Rooting For Clothes
Many people are becoming Ranger fans due to the recent success. There’s nothing at all wrong with that. Some call new fans bandwagon jumpers, but that is only true if they leave when the success does. There is another group of people that will become lifelong Ranger fans. They will remember Beltre, Kinsler, and Andrus the same way I remember Rodriguez (Pudge, not Alex), Gonzalez, and Greer. It’s easy to become a fan of a successful team on the rise (even if they haven’t quite reached the summit yet).
I’ll argue, though, that the growth of Ranger fandom began before they were winning pennants. If I were to trace it back to a single moment, it would be the 2008 home run derby. That was the contest in which Josh Hamilton wowed the crowd at old Yankee Stadium. That was the contest in which Hamilton had the crowd of Yankee freaking Stadium chanting his name.
I still remember where I was that night. My wife and I went to eat at a nearby restaurant and sat in the bar (which we never do) because it was the first available table. They had the derby on TV. We were done with our meal halfway through Hamilton’s turn in the first round, but I made her stay there and watch the rest of the derby. Everybody at that restaurant within eyeshot of the TV was riveted. That was the night that I re-dedicated myself to baseball.
I’ve been a Ranger fan since I was a wee tot. I used to look forward to the nights that my parents would take me to games at old Arlington Stadium, not just for the game, but also because it meant I got to stay up past my 9:00 bed time. I will admit, though, that I became slightly disenfranchised when the whole steroid thing came to a head. I still kept up with the team, but not with the same fervor I had before (and have since Hambone hit all those dingers).
Since that day, I’ve grown quite attached to the current crop of Rangers. The real question is, do I like the team because of the players that comprise it, or do I like the players because of the uniforms they wear?
I think my whole dynamic with sports loyalty can be defined using two players as examples. The first player I’ll address is Ian Kinsler. Kinsler is a guy with incredible skills. He turns plays that you don’t think are possible. He makes the incredible look routine. He also has terrible body language and is somewhat surly with the media. What personality he does show is often perceived as unpleasant. About the only sign of enjoyment he ever shows on the field is his post-win handshake with Elvis Andrus, or when he celebrates a walk-off home run. If Kinsler were on any other team, I would absolutely, undoubtedly hate him.
On the other side of the coin is David Murphy. Murphy is a statistically average major league player. He’s a solid backup outfielder that is serviceable against right handed pitching, but certainly nothing spectacular. He also always appears to give everything he can for the team, is engaging in interviews, and is almost universally beloved. If Murphy played for any other team, I probably would have no opinion of him at all. If I even knew his name, I would never think of him until he came up to bat in a pinch hit situation against Mike Adams.
The fact remains that Kinsler and Murphy are Rangers…so I love them. I cheer for their success in every at bat and every ball that is hit their direction. I’ll have their backs when they make boneheaded plays, and jump to my feet when they knock one out of the park.
Kinsler and Muphy are just the two extreme ends of the spectrum. If Hamilton played for the Yankees, I’d likely laugh at his recent relapse like I did at Miguel Cabrera’s DWI arrest. If Derek Holland was a Twin, I’d probably find him as annoying as I do Brian Wilson. Even if I disagree with how these players live their lives off the field, as soon as they put that Rangers uniform on and charge out of the first-base dugout in Arlington, I’m sold-out rooting for them to reach their greatest potential for success.
In the end, what I’ve really decided is that Jerry Seinfeld is right, we’re all just rooting for clothes. The guys in Ranger jerseys are my friends and the guys in the opposing team’s jerseys are my enemies. Should one of them change sides mid-game, so would my opinion of them. Sports fans are no different than members of street gangs; we’re loyal to those that wear our colors. As long as we don’t get violent with it, I find nothing wrong with that.