Living in Michigan, it is often difficult to get the pulse of the Baltimore fan base. I didn’t get the glorious rapture that followed the Vlad Guerrero signing, never figured out what proportion the Flacco defenders are to the Flacco detractors was, and by the time the Ravens season was done there was nothing but optimism for the hometown Lions (hope does spring eternal). On one hand that leaves me free from the winds of popular sentiment (aside from the loyal readers who make sure to tell me their take), but it also has made me long for the simple parts of fandom that emerge when you are surrounded by a group of fans who are all rooting for the same team. Though I guess if you are going to a Yankees or Red Sox game at Camden Yards, you don’t get that feeling either (ba-zing!). Since baseball is after all the most tradition-laden sport in the United States, fans get a sentimental attachment to those elements that put the “home” in home team.
Even in Baltimore, where the Orioles losing is a fact of life, there is a joy in yelling “O” during the star-spangled banner (you should’ve seen the dirty and confused looks I got when I did that at a Michigan football game), singing the completely inappropriate “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” during the seventh inning stretch (seriously, there is nothing country about Baltimore City), and grabbing some pit beef outside the stadium (try convincing someone to try pit beef before explaining what it is… you won’t be successful). Man, am I having fun with parentheses today…
In Ann Arbor I am surrounded by tradition around every corner. There are sports traditions- the “M Club Supports You” banner that has been touched by every Michigan football player since 1962 is one that comes to mind, though there are dozens more. There are academic traditions- the ubiquitous black M in the middle of the Diag with the legends of failed blue book exams for anyone who treads on it. There are even the unofficial traditions, like the odd fact that seemingly every speech given by any university official must end in “Go Blue!” (not actually a tradition, just a rather common occurrence that gets a bit old by the end of sophomore year). But there remains something special about tradition, which is something the Orioles have but the Ravens have not yet built up.
Tradition is more difficult to create in professional football, where regular attendance at the game belongs to a privileged few who can afford it, and also happen to be those less likely to actually rise from their seat to cheer. Most NFL traditions date back to an era when the community could come out to support their team from somewhere other than their couch. Baseball, even with their comically high ticket prices in some areas, remains the most populist of the major sports simply by accessibility. In no other sport can you walk up to the ticket counter during the national anthem and still get decent seats for the price of a 3D movie ticket, and like a good 3D movie, it doesn’t really matter how the game ends. As someone who went to more than a dozen Orioles games before I saw the Orioles win one, I can attest to that.
The traditions are something that make sports worth watching in person, something that can’t bre replicated away from the ballpark, arena, or stadium. So with that in mind, what are your favorite sports traditions? What makes you feel like part of the home team when you experience it?