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Players, Fans, And Knowing Your Audience

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Fans often buy into the rivalries of their team more than the players do. Still, when the illusion of investment is broken, the reaction can be ugly.

Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Two nights ago, the 40-year-old Raul Ibanez continued his necromancy-fueled run through the postseason, completing a four-run ninth-inning comeback with a two-run shot.

It all turned out just fine in the end for the Tigers, of course--given the injury to Derek Jeter, that comeback may be one of the best things that's happened to them this year, and there can certainly be no complaints about being up 2-0. But for the moment, it was a time for celebration for Yankees fans. For Tigers fans, a moment of sheer disaster.

For all other fans...well, it depends. Some AL Central fans probably wanted to see the Tigers go down. The anti-Yankee mindset, however, is so prevalent throughout the league that most other fans were probably interested in seeing a New York loss. But then there are the players.

It's always an uncomfortable thing for us fans who grow such love for our team and hatred for their rivals that most players don't really see things that way. To them, the Laundry is usually not so terribly important, and while they've often got good friends on the team, the business of baseball breaks them up and distributes them across the league. Before long, you've got friends on just about every team, have moved once or twice yourself, and it's hard to really form any sort of strong bond to any given franchise.

It was that reality which managed to shine through on Twitter the other night. Raul Ibanez hit his homer, and Cody Ross and Will Middlebrooks made their appreciation known with a simple "Ibanez!" for Ross and a bit more from Middlebrooks. Not exactly inflammatory comments on the surface, but each quickly found themselves playing a bit of defense as disgruntled Red Sox fans went on the attack, offering up a healthy dose of criticism (to put it very, very lightly) for their celebration of what to most of their audience was a truly frustrating moment.

The thing is, both Middlebrooks and Ross seemed pretty surprised to see such a reaction from the fanbase. Middlebrooks even appeared offended. Now, admittedly, this being the internet a fair deal of the responses were over the top. The vocal minority can be pretty awful when it comes to sports, and the anonymity and distancing effect of the internet tends to bring out the worst in people. Still, what were they expecting? They'd just cheered, in a way, for the Yankees, and they were doing it to an audience of Red Sox fans with a healthy hatred of the Yankees bred into them since their first trip to Fenway Park.

This isn't to say that players shouldn't be allowed to speak their minds, just that they have to be aware of what their situation is. When players join a team, their fans form attachments. This is all the more true for players like Will Middlebrooks who were drafted into the organization. And when these players go on a public forum like Twitter, their audience is going to be mostly Red Sox fans. They can feel free to say what they want, but they have to recognize how bad the reaction is going to be if they throw fuel like that into the fire, and that the people they're turning off are the ones who watch their games, buy their jerseys, and ultimately make them what they are in terms of fame and acclaim. Ultimately baseball is driven by team-based fanaticism as much if not more than a love of the game, and this is especially true for players on teams that play bad baseball (see: the 2012 Red Sox). They don't have to buy into the rivalries and history of the team, but it might just be common courtesy to help maintain the illusion.