Friday, December 13, 2013

Thinking about bandwagons

Chris is the weird guy at the end of the bar listening to opera with no headphones on a transistor radio. When opera isn't on, that radio is tuned into whatever manner of sports talk radio he can find, or he's watching it on the television, or both at the same time. I am constantly subjected to those shouting heads who prove that we award far too many college degrees in this country. Because of it, I hear information about sports other than baseball, even the spectacle that is known as the NBA. One outcome of this subjugation is that it has made me realize how much of a superfan I am when it comes to baseball.

I have rooted for the Capitals and Redskins for awhile, having lived in DC for most of the last ten years, the Capitals more than the Redskins as I like hockey more than football. But I had no emotional investment in those teams or those sports. I went to Caps games back when you could get $10 tickets and move down because no one went to games in the pre-Ovi days and the NHL was hurting from the 2004-2005 lockout. Still, I didn't watch the games on TV unless they were on in a bar and there wasn't anything to talk about. I didn't much notice the cancellation of the hockey season in 2004-2005. However, by the time of the 2012-2013 lockout, I did notice. Ovi had made hockey fun to watch, and I actually missed seeing the Caps play. The annual trip to the playoffs didn't hurt, either. I was on the bandwagon.

This season, we actually go out with the purpose of watching the Caps games. I'm looking forward to tonight's game and plan to make an event of it at Lou's. They haven't played since Tuesday, and I find myself contrasting the weird NHL schedule to the MLB schedule, where off days are rare. In hockey, you can play two or three games in a row then have three or four days off, and it seems like it's a momentum killer at times. This may be the first season that I've actually noticed that.

I've also noticed that I don't know a lot of the rules of hockey. I recently learned about the overtime rules and how you get one point in the standings for just making it to overtime, a very basic rule that determines playoff positions. I don't know most of the opposing NHL players, and I don't usually watch hockey games if the Caps aren't playing, unlike in baseball when I can name at least half of the rosters of every team and know some of their prospects, too. That's starting to change, as I find myself glancing at the screens of hockey when the Caps aren't playing, and two nights ago I actually watched the entire Blackhawks-Flyers game. I still had to look up the standings to find out what division those teams played in. I suspected the Flyers were in the Caps' division but I didn't have any idea how good they are this year. Contrast that with baseball, when after the All-Star break I can name the place in the standings of every team in baseball.

This must be how many Americans view baseball. I know there are far more baseball fans than hockey fans in this country, and the length of the season exposes us to the game for twice as long as the icy sport, but how can I snicker at the person who sits behind me at a baseball game and asks questions to clarify certain rules? I'm sure the odd Caps fan has overheard me ask stupid questions about hockey, rolling his eyes and lamenting the Caps "bandwagon." And what happens when the Caps stop being a good team? Will I lose interest and jump off the bandwagon?

I don't know. If the Redskins are any indication, that answer is probably no, at least not while I live in DC. (It took years for me to stop paying attention to the Giants when I moved from California, and I still have a soft spot in my heart for them, except when they're beating the Reds in the playoffs.) Sure, I stopped watching the Redskins when it was clear there were no playoffs this year, but even diehard fans jumped ship on this disaster of a season. Sure, I pay attention when they're doing well, but who wants to watch the biggest joke in the NFL? I'll watch next year. I mean, I lose interest in the Reds when they're out of contention in August; it's natural, right?

For so long I mocked the Nats bandwagon fans, but I think that is more because they carry that same Washington arrogance that I can't stand about this city more than that they were becoming fans. It was the know-it-all attitude (and the often incorrect information they stated about the team and the game of baseball) that I came to despise. It was being told to sit down when the team was rallying. It was thinking a guy like Adam LaRoche could be MVP and then being offended when I pointed out he wasn't as good as it seemed, or being ridiculed for saying he was not worth that big contract that he was given. It was the arrogance in crowning the Nats World Series champs in February 2013, in thinking it was ok to shut down the top pitcher on the staff because the team would just run over everyone in the playoffs, in criticizing future HOF manager Davey Johnson when things didn't go as they planned.

I don't find myself doing the same kind of stuff when it comes to the Caps. I know I don't know a lot about hockey, and I'm certainly not going to tell someone who's been a fan for 36 years that they don't know what they're talking about as Nats fans did to me (how'd LaRoche do this season, suckers?) We didn't have an NHL team in Ohio when I grew up, but my mother did take us to Dayton Bombers games, and I went to most of the hockey games at Miami University when I was there, so I did have some exposure to the sport. But it wasn't until I moved to Washington when I had a team I could root for. So I'm not sure if my Caps fandom counts as bandwagon or not. All I know is that I'm developing a hatred for the Rangers and the Penguins and I think that is an important step in any relationship with a sports team.

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