The sociology of baseball fandom

In the beginning of a series about the Baltimore Orioles at Southern Maryland Online (somd.com), two sociologists contrast what die-hard and casual fans expect to get out of watching a baseball game.

First, the perspective on diehard fans:

George Wilson, associate professor of sociology at the University of Miami, said that when sports teams in Miami are losing, people just shrug and go to the beach. But it’s different in Baltimore.

“Baltimore is a working-class town and they identify with the sports teams through thick or thin,” Wilson said. “I think there’s some identification with the team that’s pretty strong and I think when the Orioles don’t do well, it does have an impact on the city. I think the city does feel that sense of disappointment.”

This is an argument you would find in many cities: the diehard fans (and much of the city) base their mood on the wins and loses of the local sports teams.

In contrast, the view of the casual fan:

But Merrill Melnick, a SUNY-Brockport professor who specializes in sports sociology, said that’s OK. He said the peripheral entertainment at the stadium — postgame fireworks, singles nights, fans running on the field for longer than should be humanly possible — are often more important to the casual fan than whether the team wins or loses.

One outcome of these differing perspectives is that the diehards can get angry with the casual fans for taking things too lightly. It is common on sports radio to hear diehard fans complain about the bandwagon fans and those who haven’t cared as long as they do. These arguments from the diehard fans seem to be made to show that they should be respected or admired for being the real fans, the ones who stubbornly follow their teams through thick and thin.

Sometimes, I wonder if sports fandom becomes like something of a job for many who feel obligated to watch or follow their team. If they don’t, they are being irresponsible and showing they don’t care. Being a fan then becomes sometime to compete about rather than just a diversion or a hobby.

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