Part of being a sports fan is about shared memory.
When one meets someone else who’s a fan of the team, it’s typical to talk about favorite players from the past, best memories, most heartbreaking defeats. These interactions prove our interest level and create an immediate bond. We didn’t know each other then, we’re saying, but we were both so happy at the same time. We had that shared moment. We both remember where we were when that happened. Remember Game 162 of 1993? Remember the Brian Johnson Game? Remember Game 7 in 2002? Remember Will Clark reading Maddux’s lips? Remember Gregor Blanco’s catch and Arias from deep third? Remember how we (I) cried in 1992 when the Giants were moving to Tampa, but then they didn’t and instead they stayed and Barry Bonds came and oh boy do I remember Barry Bonds. How we sat in the cold wind to have the honor of watching him hitting home runs dressed in orange and black. And it was an honor.
When we remember together, we connect. We have found another person who cares about a game that is also a soap opera that has lasted longer than any of us have been alive. What other dramas are over 130 years old and still going strong?
I have spent a lot of time remembering with people, going over the joys and heartbreak from the past, and although it is often sweet and romantic to think back to our childhoods and relive those times, there is one thing I am deeply, painfully tired of - the proving, the quizzing, the testing.
Before 2010, this happened for one reason: because I am a woman. I have been asked about baseball history by men who manifestly knew less about baseball than I, forcing me to make a decision: play along with their condescending game, or ignore them and allow them to assume I am ignorant. (I don’t usually care these idiots think about me personally, but it is tempting to make a point about how you can’t judge knowledge based on gender.) I have been told that all women fans are really “cleat-chasers”, leaving me to either defend myself as a “real fan” who isn’t “cleat-chaser” or to deride the assertion that “cleat-chasing” is somehow morally wrong. (Hint: it isn’t.)
In short, women fans are constantly asked, usually subtly but sometimes overtly: are you like those girls or are you like these girls? Do you wear makeup and heels to the ballpark? Do you have a pink cap? Are you like a girl or are you one of the guys?
No points for guessing which one the asker wants you to choose.
All of this was compounded in 2010, because the Giants won the World Series, and all Giants fans were subtly tainted with that most vile of suspicions - that we were bandwagon fans. Let’s double down on those memories, everyone: how long have you been a fan? Do you have fewer than three Croixs de Candlestick? Do you ever find yourself humming you gotta like these kids?
That suspicion went double for women fans. Women, as all know, are fickle creatures - not interested in sports, but interested in socializing. And if everyone is at the ballpark, why, that must be the best place to go! Men who suddenly displayed interest in the Giants were returning to their roots, fondly recalling those two years of elementary school Little League, but women had no roots to return to and were along for the ride, with their panda hats and newly purchased Buster Posey shirseys, enjoying the party atmosphere but not understanding the game.
Here’s my story: I never idly decided to be a Giants fan, or a baseball fan at all. My family is a baseball family. I don’t remember the first game I went to because I was too young. I grew up in San Francisco and never had a choice - we were Giants fans and that was that. My dad was my tutor into all things baseball and he never seemed to care that I wasn’t a boy. Obviously I was going to watch games with him, I was his kid. (In a short-lived rebellion when she was about nine, my sister declared that she hated baseball and didn’t care about the Giants. I remember my mom gasping at this blasphemy.)
But here’s what really matters: none of that. I’m not superior to a newer fan, and I’m not any less of a woman because I have excess amounts of orange and black swag. I don’t want to be one of the guys, I like being a woman just fine. I’m not a tomboy, I like makeup and jewelry and cute shoes and there is nothing wrong with those things. I can’t imagine what I could be lacking in my ability to talk about baseball that any man could. So I can’t hit a major league curveball? I’m pretty sure that 99.9% of men can’t either.
There’s nothing wrong with being a woman baseball fan. There’s nothing even wrong with being a new woman baseball fan. Yes, even if the fan she’s chosen to follow has recent success. Maybe her parents didn’t like baseball and she never watched it until a friend took her to a game and she had a great time. Now she’s interested but still not sure about the rules, and she doesn’t yet have those connections to the past. Perhaps if the fan community is welcoming to her, one day she’ll be able to participate in those shared memories that we all enjoy so much.
And if she’s wearing a pink hat, so what?
(I originally posted this as a fanpost at McCovey Chronicles.)