The Boston Red Sox will not be participating in baseball's post-season this fall, which has occasioned some grumbling amongst the populace.
Whenever that happens, some number of people opine on the qualities that make up a true fan. The idea is that the true fan doesn't sneer or snicker when the ball club comes up short any more than he or she watches games only when the team is winning.
He doesn't rage against the general manager or deride the players as quitters.
The true fan backs the team through its hard times. If she doesn't actually say "Wait 'til next year," she certainly thinks it.
One happy quality of baseball is that it accommodates all sorts of fans, none of whom need be considered any more "true" than any other.
You can be a fan by simply appreciating the return of the game to your town each spring, and the winding down of its cycle, triumphant or not, in the fall.
Then there are numbers. Some fans love the game for the opportunity it gives them to measure current value, predict future performance, and even correct mistaken impressions regarding players who've been dead for years. The people who pour over the figures to discover arcane truths are fans.
So are the people who don't give a darn about the stats, and who say things like "he looks like a ballplayer." Baseball gives them the opportunity to say that because the players stand around a lot "looking like ballplayers."
Some of baseball's moments are dramatic. Consider the game-winning homerun in the bottom of the ninth inning. People who watch games for grand drama are fans.
So are the people who recognize that sometimes games are won by a hitter who fouls off enough great pitches to earn himself a mistake that he can slap to the opposite field to start a rally.
People who hate a team are no less fans than people who love one.
Old men who fall asleep to the murmur of baseball on the radio from the west coast are fans, and so are that children of all ages who can't sleep for rage against the fates when their teams lose.
And, yes, the clowns who phone the call-in shows to rail righteously against all the people who aren't real fans...they're fans, too.
To maintain otherwise is to fail to appreciate the various ways in which this old and dependable friend has appealed to so many of us, season after season.
This program aired on September 6, 2006. The audio for this program is not available.