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The human element of fandom

Our takes are bound to be redundant and wrong. Why do we bother?

Arizona Diamondbacks v Boston Red Sox

There was always been a performative element to sportswriting. Not just writing, actually, but the act of being a sports fan is inherently wrapped up in how you present yourself to the world as a sports fan.

Are you the woman who everyone at work talks to about the Red Sox? Are you the guy tweeting about how stupid Dave Dombrowski is? Are you the geezer writing joyless columns for a newspaper or website, or even the ones writing the comments on those articles?

No matter what you do, you’re performing.

Growing up, I thought there was no cooler job in the world than being the main Red Sox writer for the Boston Globe. If you had asked me what I wanted to do with my life, that would have been it. It was appealing for a few reasons: the proximity to the Sox, a chance to live in Boston, a historically beautiful “office” at Fenway… and, personally, it would present a chance for me to share the stuff about the Sox that I knew and others didn’t, and get paid for it.

Even as a teenager, this was a lot. I read about the team constantly and watched them all the time, and there were many times I felt I had a better idea about what was going on than the people actually covering them. I was probably wrong, but it was this idea that helped kick in the performative aspect of being a fan: I needed people to know I was a fan, and that I knew more than them, whether I actually did or not. It fed me.

The most important part of this was watching the games. I thought that being someone who watched the Sox on TV, I was part of an exclusive club of people (i.e., eastern New Englanders) who even had the opportunity to do this, and I thought I was setting myself apart from them by actually sitting on the couch and taking them in.

This is true in some ways, but I was mostly just bored. Chicken shit, chicken salad, etc.

It wasn’t until I got to college that the seeds for growing out of this were planted. Very early on, I met someone who is still a great friend who said the thing he loved about the Red Sox was that he didn’t have to watch them on television at all to follow them closely, provided he read the box scores and articles. I had heard this argument before, but I thought it was outdated. Worse yet, I thought this was a dereliction of duty. Like me, he grew up in southeastern Massachusetts, and I couldn’t understand why he thought this was okay, and probably told him as much.

I was performing, of course, but so was he: it was the mating dance of the Massholes.

He would go on to, a decade or so later, teach a class about this very sort of thing, called “Male Fantasy Sports” -- not like, Fantasy Sports, but fantasy sports; specifically, how males tended to interlock their identities with the sports teams around them. It is not a stretch to say he was investigating himself. I wish I had sat in on the class, but by then I was long gone.

It was around this time that it was no longer necessary to be in New England to watch the Red Sox on a regular basis, with the early predecessors to making their way onto cable systems. It was also around this time the Red Sox became national darlings and won the first of three World Series titles. And so it was around this time that my conception of what it meant to be a fan began to unravel.

Everything that had been appealing about the Red Sox -- their hometown, their exclusivity to my life, their painful futility, Pedro -- disappeared more or less overnight. Furthermore, coverage of the team expanded drastically. There were fewer and fewer things being left unsaid about the team. Fast-forward to today, and I’d submit there’s almost nothing left unsaid about the team. We went from undercoverage to supersaturation in two decades.

If you’re a Sox fan on Twitter, you know what happens when the team makes a roster move. Every beat writer will tweet it out, leading to a virtually unbroken stream of the same news being reported over and over and over. There’s no Red Sox “pool” report like there is for White House news; the news organizations do not officially work together to cover this stuff, though they all seem pretty friendly from afar. The sheer cavalcade of news following the smallest of moves, though, can threaten to scramble your brain.

And that’s just the first wave. Then you get the Twitter takes, then the blog takes, then Shank’s take, and before you know it the Sox have traded a minor leaguer to the Mets and you have to repeat the process all over again. It is my friend’s dream come true: You really don’t need to watch the Sox to follow them. You don’t even need to watch them to be bludgeoned into oblivion with coverage.

Three years ago, I was invited to write for this site, which was the culmination of a life-long dream to write about the Sox for a baseball publication. After doing it for a few years, I can’t imagine why I wanted to a beat writer. That’s not a knock on the beat writers: I’m sure even fewer of them would imagine having my weirdo career path through journalism, but I’m getting off topic.

The topic is this: The people that cover the team do it extremely well, to the point that adding anything new is almost impossible to do. Trying to outpace Alex Speier alone is a fool’s errand, and you face down the ProJo boys at your own peril. That’s three people out of maybe three hundred creating Sox content, in one way or another, on a daily basis. It’s impossible to take it all in -- especially because so much of it is the same. Not just the columns, but the takes: pro-Farrell, anti-Farrell; pro-Chris Sale trade, anti-Chris Sale trade; pro-Steve Lyons or anti Steve Lyons.

Just kidding. There is no pro-Steve Lyons take.

But on a serious note, I’m wondering how anyone who made it this far down find themselves able to keep up with it all, or whether you even bother. It’s an inhuman amount of information to take in, but we try it anyway, because to err is, you know, our burden. At this point, the front office knows more about the team than we can ever hope to know -- the knowledge gap between old-school general managers and innovative stathead laymen has been reduced to zero, or less than that.

I don’t know how we can spit out takes saying we know more than anyone involved on anything that happens (except, maybe, in-game choices, which are the spiciest meatballs, punditry-wise)... and yet, we do it now more than ever. The take-industrial complex is real. The only winning move is not to play.

So why can’t we stop ourselves? The only thing I can come with is the human element: It’s in our nature to be wrong, and we just can’t help it. Something about sports brings it out of us even in our supersaturation with them. It’s always a performance, even now, with this column. The only thing we can do is try to make it an honest one.