reason to “believe” in spite of the fact that the team is 30 games behind the leader in the standings with only 25 games left to play. It is, in other words, a place where a die-hard baseball fan prays for a miracle.
  • Bonding with Our Children. Whether you have a boy or a girl, there is something quite wonderful about watching the game together, teaching them the rules, letting them share your excitement, and recalling for them the time your dad took you to the ball park, and the time that his dad took him to the ballpark, in a never-ending line of shared experience and love.

I have a confession to make. Until I was in my early-60s and suffered a torn meniscus in my left knee, I actually thought I could still play ball passably well. Yes, I was one of those people I’ve just described. Self-deluded. Holding on to a youth that was long past. Rooting for a team (the Chicago Cubs) that still hasn’t won a World Championship since 1908.

We need our illusions, our attachments, our distractions.

Perhaps $207.68 is a better deal than I thought.

The top image is a photo of Dale Kasel in 2007, then an outfielder for the Air Force Academy baseball team. It was taken by an unknown author and sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

4 thoughts on “The Lament of the Middle-Aged Sports Fan

  1. I’m not a sports fan, but I always thought of my fellow UC Berkeley alum who follow football as the optimistically hard-core: Cal hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl since before WWII. But a Cubs fan! In 1908, women couldn’t vote, and WWI hadn’t happened… that’s hard-core.

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    • Yes, indeed. In truth, I am less desperately involved than I was some years ago. My own father lived a long life (88 years) and the Cubs never won the World Series in that time. There is a very funny short story by W.P. Kinsella about the Cubs called “The Last Pennant Before Armageddon.” It is in a collection called, “The Thrill of the Grass.” Very much worth your time.

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  2. I’m not a sports fan, but rooting for one’s national sports team goes a long way is uniting the population and raising morale. If only for a while.

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  3. Too true, Rosaliene. Of course, it is one of those things that unites one group against another. Fortunately, with baseball, at least, this usually doesn’t lead to violence.

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