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We the fans…

“Man, if we could just get Clayton Kershaw. “ 

“You know, we should really start loading up the box.” 

We won the World Series!”

The pronoun “we”, when referring to a sports team, is synonymous with die-hard fans. And for the die-hard fan, “we” is used as if they were Liberty Media or Arthur Blank, even though this isn’t even close to the truth. We didn’t suit up and step across those lines. We didn’t walk the sidelines whispering to a defensive coordinator that the team should swap to a 4-3 base from a 3-5-3. And we certainly didn’t buy the team or pay to build the stadium (unless we’re counting taxes).

So why do we do it? Why do we say, we?

There are instances when this very personal pronoun, when applied as such, is accurate. High school and collegiate athletics are an example. I’m an Alabama Crimson Tide fan (Roll Tide), I’m a Kansas State Wildcat fan (EMAW), and I’m an Arizona State fan (Forks Up). I say “we” for every one of those schools. I’ve never set foot on the campus of the University of Alabama. While I’ve been on to the campus of Kansas State University, I was never a student there. Ironically, I’ve never set foot on the campus of Arizona State either, but I’m a full-time online student working on my BA in Mass Communications and Media Studies. While I work my actual job with the US Army, I never went to West Point. However, I have absolutely NO PROBLEM saying “we” concerning the Black Knights, Sun Devils, Wildcats or Crimson Tide.

Rabid fans of sports teams use this word as if they have some incomparable insight; as if the team calls upon them to discuss lineup adjustments, which free agents to sign, or who to trade. We often say “we” like we’re paid staff members. That’s not an ignorant oblivious perception of reality. We know this is inaccurate, a fallacy, and a fantasy. We know our paychecks aren’t signed by the Atlanta Braves or the University of Alabama.

So, again, why do we say … “we”?

I’ve read a few psychological pieces speaking to this very thing. One particular article I liked characterized it simply as this: We see ourselves as an extension of that team. And perhaps, for all intents and purposes, we are.

Players come and go all the time. They come here, stay a while, and move on. They get traded, leave in free agency, or retire. The players are temporary, the fans are forever. It’s passed from generation to generation. Father to daughter, mother to son, grandfather to grandson. These teams feel like they are a part of our heritage, we become emotionally involved, as if they’re one of our children or perhaps we are one of theirs. We celebrate every walk-off with them. We hang our heads with each heartbreaking loss. We cry when our favorite player gets traded, and rejoice when they sign a big time free agent contract (except for BJ Upton).

But it’s not just the legacy either. We buy in to the product. Not only the product on the field. Tickets, jerseys, memorabilia, and even tuning in to the local cable channel. Kind of makes you think, what happens if the fans stop going or stop buying in. We as a collective group of fans, buy “stock” in an idea of identity and relationship shared from the team’s brand, investing in part ownership in the teams themselves. We has now become a verb: a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence. We are the occurrence and we are the action.

Sports bring people together for a bigger purpose than themselves and even shares with them an identity. Sports teams that represent cities share a common interest and brand for a shared geographical identity. The advent of social media has expanded the fan’s presence and the idea of “we” as a body of fans. I haven’t met, in person, 99.9999% of the “friends” I have on social media that I share my Braves fandom with. Yet, I feel like some of them I have known my whole life.

The shared identity and mutual relationship fans have together does not mean WE always agree, but when the team sprints out of the dugout on opening day we are certain that for the next 3 hours we will run the gamut of emotions together through our shared relationship with the team and our shared experience as fans. We will high-five, throw fists into the air, and might even hug after a Free-Bomb. This is the personification of “WE”. It has nothing inherently to do with the men or women on the field or court. It has everything to with the men and women in the third deck, cheap seats, sitting and standing all around you.

Yes, we love our sports. We love our teams, and we may even love those players. But, when it all comes down to it, at the end of the day, you… “we”… are the fans. “We” are prideful. “We” are the veins that lead to the heart. “We” are the 12th Man. “We” are the 26th man on the roster. “We” are #KnockahomaNation! “We” are #InBrotherHood.

No matter your team, no matter your town. We is a term of pride and you speak it with conviction. You may not have signed a contract to play, but you have probably signed your life in time, attention, and your identity and emotions, away to the undulating highs and lows that come with being a fan. Maybe the reason fans feel like they are an extension of the team is because, well, we are.

Maybe the team should think of you, the fans, as an extension of themselves. Is the product that they sell us the team on the field or is it the identity and emotion of the fan in the stands?  You… “we” are a massive force. We shift the tides of momentum and can be the difference between a pitchers nerves, a quarterback’s composure or even a referee or umpire’s call.

We are a family. We are the pulse of a franchise. We bigger than our individual selves or the specific players on the team. We the fans.

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It’s Time for the Big Reveal; Dan’s 2018 IBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot

With the BBWAA and Hall of Fame announcement coming Wednesday, as well as the IBWAA’s, I thought it a good time to share my Hall of Fame ballot.

When I started writing my opinions and publishing them for the world to see, I never thought it would take me to where I am today. After about a year, though, I discovered the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA). It didn’t take long for me to become a lifetime member. We aren’t affiliated with the BBWAA, the guys and gals who actually have a counting vote for the Hall of Fame itself, but we still cast votes for it and end-of-the-year individual awards. This will be my third time voting with the IBWAA, and I’m sharing my ballot here, with you 80-Grade Knuckleheads.

First, I need to give a little background. You won’t see Vlad Guerrero or Edgar Martinez on my list. These gentlemen were voted in on last year’s ballot for the IBWAA. Because we aren’t associated with the BBWAA and the Hall of Fame, our ballots differ. However, our votes and selections are very similar.

The IBWAA isn’t some second rate organization either. Many of the industry’s top writers are members of the IBWAA. Writers like Jim Bowden, Jim Caple, Jerry Crasnick, Jon Heyman, Brian Kenny, Grant McAuley, Ken Rosenthal, and many others. So, even though the Hall of Fame doesn’t acknowledge the IBWAA, we still have some big names on the roster.

Oh, I almost forgot, last year, the IBWAA voted to expand selections from 10 to 15.

Now, on with the selections.

This year was pretty easy for the first 9 or 10 choices. The last 4 or 5, however, were a little bit more difficult for me, personally. Of course, with the option of voting for 15 players, I displayed a little bias. The first three names checked on my list were Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, and Fred McGriff. As Braves fans, we all know the reasons why these three should be allowed admission in the Hall.

The next four off the list were Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Billy Wagner, and Larry Walker. Thome and Walker don’t really need a disclaimer either. Vizquel was one of the most dominate defenders in his time, and for a middle infielder, he could hit a little bit. Vizquel’s overall WAR for his career is 45.3 in 24 seasons. His dWAR (28.4) nearly matches his oWAR (32.2). Vizquel also had (still has) probably the fastest hands I’ve ever seen.

Next, I have Mike Mussina, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, and Gary Sheffield. Sheffield and Rolen are probably the stretches in this group of four. Sheffield’s offensive output is not the problem, though. His 79.9 oWAR is proof of that; what is an issue, is his defense. A dWAR of a -28.6 kind of hurts him. But, if the writers can elect guys like Ozzie Smith, who’s defense practically got him in, then why not the heavy hitters who’s claim to stardom was their offense?

Now, for the final four names. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Trevor Hoffman, and Jeff Kent. Again, I shouldn’t have to really go into the first three names. However, Kent probably warrants some explanation.

Kent, aside from having an MVP, 4 Silver Sluggers, and 5 All-Star appearances, was a pretty good second basemen. He falls at number 20 on the JAWS scale. In overall WAR, Kent has a 55.2 and good for 19th among second basemen. Above him, in the HOF, are Joe Gordon (18), Jackie Robinson (17), and Craig Biggio (16). Robinson Cano and Chase Utley are still active, but rank 13 and 15, respectively. Above those guys, are Roberto Alomar and Ryne Sandberg, both Hall of Famers.

Kent is in the top 20 best second basemen ever, and even guy big time players below like Bobby Doerr, Nellie Fox, and Bill Mazeroski fall well below that magical JAWS line.

So, his WAR is pretty good, at least good enough to be the 20th best in baseball history for second basemen. Lets look at some other numbers though that might help Kent’s case.

Kent is 13th among ALL second basemen in runs scored, 12th in hits, 4th in doubles, 3rd in RBI, 5th in OPS, and 1st – among any second basemen to play the game, including Rogers Hornsby – in home runs; he had 377. Hornsby had 301. Kent also sustained a .290 career batting average. His biggest knock offensively, second (only to Biggio) in career strikeouts with 1522.

So, there you have it. My 2018 IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot.

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From Batting Averages to Launch Angles … It’s Still Baseball

Picture this … Braves are down a run with Nick “I only hit doubles” Markakis standing on second base, after a booming double to the gap gets by any Nationals outfielder not named Harper. There are two outs. Johan Camargo steps up to the plate. The Braves are down a run and they need to tie it here.

What are you thinking?

“C’mon Johan, all we need is a base-hit here buddy … Get’em over, get’em in. C’mon, A-B-C baseball here fellas.”

Or are you thinking: “Hmmm. I hope that this isn’t the plate appearance in which Johan Camargo’s inflated BABIP decides to start crashing back to Earth, and set off a chain reaction that leads to a drop in wRC+ and his ISO.”

For the last couple of years, I’ve fallen into a trance. Why, for everything that is good and holy, do I feel the need to analyze EVERYTHING I see occur during the course of a baseball game? When did it stop being fun and start feeling more like work? Every pitch and swing, chewed up and spit out like a bad Christopher Russo take. Whatever happened to just watching a game to, you know, watch a game. A cold beer in hand, couple of hotdogs (AKA: sandwiches(( Hi this is Ken and I’m editing this piece… for the record we didn’t ask Dan to write for his Hotdog takes which are obviously horribly wrong, do try to overlook this egregiously atrocious hot take and focus on his baseball opinions))) – just you and America’s Pastime.

For the better part of a decade, I feel like the game has been nothing but microscopic adjudications; launch angles, exit velocity, FIPs, and BABIPs. I used to watch games because I just liked watching baseball and the Braves. Now, when I watch a game, I find myself watching mechanics, pitch selection – all of it with the TV on mute, because, you know, sometimes, Chip happens.

Contrary to what may be inferred here, I’m not knocking the metrics we see used now. I actually enjoy learning about the quantitative measurements that make our game and its players, more valuable, and advances the game for the better, sometimes. I’m not against them, I’m all for them. It advances the game in ways we never considered or thought of possible even 15 years ago. I can’t imagine all of us, though, started watching and following baseball because we couldn’t wait to fire off hot takes based on the unsustainable BABIP of Johan Camargo.

This game is a fantastically graceful, majestic game. It’s full of intrigue, excitement, pins-and-needles type drama. Sometimes, though, I feel like I’ve lost the kid that only cared about watching the Braves, and less about “watching the Braves”. Somewhere between 8 and 38, I forgot how to watch the game for what it is.

Baseball was life because baseball was fun and simple.

Baseball today, for some, has gotten hard to keep up with. You have to know so much just to stay current and relative in the conversation. I feel like you have to own a PhD just to stay abreast of the discussion. Regardless of your preference in how you partake or engulf yourself in the game, baseball at its core, will always be there. No matter how hard it gets to watch, how scientific it gets to evaluate, how intricate it becomes to follow, or how smarter everyone around you seems to get.

I don’t say all this to offend. I’m sure there are others that feel a similar way. I say this, because, as I have said, I have warmed up to the advanced metrics and even have tried learning about them. All I’m saying is that sometimes, I just want to watch the game to watch the game, analysis free. That’s it.

At the end of the day, though, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy the game. As long as you’re watching, that’s all that matters, really. Baseball is still baseball, it brings people together, and there’s nothing wrong with the game … Well, except the Designated Hitter, you can leave that sh*t in the American League forever … “Bye, Felicia”.

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That ‘Forever a Fan’ moment…

Let’s get one thing out of the way now. I’m a baseball fan, first, and foremost. After that, it’s the Braves, and up until 2014, that was it.

We all have that story. That story that turned you into the fan you are today of whomever your respective team or teams are because of that “Forever a Fan” moment.

The Baltimore Orioles were always a team I admired from a distance. Cal Ripken, Sr., Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Murray, Brady Anderson, even Mike Mussina were guys I respected and loved watching just play the game. Anyway, when we moved within about 20 minutes of Oriole Park at Camden Yards (OPACY), I couldn’t wait to make my first trip to Camden.

We arrived here, Fort Meade, MD, in the summer of 2013. August to be exact (I’m active duty Army, for those who didn’t already know that). So, when I learned that the Orioles provided free tickets to Ft. Meade soldiers and their families for afternoon Sunday home games, I was stoked.

I was a casual O’s fan, until one night in September of 2014 changed that for me.

My birthday is July 8th and my oldest son’s is July 14th. The Orioles PR department had reached out to our unit and was looking for service members to honor during the 2nd inning of about a dozen home games that year. Like any self-respecting baseball fan, I threw my name in the hat.

About a week or so later, the Orioles came back with a list of games to pick from. Because there weren’t too many military members that volunteered for this, all 8 of us who submitted our names got selected to be a guest of honor for a game. The game I picked was July 11th. The opponent that night? The New York Yankees. It was this night that I (and my sons) became Orioles fans, for life.

My view from our row 19 seats, on the aisle.

Our seats were 19 rows back, from home plate. I have never had seats that close in my life. It was so surreal. The Orioles staff met us at our seats with gift bags for me and my boys. A free Orioles hat and t-shirt sat in the bag. As the bottom of the 1st inning started, Adam Jones was hitting 3rd, and there were 2 outs. I’m standing in the aisle, paying a vendor for a frozen lemonade for one of my sons, and then, it happened.

There I was, standing in the aisle, $5 bill in hand, and Jones fouls one back. I heard it, but didn’t see it. My youngest son could do nothing but yell, “Dad. Dad. Dad … DAD!!” I looked up and saw it coming off the advertisement board onto the lower level facade. Then, it bounced off the concrete, grazed the bill of my cap, and came to rest at the back left corner of my seat.

I forgot I had my wallet and money in one hand. My instinct took over and I lunged for the priceless, mud-streaked pearl. I fought valiantly, thwarting off some old man who had no business being anywhere near that baseball. It was mine, dammit! That was my baseball. I had more of my hand around the ball than he did, and after a few seconds, wrestled away that glorious baseball out of his old, tired grip.

My oldest with the foul ball from Adam Jones.

My first foul ball ever, and it had come off the bat of Adam Jones, at a Orioles vs. Yankees game. I was a fan for life.

Fast forward about 2 years. It’s November, 2016. A neighbor of mine, who’s wife is working for a local real estate company just happens to work for the company that partners with the one and only Cal Ripken, Jr. So, she comes up to me and says, “Hey, I know you’re a baseball fan, but my company is holding a grand opening for our new office, and my boss has invited Cal Ripken, Jr. to be there. Do you want to come?”

Uh … is the Pope, Catholic? You damn right I want to go. So I did.

We were at that place for about 20 minutes before I heard someone say, “hey, Cal’s about to leave, so if you want a picture, better hurry”. Barry Allen had nothing on me for that moment in time.

Before getting a photo taken (one that I will never let go of) I was able to actually talk to him for about five minutes. Not only did I get the chance to meet and get a photo taken with Cal, but I also got to talk baseball with him. Talking baseball with the Iron Man, WOW. A memory I will not soon forget. We talked about the Cubs first World Series win. What he thought of the Braves and the direction they were heading. We talked advanced metrics vs. traditional stats. It was AMAZING.

Me (second to Cal’s right) and a few other military members.

Oh, and Cal Ripken, Jr. is a mountain of a man, in case you’re wondering. It was Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge like. I literally looked up to him. It was that night at the game that made us Orioles fans, and I now claim them as my American League team. As a baseball fan, though, meeting the Iron Man was a dream come true, a dream I didn’t even know I had.

We all love the Braves, that much we all agree on. If you weren’t a Braves fan, you wouldn’t be reading this on Knockahoma Nation. So, it’s more than OK to be a fan of other baseball teams and even football teams (ROLL TIDE!!). So, our question to you, is simple:

What’s your “Forever a Fan” moment? When was that moment you knew “I’m hooked forever”?

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