I am a Giants’ fan, and that means I hate the Dodgers.
I just wrote that, and looking at it on my computer screen, it seems ridiculous. I have chosen, for arbitrary reasons of my own, to like and to root for the professional baseball team that plays in San Francisco, a town I do not now and never have lived in. That is to say, I am emotionally invested in the fortunes of a group of professional athletes hailing from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela and Mexico and North Carolina and Tennessee and Texas and Seattle, who happen to have signed contracts to play baseball in San Francisco. (All of them from modest backgrounds, and all of them paid better than I will ever be paid for anything ever in my life.) And that emotional investment means that I am obligated to dislike adherents of a group of professional athletes hailing from the Dominican Republic and Oklahoma and Arizona and Texas and Japan and other states and countries who happen to play in Los Angeles. Basically, I’m rooting for whoever wears the uniform of my favorite team. Basically, I’m rooting for laundry. Against slightly different laundry.
Okay, so: this. March 31, 2011, Bryan Stow, a 42 year old Santa Cruz EMT, drove down to LA with a bunch of friends, to watch the Dodgers play the Giants on opening day. He went to Dodger Stadium wearing a Giants cap and jersey. The wrong laundry. After the game, two Dodger fans jumped him in the parking lot and nearly killed him, beat him so severely that he suffered a serious brain injury. Fourteen months later, Stow can talk a little, recognizes his family, can feed himself. He’ll certainly never work again. (Tim Lincecum, the Giants’ pitcher, started a fund to help the Stow family, and donated a sizeable amount to seed it. Reason number 822 why we love Timmeh.)
And that’s ridiculous, of course I get how absurd that is. I like the Giants. But beating people up? What are, we: soccer fans?
Last night, the Giants beat the Dodgers. Ryan Vogelsong (one of the best stories on the team) outdueled Clayton Kershaw (the Dodgers’ ace, a scary-good left-hander) 2-0. It felt good. I watched it on the Inter-tube thingy, right here on my computer-machine; not sure how that works, but am pretty sure wizards were involved. Sports are fun, sports fandom is fun. Last night, at the ballpark, they showed a group of ten guys dressed like milkmen–old fashioned white uniforms, with caps and orange ties. They’re Melk-men; fans of Melky Cabrera. With them were two girls, in powder-blue milk maid costumes, hair in pigtails, cute as can be. Melk-maids, right? Then Melky Cabrera hit a home run, and they went nuts. I thought about those kids, the time spent thinking up and putting together those costumes, how much fun they must have been having.
But nearly killing a guy who’s wearing the wrong cap is just . . . I can’t think of words strong enough to condemn it. Or rioting, or fighting or thuggishness generally. Years ago, I was in London, riding the Tube. I saw a British soccer fan, wearing the colors of a team that I’d read in the paper was in danger of relegation. They were playing that night, and if they lost, then next season, they’d be dropped down a level, move from the Champions league to a lesser league. So this bloke was riding home after this crucial game involving his team. Apparently, they lost. I got this from the fact that, every stop on the way home, the guy stuck his head out so the doors would close on his head. Crunch crunch crunch. Every stop for miles.
The root of the word ‘fan’ is fanatic.
So when I say I’m a Giants’ fan, and that I hate the Dodgers, I’m using ‘hate’ and ‘fan’ in very specific and limited ways. I’m a Christian. I don’t believe hatred solves anything. I’m a liberal humanist–not so down with fanaticism either. Okay, I guess I hate Hitler, in some weirdly abstract way. I hate Evil. I hate Injustice. But that’s all meaningless, just a rhetorical indulgence really. What matters is what you do when someone treats you badly, and what I in fact do under those circumstances is harbor grudges to the point of absurdity. (I said I was a Christian; I didn’t say I was a good one.) But hate? Really HATE? No. Not ever.
It’s a strange word anyway, the way we use it. “I hate it when you do that,” we say to our loved ones. “I hate mustard on hot dogs.” “I hated that movie.” But then we talk about ‘hate crimes,’ and how ‘hatred’ fuels episodes of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Real hatred is a real thing, with real consequences. So it’s a word that means everything from ‘an emotional state so severe as to lead to murder’ to ‘mildly dislike.’ Everything, and next to nothing, and everything in-between
So when I say I ‘hate the Dodgers’ I mean I feel good when the Giants win a game and feel even better when we win at the Dodgers’ expense. But my best friend lived in LA for years, and is a Dodger fan, and we get along great. It’s meaningless foolishness, this rooting for laundry stuff, even though it’s a kind of meaningless foolishness in which I indulge myself with great frequency and pleasure.
We play the Dodgers again today. They’re in first place, but we’re on their heels, and if we win, we’ll be tied. And there are still four months left in the season. It’s tremendously important that we win, and it’s also completely meaningless; everything, nothing, everything in-between. I’m a fan without being a fanatic, I root for laundry with an ironic nod to that absurdity. I think emotional investment is a good thing, even when it’s for something silly. Embrace the silliness, then, and Go Giants.