Saturday, January 24, 2009


I like baseball. I don't love baseball, as in being able to quote statistics on every player and highlights of historic games. But I do like baseball, especially seeing it live. I grew up in St. Louis during a time when the Cardinals had phenomenal players. I've seen Bob Gibson throw his fast ball and I've watched Lou Brock steal every base they make. And, even now, a couple of thousand miles from the Cardinal's home field, I'll still watch them play on TV when they are in the series. And I think a home run hit is exciting no matter who hits it.

But I've wondered about this attachment for a team or a sport or an event. What is it that draws us in and makes us want to be present? I've known folks who become totally wrapped up in their team or sport of choice to the point that they schedule their lives around it, traveling to see games and giving full-throated support even if it is only from their living rooms.

And then recently during the Inauguration of President Obama, there were literally a million people or more crowded onto the Mall. Most couldn't possibly see or hear the ceremony without benefit of speakers and huge screens, but they braved cold and crowds and hours of standing just to be there when it happened. I'm certain that I had a better view from my living room 3,000 miles away than the vast majority of those in attendance.

So, what is it about being in a large crowd of people focused on a single event that energizes so many people? I think it may spring from our need to feel connected to others. Most of our connections are on a much smaller scale and they require that we give much more time and attention to those that we are connected with. Within families, friendships and even business relationships varying amounts of time and care are required to maintain those connections. This makes demands on us and, even when they are welcomed demands, takes effort and focus.

The fan phenomenon seems like it might give the benefits of feeling connected to something without any of the effort that more personal connections require. All that is needed is to show up and enjoy in order to be a full-fledged member of the group. The guy sitting next to you at the ball park doesn't care if your taxes are filed, if you called your mother or if your opinions match his. The most he might expect from you is a high five when there is a good play made on the field. It's a tacit equalizer where everyone can feel united for a brief period of time. It is also a respite from all the other demands that fill our days.

Not all of us feel drawn to these group activities. If I had been in Washington, D.C. last week, I expect that I would have watched the inauguration from my TV there as well. Although there might have been some temptation to go wave at the motorcade for a bit. That massive of a crowd simply doesn't speak to me. But an occasional baseball game with our local minor league team might just draw me in because it's a nice distraction and there really isn't a down side.

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