Monday, August 18, 2008

By David Saltzer - Columnist

You can hear it on the sports-talk radio. You can read it on the internet. It’s that time of year again when the bandwagon fans come out to catch a ride on the hot teams—much to the annoyance of the real fans. And with the Angels presently sporting the best record in baseball, they are coming out in full-force for our team.

For real fans, the bandwagoners create many problems. They buy up a lot of merchandise. They buy up tickets and drive up the costs for real fans. They act very self-important, as if they have been paying attention to the team all along. They get into silly arguments about things they don’t know or understand—like why Teixeira didn’t lay down a bunt in the 3rd inning with 2 men on and 2 outs. Basically, they act like the whiny kids complaining about low grades on book reports they wrote about books they didn’t even bother to read.

At this time of year, the phrase bandwagoner gets bantered about regularly. While luckily it doesn’t happen so much on (maybe due to the quality of the site and the posters), you can find it almost everywhere else. On the radio, callers and hosts regularly use the term to deride a person with whom they disagree. The talk-show hosts use it to generate needless controversy to fill the hours.

So, how do we tell the real fans from the bandwagoners? Sometimes the difference is easy—such as when a person suggests that we need to drop “Valdy” to the 7-hole in the lineup and trade for Erstad to take over CF. Other times, though, it’s not so easy.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of objective tests that we can use to distinguish between the bandwagoners and the real fans. Both may or may not have Angels gear to wear. Both may or may not attend a certain number of games. Both may or may not make silly trade ideas or lineup ideas for the both. Both may or may not know every last detail about every player and minor leaguer in the system. Some real fans may not be able to get to many games due to finances, where they live, life events (from personal experience having infants greatly affects the number of games that I can attend), etc. while some bandwagon fans can get to many more.

So, what makes a person a real fan?

For me, a real fan is one who will attend, watch, or read about a set number of games for the team regardless of the standings. Real fans are following the team in April and May as well as in September. They pay attention while hockey and basketball are wrapping up their seasons and are still paying attention late in a year when the Angels chances of the post season have long since dimmed. They may have to make sacrifices, such as not eating in the ballpark, or sitting in cheaper seats, but they still come regardless or watch regardless of the standings.

For real fans, the Angels are their team. They are paying attention year in and year out regardless of how the team performs. While real fans may mourn the loss of certain players from the Angels (like Eckstein), and may hope that former Angels play well once they leave the Angels, they still want to beat their former teammates. Real fans want their former players to go 4-4 with NO runs scored while we pitch a shutout for the game.

Real fans may disagree with management about a signing or a trade—or lack thereof. They can blog, post, call, or complain about team actions (or inactions) vociferously. But, unlike the bandwagoners, they recognize that they will never have all the information that the team has. So ultimately, they give deference to the Angels management to which they are due.

Real fans will keep at least casually informed about the rest of baseball, but will have a greater knowledge about the Angels. As baseball fans, real fans are fans of baseball, so they keep abreast of it. They may read some interesting stories about other teams or players. But, when push comes to shove, they’ll gladly read an article about a game they saw the day before rather than reading about A-Rod’s latest tryst with Madonna.

Real fans have class and dignity when attending a game. They don’t root for players on other teams to get hurt (like when Kotchman got a concussion), and they acknowledge an opponent who does get hurt. Real fans politely applaud when the opposition makes a great play—even if they wish the play had turned out differently and groan when an opponent gets injured. They don’t get drunk and belligerent with fans for other teams. They may heckle and cheer, but they don’t get physical or violent.

The hardest thing for real fans to accept is that deep down they know that the team needs the bandwagon fans. For one thing, some of the bandwagoners will go on to become real fans. Let’s face it: no one is innately born an Angels fan. Had we lived in other cities or in different times (when the Angels weren’t an ML team for example) we might have easily become real fans for other teams. There is no doubt that some child will be brought to Angels Stadium for the first time this summer because the Angels are hot and the child will become hooked. That child will grow up to be a future real fan. As good as we’ve been playing, we’re probably making many more future real fans.

Another reason why real fans need bandwagoners is that baseball is a business that depends on numbers. Bodies equal ratings, and ratings equal cash for the team. The more bandwagoners we can get, the less real fans will have to pay for tickets over the course of the year. And the more merchandise they buy, the greater the variety that will be produced. With a great owner like Arte Moreno, the more revenue the team can generate, the more revenue we can spend to keep players like Teixeira and Lackey.

So, let’s face it real fans: as much as we may complain about them, we need the bandwagoners. Every time we have to suffer through callers talking about “Shoney Figgins” or asking why Scioscia doesn’t pitch K-Rod in the 5th inning, we need to remember that some of those asking the questions will go on to be great fans in the future or help us to remain a large market team.

As a real fan, I am thankful that bandwagon season only lasts from August through October. And, I’m thankful that we will be playing in October—even if it means the bandwagoners will be descending on Angels Stadium like a plague of locusts. While the bandwagoners may be starting to hatch, I know that I’ll have the rest of the year to love the Angels without them.
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