Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What is the Formative Fan Age(s)?

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

15 comments:

gatorkeith said...

I just spoke with my 7 year old daughter and asked who is your favorite baseball team (Red Sox). Football team (Patriots). When I asked her why, to both, she said "because I am". When I read the post, I thought the answer to formative fan age was "7". That is when I first remember going to sleep every night listening to Braves radio - that was 1969 and I still cannot wait for opening day this year.

I would say big factor in why she is a fan is the influence of older siblings and Mom. But I also believe her when she says "because I am".

Joe said...

I think that 10 is about the time I can remember actual memories of Eagles games. Everything before that is just bits and pieces of Jaws and Mike Quick, and that Eric Dickerson was my favorite player (even though he played for the Rams/Colts). i can totally remember Randall Cunningham and the Gang Green in the late 80's early 90's though.

So i guess as a person gets older 10 is probably the right age that a person can remember til. I'm sure i enjoyed football before that but i can't remember, which sucks, because i know my son is almost 4 and he remembers the Eagles super bowl game and all of last season, especially that McNabb hurt his leg.

SCK said...

I grew up loving my home state MN Vikings. The earliest game I can remember clearly was MN at Cleveland in 1981, when I had just turned 9. The early 80's were the worst time to become a Viking fan (and my dad even quit watching with me) but somehow I stuck it out. My first child was born 2 weeks ago and his first gift was a Vikings jumper and jacket (from my sister). Will it stick? I dunno, but mom loves football as well. I think it's one of the few things an adult and child can enjoy together on an almost equal basis. The adult's knowledge edge doesn't trump the child's joy in watching, it just changes how much of the game each can appreciate.

Shaggy said...

Dan
I have a 12 year old son, and after years and years of watching him actively play sports and cheer for my teams, more out of being able to watch the games with me, than rooting for the actual team, I would say it was when he was around 10 or 11 he actually understanding players and plays in each respective sport. We live in Wilmington, Delaware and our proximity to Philly makes us Philly sports fans (or one would think.

I grew up Rooting for the 49ers as my Mom went to notre Dame when Joe Namath was there and then was drafted for the 49ers so my alliance went with him. But my biggest regret as a child was when the Eagles were in the Super Bowl with Jaws and I purposely rooted for the Raiders becasue my father wanted nothing more than the Eagles to win that day. And being a defiant 9-10 year old, I wanted nothing than to root against his team. (I honestly believe that is why the Eagles or any other Philly team has not won a Championship of any kind). But I regress

So with no further, and with my Son now being very close 13, his teams in no particular order:
NBA: Sixers, and or Nuggets (say what you want but the tradding of Allen Iverson broke both our hearts)

NFL: Eagles, with Seattle a close second (he was born in Seattle and still has grandparent there). Though after this years NFL MVP he is slowly starting to root for the Chargers, and for some reason this doesnt bother me.

Baseball: I am sorry to say it is the Yankees, I myself was never brought up a big baseball fan, and He has an Uncle form Brooklyn who lives and bleeds Yankees, so over the last 5 years or so he has slowly converted us over, (though I still root for the Phillies) with trips to monuemtn park and NY city.

Hockey: this is intersting becasue the first real consistent organized sport my son played was hockey. So you would think it would be the Flyers, well he roots for them somewhat but for some reason it is the NJ Devils, I cant explain this other than we once went to a Devils game in NJ (free tickets and ride; club box) and that night was Bobble head night for the goalie (I apopogize, other than watching my son play, Hockey has never done anything for me), cant remember his name. But he loved it and since has always rooted for them.

So all I can tell you is if you happen to go to a different stadium/game and your son is around 9 or 10; watch out for the freebie gifts. That's what I believe helps children become fans. I mean I still remember some of my freebie gifts, bat day, free baseball card day, etc...

Eli said...

For me, it was similar to you, my fandom really kicked in at age 10 when I went to my first Mets game in 1983. For my son, it was last year just before he turned 7. We lived in Indianapolis and he knew about the Colts but never paid alot of attention. This past year he wanted to see every game when it was on tv. We were also in the process of moving from Indy to South Florida, so it may have also been a way for him to keep a part of Indy with him.

Robert said...

I am not sure the exact age. In our family we are currently having similiar issues. Our 7 year old son and 5 yeard daughter are very torn between my teams and my wife's teams.

I am an avid University of Arizona fan and my wife an Arizona State Fan. So each kid has sided differently. However, we both share the same intensity for the Phoenix Pro Teams (Suns, Diamondbacks, Cardinals). Now that we live in Washginton State though, our kids are more fans of the local teams (Seahawks, Sonics and Mariners).

So it is an intersting thing to see how they root for the various sporting eventings.

I think fandom really is a basis of what you have access to and what you see all the time. Luckily with the internet and cable sources we can keep up with our teams in Arizona, but my kids will more than likely grow up with the Washington teams due to information they are getting from school and locally.

Lew said...

I did not become a sports fan until my preteen years. Growing up in rural alabama there was a not a lot of pro sports to follow, but you had to pick between alabama or auburn. I picked auburn because i thought the name alabama was boring.

When I was 10 my family moved to South Bend, Indiana. I fell in love with Cubs baseball, but I didn't find NFL fandom or enjoyment of the NFL until one day the bears were playing the Eagles and I saw Randall Cunningham (the pre-incarnate Mike Vick) in action. As Randall tore apart the Bears I quickly became an Eagles fan. Fastforward to my move to the DC area in 2005 I now find myself cheering for the Redskins.

On the AFC side of things I am Colts fan due to my years of college that was spent in central Indiana. I am also partial to the Colts due to Peyton Manning as my senior year of high school when I was sports editor of the school newspaper I wrote a column that was a proclamation of man crush on Mr. Manning stating that he would be the savior of the bears/colts depending on who had the first pick of that years draft.

Jeffrey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeffrey said...

First off, as a lifelong native of the DC suburbs, I am glad to see you adopted the Nats. Hopefully they won't be as bad this year as everyone seems to think.

My earliest sports memory is from when I was just shy of turning 7. I remember watching SuperBowl XXII with my dad. After the first quarter, with the Redskins down 10-0, he got pissed off and went upstairs to do something else. He completely missed the Redskins 35 point second quarter. Its still something we rib him for all the time.

My allegiances have shifted slightly over the years, I was born and raised in the DC suburbs, and my dad was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He never forced Pittsburgh teams on me, so they ended up being second in my heart to the Redskins and the Orioles. As a kid, I remember being annoyed the Pirates beat the Orioles in the 1971 World Series.

During my high school and college years, I started finding myself rooting for the Pirates and Steelers over everyone. The Redskins are now a close second to the Steelers. However, even before the Nats showed up, my interest in the Orioles wavered, and I still follow them but that was mostly out of habit (Kind of like the way you kinda still like that ex-girlfriend you were serious with). The Pirates and Nats are now tied in my heart.

I don't have kids yet (the wife and I working on that now), but my nephew is now 3 and a half. His father is huge Cowboys fan and he allows us to try to build some Steelers interest in the nephew. My nephew knows who #7 is on the Steelers (as he says it; Big Ben Rastaberger).

As this past football season when on, I felt bad about my dad and I pushing the Steelers on the Nephew as much as we were. Because at that time it seemed he got more excited about the Steelers than the Cowboys.

However, I felt much better on Thanksgiving when we were together and the Cowboys came on. My nephew when absolutely balistic, running around the room shouting about the cowboys and Tony Romo being. Needless to say, I didn't have to worry about the Steelers encroaching on my brother-in-law's turf.

It will be interesting to see what happens when my nephew is older and if he has a revolt against the Steelers and Cowboys and starts rooting for the Ravens (his other grandfathers fave team) or the Eagles (the live near Philly).

Sergio A. Calderon said...

I did not know that Dan had this cool blog, and the irony is that I would like to "join" since today is my son first birthday.

I a huge sports fan that I named my son after a soccer player from my favorite team after they won the championship. but I said which are my MBA, NFL teams probably you will ban me from the page. So I will tell you later.

BLV said...

I think I was around 6 (Ryno was definitely playing) when I sat down with my dad to watch the Cubs on WGN and declared that they were my favorite team.

James said...

I remember going to my first game when I was 5. Kind of. It was July 15, 1988, and I only know that because on our way in to Fenway my mom was explaining why the Red Sox had fired John McNamara (her explanation was, "because they couldn't fire the whole team.") I remember that conversation and I remember walking up the steps of canvas alley and seeing how BIG everything was. But I'm not sure I was really a fan in my own right at that point.

But two years later I became a fan for real. July 17, 1990. The Twins turned a triple play to kill a sox rally in the 4th, which prompted my dad to explain how rare triple plays are, and how lots of baseball fans go their whole lives without seeing one. I had to go to camp the next morning, so we had to leave the game at 9:00. Which was the bottom of the 8th inning, no out, Sox up one, one on, and Boggs up. After much begging, my dad agrees to let us stay to see Boggs. And, of course, he walks. Despite my best 7-year-old efforts, we leave, and as we're outside waiting for my mom to pick us up, a roar goes up from the stadium. As my dad and I are trying to figure out whether boggs scored from first on what must have been an amazing play, my mom pulls up.

"What happened?" we ask.

"You didn't see it?"

"What?"

"The triple play."

"We saw the triple play."

"Really? How long have you been out here?"

"A couple of minutes."

"Oh, no, there was another one."

Right. The only game in mojor league history with two triple plays, and we miss the second one by one batter. My dad promised never to make me leave a game early ever again, and he kept his word. That fall I glued myself to the TV for the ALCS (and hated myself for thinking that Dave Stewart just seemed cooler than Roger Clemens).

By opening day 1991 I was smuggling a radio into my second-grade class to listen to the game. As a seven year old, I had no idea how to tune a radio to a particular station, heck, I didn't even know there were different stations, I just figured you fiddled with the knob until it worked. Eventually my teacher figured out what I was trying to do, and though I thought I was being devious, my teacher took my radio, tuned it to the sox game, and had the whole class listen to the game for the last hour of the school day.

So, with a little prodding from my mom, my dad, and my second-grade teacher, I was a full-fledged Red Sox fan at age 7.

tobs said...

i can remember super bowl 22(redskins 42- broncos 10), but i was only 7 years old. i don't actually remember the season, just the superbowl. i think the first season i can really remember is the 1991 season, when the skins went 14-2 and beat the bills in super bowl 26, which was when i was ten. so yea, i think 10 is probably about right. and, of course, since then, it's been nothing but pain and humiliation for skins fans. so it goes.

Brew City Legend said...

I chose my favorite teams when I was about 5, 6, or 7 -- I'm not to sure.

I just know that one night I heard the name Dan Marino on the news and I thought Marino sounded like a cool name. Then I went and checked my box of football cards and had one of Dan the Man next to a Corvette on a beautiful Miami night. Instantly I became a Dolphin fan, living on the border of Wisconsin and Illinois (where the fan base is about 60-40 Packers-Bears).

It was around the same time too that the movie Major League came out, and I instantly fell in love with the Indians. It didn't help either that the movie was made at County Stadium in Milwaukee, where the Brewers play. I am also a lifelong Brewer fan and they are probably the only team I have always liked because I was born and breed to bleed Brewer Blue.

Julia said...

I was eight in 1987 when the Twins won their first World Series, and I know that I knew all the players' names and numbers and watched as many games as I could. My fandom that time stretched through the 1991 Series win, and then faded (right when the team became terrible, coincidence?).

That was my formative experience, and I've definitely stayed a Minnesota fan, both pro sports and college.