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March 21, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

From the Mouths of Fans...

by Joe Sheehan

This past weekend, I took a break from baseball--I generally need one or two a year--and flew out to Las Vegas for a few days of college basketball and checking out the sights. Honestly, it was the last place I expected to get an idea for a column. But Sunday, I came across two people who got me thinking about just how many people love the game, and love it in ways that don't get talked about much here at Baseball Prospectus.

Sunday morning, I was playing cards at the Las Vegas Hilton, and got into a conversation with a dealer about the Cubs. Jim is an affable fellow, one I'd talked with on a couple of prior trips. After exchanging opinions about their winter--Jim was optimistic about the team's pitching thanks to the Ismael Valdes trade--he sighed and said, with a touch of sadness, "You know, I wasn't going to follow them this year. But I guess they're going to suck me in again."

To me, it was the one of the most meaningful statements I'd ever heard about being a fan. My loyalty is to the Yankees, and while my adolescence coincided with their 1982-1994 dry spell, those memories have all been wiped out by three titles in four years, including one of the greatest seasons of the 1900s. I take pleasure in ragging Rany Jazayerli about his Royals, who were even more futile than the Cubs in the 1990s, and I have become, sad to say, a bit complacent in my fandom.

Hearing Jim talk about rooting for his team as if it were painful, almost something to be feared or avoided, was a reminder of how deep our loyaties can run. Even though Jim has never seen a Cub World Series game, he finds himself getting excited about their chance to show him one--or at least give him hope for one--this year.

Later that day, I was playing a different game at a different table with a different dealer. Leonardo was born in Italy, and came to America as a teenager. When he found out I was a baseball writer, he began regaling me with stories of his years in Cincinnati, of watching games at Crosley Field and meeting Leo Durocher and Pete Rose and Johnny Bench. Friendly to begin with, he became animated, even giddy, as he related being mistaken for a player and getting into Riverfront Stadium for its opening. He told me he once saw Art Shamsky hit three home runs in a game after coming in as a defensive replacement (those of you fond of Rob Neyer's "Tracers" have your homework assignment).

Talking to Leonardo got me thinking about what baseball must have meant to him in 1962, as a 15-year-old Italian kid new to America, in a time before Super Bowls and Dream Teams and AYSO soccer. A time when America and baseball were synonymous. And even now, his excitement about the Reds having Ken Griffey Jr. and their run to game 163 last year was genuine.

Both of these men are fans. Neither has ever bought a copy of Baseball Prospectus or considered the merits of Equivalent Average vs. Runs Created. But they've cheered and booed, they've bought tickets and sat in the sunshine, and they've loved the game just as much as anyone you'll read at this Web site.

And me? Well, I don't really want that break anymore, and I can't wait until April 3, Yankees at Angels, 7:35 p.m.

Thanks, Jim and Leonardo.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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