Watching the World Series Without a Rooting Interest: Fantastic

I wish the Los Angeles Dodgers were in the World Series. I am a fan and a season-ticket holder, so there are emotional and financial reasons why I wish they were there. But as I watched Game 1 for more than five hours last night, I repeatedly had the same thought:

Holy crap, I am so glad I don’t care who wins.

When you’re a fan, you don’t care about history or great games or any of that junk — you just want your team to win. Someone on the opposing team has three home runs and is coming to the plate? Strike the bum out! The opposing pitcher is working on a lengthy scoreless streak? Hang five runs on him in the first inning! Save the history for when you’re playing some other team.

This is how it feels to be a Dodger fan forced by your own silly tradition to root, root, root for the Giants.

This is how it feels to be a Dodger fan forced by your own silly tradition to root, root, root for the Giants.

But when you don’t care who wins, you can just be a baseball fan. For example, on Friday, September 6, 2013, I was sitting in AT&T Park to watch the Arizona Diamondbacks take on the San Francisco Giants. I have been to games in 27 different Major League stadiums, and my standard practice is to “root, root, root for the home team” the first time I go to a new stadium. However, this was not my first game at AT&T Park — I was at Game 1 of the 2012 NLCS between the Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals, when future postseason legend Madison Bumgarner had not yet received his superpowers and allowed six earned runs in 3.2 innings to take the loss. I root, root, rooted for the Giants that game, the first and last time I would ever do that. Or so I thought.

Let’s get back to September 6, 2013. As a Dodger fan, I don’t like the Giants or the Diamondbacks, so I didn’t have a rooting interest in the game. The Giants were sitting in last place in the division, and the D-Backs were in second place, but the Dodgers were running away with the division and it was a distant second.

So as I sat down to watch the game with my best friend, I didn’t care who won. But hey! I was sitting in the front row down the third base line at a beautiful stadium and there was baseball going on right in front of my face. What a great way to spend a Friday night!

Then Yusmeiro Petit started getting people out. And then he kept getting people out. Perfect through four. Perfect through five. After the fifth inning, I told my friend that if Petit got through seven perfect innings, I would root for him to finish it. But then I found myself rooting for him to get through seven so I could root for him, which my shrink tells me means I was rooting for him all along.

After getting two quick outs in the eighth inning, Petit was sitting at 73 pitches (!!!). Then Miguel Montero came up and worked the count full, Petit’s first three-ball count of the night. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Montero grounded out to first baseman Brandon Belt. Petit was perfect through eight, on only 81 pitches, and I was fully invested in the idea of witnessing a perfect game in person.

In the ninth inning, Petit struck out Chris Owings and got Gerardo Parra to ground out to second base. D-Backs manager Kirk Gibson sent Eric Chavez to the plate to bat for Patrick Corbin, who had pitched the entire game for Arizona. Ball one, ball two, strike one, strike two, ball three. After five pitches, the count was full and Chavez had not yet taken the bat off his shoulder. The 3-2 pitch, Petit’s 93rd of the game, was a fastball that Chavez looped into right field. Giants right-fielder Hunter Pence charged in, later tweeting:

After Chavez’s hit, Petit got A.J. Pollock to ground out to third base to complete the shutout, and I walked away feeling the rush of having just missed seeing a slice of baseball history. A game that started with me wondering if I could enjoy watching two teams I disliked play each other ended up being one of the most exciting games I’ve ever attended.

(Here’s a video of the Petit game, queued up to the beginning of Chavez’s at-bat. Give it a watch, and then we’ll talk more about Game 1 of the World Series that happened last night.)

Last night as I watched Game 1 between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets, I was reminded of the feeling I had at that Giants/D-Backs game. Coming into the game, I didn’t care who won. There were plenty of good reasons to root for and against both teams.

One of my favorite things about watching a baseball game is letting myself discover who I am rooting for. Rooting interest doesn’t need much thought, and when I’m watching a game between teams I don’t care about, I often find myself in the third or fourth inning rooting for one team or the other. Last night, it was the Royals. Some of it was knowing that Edinson Volquez‘s dad had passed away earlier in the day. Some of it was probably lingering resentment that the Mets eliminated the Dodgers from the postseason. And some of it was the excitement of Alcides Escobar‘s leadoff inside-the-park homer in the first inning.

By the way, to people who say it should have been ruled an error: I agree with you, but 90 percent of inside-the-park homers should be ruled errors. For that matter, some outside-the-park homers should have been ruled errors, too:

Eric Hosmer congratulates/thanks Alex Gordon for tying the game with a home run in the ninth inning. Source: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America

Eric Hosmer congratulates/thanks Alex Gordon for tying the game with a home run in the ninth inning. Source: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America

So yes, I was rooting for the Royals last night. But it’s a different sort of rooting when you don’t really care. I felt awful for Eric Hosmer, one of the best defensive first basemen in baseball, when he made a crucial error to let the Mets take the lead, and I loved seeing the elation and relief on his face when Alex Gordon hit the game-tying home run off of Jeurys Familia in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Throughout the game, I was tense. I was enthralled. I was hanging on every pitch, even though I really didn’t care who won. That’s why the thought kept coming back to me:

I’m so glad I don’t care.

I like to think of myself as an enlightened fan. I know baseball is just a game, and I know the outcome doesn’t actually affect my life in any meaningful way. But when I sat at Dodger Stadium and watched the Mets celebrate on the mound two weeks ago, it was not a good feeling. I was sad, and it took me a couple days to get out of it.

Watching the game last night, I couldn’t help thinking about the fans of the Royals and Mets. For one fanbase, it doesn’t matter that it was a historically good game, or that it was tense and exciting and spectacular and wonderful. At the end of the night, for one large group of fans, the only takeaway was going to be sadness over a loss. For that matter, even for the fans of the winning team, the joy and elation was going to have a lot more to do with the win than the ridiculously good game.

Do I wish the Dodgers were playing in the World Series? Of course I do. But do I envy Mets fans who woke up this morning tired and hungover from watching a five-hour game that their team lost? Not even a little bit.

As a baseball fan, sometimes it is a wonderful thing to just not care who wins.

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