Who are you watching, and why?
Fans keep eyes glued to postseason for different reasons
"They throw the ball, I hit it. They hit the ball, I catch it."
They play the game, we watch it.
We watch the Dodgers vs. Phillies at Citizens Bank Park and the Red Sox vs. Rays at Tropicana Field if we are fortunate enough to find a ticket. We watch the National League Championship Series on FOX and the American League Championship Series on TBS. We watch it live internationally with MLB.TV and we watch the pitch-by-pitch on MLB.com Gameday for even greater immersion.
The only question is this: Who are you watching, and why? It is perhaps the greatest theme emerging in this postseason, quietly, discussed on blogs and message boards and at offices and along factory lines and in living rooms throughout Major League Baseball's fandom. This is the reason MLB.com introduced Pennant Traces, an interactive area where you can explore the roots of the postseason's 100 remaining players and other club personnel, all of whom "belong" to people and places seemingly everywhere. These connections are the real story.
New York fans are without participation in a Major League postseason for the first time since 1993. Who are they following and why? Chicago was hoping for a Red Line Series, and now the Cubs and White Sox both have been eliminated. Who are those fans following now, and why? Baseball never has been more popular, more collectively followed through its various distribution platforms, and we don't just turn it off and leave it to fans of four teams. Quite the opposite.
They play the game, we watch it.
They are real people who just happen to be in position to take you for a magical mystery tour, the kind you waited for since Opening Day and even earlier. They were fellow students at your college, such as Brad Lidge when he went to Notre Dame or Vin Scully when he was learning the ropes of broadcasting at Fordham. They were your former manager and hitting coach if you are a Yankees fan who now watches them work in the Dodgers' dugout. They often played for a team like yours before they reached this postseason, as Mark Kotsay did for the Marlins first, followed by the Padres, A's and Braves before discovering a role with the Red Sox.
They are from Hawaii, or Shane Victorino is anyway. They went to high school in Montreal, or Russell Martin did anyway. They were like anyone else in the Pennsylvania town of Hazleton, only with the amazing ability to communicate and lead that made Rays manager Joe Maddon who he is today. People in those places are watching them for their own reasons; you will have your own reasons as well.
MLB.com has just added commenting capability this past week on all of its article pages, and that means you can simply use the comment space below to answer those two questions: Who are you watching, and why?
From 1941-53, the Yankees beat the Dodgers in the World Series five times. The Dodgers became known then in baseball's New York mecca as "Dem Bums." Finally the Dodgers broke through in beating Mickey Mantle and the Bombers in the '55 World Series. The Yankees beat them again a year later, the Dodgers beat the Yankees as a Los Angeles club in '63, the Yankees beat them back-to-back in 1977-78, and then Tommy Lasorda's Dodgers turned the table again in '81.
Now here we are today, and many Yankee fans actually find themselves rooting for the Dodgers. After all, Joe Torre is managing and Don Mattingly is his hitting coach for L.A. Should the Dodgers and Red Sox each advance, the number of Yankees fans on the Dodgers' bandwagon will undoubtedly intensify.
Just ask Jane Heller. She is author of the forthcoming book, "Confessions of a She-Fan: The Course of True Love with the New York Yankees" (Rodale/February 2009). She and her husband live in Santa Barbara, Calif., and she is a case study in how a serious Yankee fan -- surviving baseball's first Yankee-free postseason since 1993 -- copes now. The Dodgers and Rays have her cordial support for the moment.
Here is what Heller wrote in an e-mail to MLB.com before the LCS openers:
"On following the playoffs once my team was eliminated for the first time in 13 years: At first I thought I'd just sulk my way through the postseason, even boycott it. It was like having a standing invitation to a party and then suddenly having my name dropped from the guest list! I was upset! But then I thought, 'Who wants to miss great baseball?' So I decided to "adopt" a team or two.
"On adopting the Dodgers: This was an easy call, given that there was a Yankees connection. I decided it would be nice for Joe Torre -- and especially for Don Mattingly, who's never won a ring -- to go all the way. I'm not a National League follower, so I've been studying up on Russell Martin, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Rafael Furcal, etc. I'm ready to root. The only problem is that Torre was such a father figure to the Yankees and now he's 'parenting' a whole new group of guys. I feel a little sibling rivalry!
"On adopting the Rays: They're baseball's true Cinderella story -- a fairy tale come to life. Who wouldn't wish them success? Plus, when I was on the road last season researching my book, they were still the Devil Rays, still a last-place club with potential, hardly champions. And yet their organization, team president Matt Silverman in particular, was so gracious to me, treating me like a VIP, hosting me at the Trop, the works. The least I can do to thank them is cheer for them."
Dodgers fans are rooting for Manny Ramirez, and there are a lot of Red Sox fans who have a keen interest in how he, Derek Lowe and Nomar Garciaparra fare in that "other" series. A lot of people in Southern California also will have special interest in a guy on the opposition: Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, who was a shortstop known to many as just a classmate at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High and then UCLA. He became a first-round pick and eventually a top overall vote-getter for the 2008 All-Star Game.
Some people root for faces. Some people root for places.
Joey Roslovic roots for places. He is a Braves fan. We asked people at the MLB.com Fan Forum who they are following, and why, and here is how he responded:
"I'm hoping the Phillies win in the NLCS because they are in the NL East and I want the team that beat the Braves to win. In the ALCS, I want the Rays to win because I just can't get over the fact that they had the worst record in the whole MLB last year. I hope the Rays win the World Series, because I've always been a little bit of a Rays fan and I like them the most out of the four teams in the LCS."
Navajo descendents on the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs reservation in Madras, Ore., will be paying great attention in another ALCS to a fleet young outfielder in Boston named Jacoby Ellsbury. His mother, Margie, is a special education teacher who works at the Head Start School, and Jacoby is the school's most famous alum.
"I can tell you for sure," Margie said, "that everyone around here will be wearing a Red Sox shirt once Friday [Game 1 of the ALCS] comes."
There are many people out there, like the person who uses the MLB.com profile name of CUBFANINBLACK. What do you do as a Cub fan now? You waited all year for the great 100th anniversary celebration, and you even wore shirts that changed the "It's Gonna Happen" slogan to "It's Happening." And then your team was swept mercilessly by the Dodgers. Who do you watch? Why?
"Is this blasphemy?" that fan asks. "I'm a Cub fan rooting for the Dodgers, because Manny Ramirez is my favorite player who doesn't play in Chicago. I would like nothing more than to see him go back to Boston and play the Red Sox."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.