I'm working on a Nats preview for Deadspin's MLB Season Preview coverage. You can read the full story on Deadspin later this month, but suffice to say, I became a Nats fan when Deadspin editor Will Leitch asked me if I would write the preview.
Because, as of three weeks ago, I didn't have a favorite baseball team.
At age 34, I have adopted the Nats -- quite simply due to serendipity of Deadspin's editorial needs -- and I will root for them as passionately as if I had been all my life. (Amazingly, the same thing happened during NFL season, when a Deadspin season-preview assignment led to my fervent fandom of the Jacksonville Jaguars.)
I grew up a huge Cubs fan. Correction: Displaced Cubs fan living in the D.C. suburbs, hoping that the local cable company would one day get WGN. The main influence was my father, who is from Chicago and a lifelong Cubs fan. We went to Orioles games, but only really out of proximity to the nearest MLB game.
Amazingly, when I got to Northwestern for college, rather than embrace finally living in a city of fans who lived and breathed the Cubs like I did, my interest in the team atrophied. Looking back, I wonder if being displaced -- feeling like my fandom was somehow more special -- was at the heart of my Cubs fandom. It's interesting to think about.
Anyway, it's not like I didn't love going to Wrigley for games. And, after graduation, I got an apartment with two close college friends in Wrigleyville, literally three blocks West of Wrigley Field on Addison. It was like being on a TV show. (In fact, I had an eerily similar concept as "My Boys," which debuted on TBS this winter, 10 years ago. Undoubtedly: My bad.)
But I never again felt the same way about the Cubs as I did before I was 18 and got to Chicago. I never really felt that way about any baseball team. Living in New York for a while now, I enjoy it when the Mets are successful. And I am quite certain of my loathing of the Red Sox (and Red Sox Nation), along with the Yankees (and Yankees Nation).
I really enjoy the Cubs' successes -- more accurately, I could never see myself rooting against them -- but I don't want to insult true Cubs fans by claiming that I'm a "real" fan.
Which brings me back to my original point: At what point does fandom kick in? I'm not talking about a parent pushing team merchandise on an infant (cough!). I'm talking about a kid making the active decision to root for a team.
I presume that Gabe is years away, so I'm looking for input from those of you with older kids. Does it happen at 5? 6? 7? Older? As a litmus test: When was your own earliest sports memory? And when was your first memory about a favorite team? I was born in 1973, and I can't remember much before 1983. So is 10 years old the marker?
(And yet, I see kids much younger than 10 at the stadiums or arenas. So maybe I was a late-bloomer.)
But what I'm trying to reconcile is that even if your kid is a fan of the team, it's no guarantee that the fandom will be a lifelong commitment. There's no way that my father -- or me, myself -- could have ever predicted that the 13-year-old who wouldn't go anywhere without his beloved Cubs hat and who would call the local cable company begging for them to get WGN would -- 20 years later, or even 10 years later -- lose the passion.
-- Dan Shanoff