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Baseball 101: Being a baseball fan

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How do become a baseball fan?

Tampa Bay Rays Vs. Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in ALDS Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

With the holidays right around the corner I thought that rather than bog new baseball fans down with basic pitching statistics, I’d do something that was requested in the comments on another one of these primer posts, which is advice on becoming a baseball fan.

Learning the sport is an intimidating process, one which requires a fair amount of base knowledge, which is obviously what this series aims to help with. But beyond the numbers and rules, what does it mean to be a baseball fan? How can you get the most out of your newfound passion for the game? And is there a “right” and “wrong” way to be a fan?

First thing’s first, let’s acknowledge something: it’s totally fine to be a bandwagon fan.

I know this might be an unpopular opinion among die-hards who have been around in lean years, but I truly believe there is no wrong way to become a fan of a team. You want to cheer for the Rays because of their trip to the World Series and their current incredible record? Well, that’s a wonderful reason to find a team to cheer for. What I do recommend avoiding, however, is fairweather fandom. Just know that when you pick a team there will be years where the record is bad, the players are bad, and everything makes you miserable. It’s inevitable. Accept that whatever team you choose as your team, will not always be on top of the game, but you stick it out in the bad years to make the good ones feel more worthwhile.

Next most important thing: no one expects you to watch every game.

Baseball has one of the longest and densest seasons in sports with a whopping 162 games between April and September of every year. If you factor in March spring training games and the October postseason, there are only four months out of the year where MLB games are not being played in some capacity. New fans can be daunted by this. It’s not like the NFL where you can watch every game your team plays in a season with relative ease. Baseball’s season can, admittedly, be a slog.

So, do you need to watch all 162 games in a year to be a real fan? Absolutely not. The only people who do that are beat writers and absolute die-hards. For a new fan starting out, why not pick up on a series you think will be most interesting? Those against division rivals are usually a treat because more is on the line in terms of the standings. Or watch interleague games against teams that your club rarely sees. Are you a big fan of a certain pitcher (Tyler Glasnow, perhaps?) Most starting pitchers work on a 5-game rotation, so why not try to tune in for those specific games?

As you ease into your fandom, aim to watch a game a week during the season to start with. You can fill in the blanks pretty easily with recaps from your favorite team site, or checking the box scores the next day for the highlights. Team social media accounts are usually very prompt to share video clips of big home runs or incredible catches, so you can use the platforms at your disposal to stay in the loop even when you don’t get to watch every game. This is especially helpful for overseas fans whose schedules don’t exactly mesh with the American air times of games.

Also if you’re not a night person and evening games are a tough commitment, Sunday games (with the exception of the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball match) are on at noon. And typically on Thursdays many teams will have an afternoon game to allow enough travel time for teams to get to their weekend game destinations.

What about in-person game viewing?

Here are a few things to remember about seeing a game in person. You don’t need to buy a jersey. They’re expensive, and more often than not you might end up picking a player who isn’t on the team in a season or two. Wait until you are really invested in the team, and a specific player before sinking money into a jersey. Also, picking a retired player is a safe bet for a jersey that will never go out of style, though I’m a big believer in just picking a player you love, regardless of whether they’re a superstar or not.

On that same note, you don’t even need to own a team t-shirt or anything in their colors. If you’re attending a game in person for the first time, no one is going to notice you’re not in head-to-toe team gear. Wear whatever you want. But fair warning, the second you step into the official team store you’re going to want to buy it all.

In terms of actually watching the games, you want to keep an eye on the helpful objects available to you. When you’re attending games the scoreboard will share player names and stats with you during each plate appearance, so even if the players are teeny tiny from your seats you’ll always know who’s batting and who is pitching, and have a good idea of their statistics (which you’ll now have a decent grasp on from other lessons in this series!)

Rapid-fire hints for in-person baseball attendance:

  • The wave is not mandatory, and no one will judge you if you do or don’t participate
  • Participation-based activities like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and DJ-favorite “Everybody Clap Your Hands” (actually a clip taken from “Cha Cha Slide” that gets played at EVERY SINGLE BASEBALL GAME) are pretty easy to figure out from cues. Most stadiums will show the lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the scoreboard if you’re unsure. Truly though, the Seventh-Inning Stretch at a big MLB park is a tremendously fun experience, give into it.
  • Yes, you absolutely can take photos with the mascot as an adult. I encourage this.
  • Tradition will suggest that if you catch a home run ball off the bat of an opposing player you throw it back, but I will not judge you for keeping it.
  • Similarly, someone might tell you to give it to a kid, but I’m not going to tell on you if you don’t.
  • Can you look at your phone? Yeah man, games are long, check your Twitter feed. But keep your eyes up when the pitch gets thrown because foul balls are no joke. Most stadiums have extended their netting to keep fouls out of the stands, but just be aware of what’s going on around you.
  • Stadium selfies? Do it.
  • Player autographs? Pretty hard to get now, actually. With current health restrictions and the expanded safety netting, you can’t just linger by the dugout with a ball hoping to spot someone. If you do happen to spot a player in reach, be polite and have a pen and ball ready. If they say no, don’t make a big deal out of it.
  • Cheering for the away team? Yes, this is okay, but be prepared to accept some jeers from the crowd around you. If you’re going to be a stan for the away team it’s totally fine to cheer for the good stuff, but perhaps take it easy on slandering home team players or booing them. You’re not going to make any friends of your seatmates that way.
  • Drinking? Yup, if you’re of age you can have beer served right at your seat, and nothing is better on a hot day, but don’t be that fan who gets wasted and makes a scene.

And as we wrap up, here are some good beginner tips for becoming a fan of your chosen team:

  • No one expects you to remember the entire 40-man roster, but have a good idea of who might be in your standard starting lineup, as well as the most frequent pitchers in the rotation.
  • Under no circumstances do you need to have anyone’s stat lines memorized.
  • If anyone tries to quiz you on anything, they’re a jerk, and it’s okay to say “I’m a new fan.” If they say “you’re not a real fan because...” then ignore them. If you exist and you are a fan, you are a real fan. There’s no test you need to pass to prove yourself.
  • It’s okay to ask questions during a game, but make sure whoever you’re asking is willing to be your baseball guide. Some people just want to watch the game, others will relish the chance to give you insights and wisdom. Know which type you’re watching with and it will be a better experience for you both.
  • Baseball fans LOVE to assume they can do a better job than the manager (and sometimes the player). If someone is armchair managing, let them. We feel a lot better after screaming “My grandmother could have caught that!” at our TV once in a while.
  • Have. Fun. Above all else, let this guide you. Baseball will break your heart, it will never love you back, and it will make you cry (there absolutely is crying in baseball), but it is a wonderful, compelling, intoxicating sport that fans adore. Have fun, enjoy the ride, shout, jump around, cheer. Be a part of it and it will become a part of you.

Welcome to fandom.