Bandwagon Season

There’s a strange hue hanging over Northern California recently. And no, it’s not the ubiquitous smoky sky from approximately seventeen thousand wildfires going on simultaneously. It’s August, so we’re pretty accustomed to that visage.

Although did we really need to name one of them the Carr Fire? You know “car fire” has a different connotation, right, media?

“Hey, did you hear the latest on the car fire?”

“No, I took a different route to work today. Is that why you were late?”

But the current strange vision is  a color combination that I’m not used to encountering in the summer. Or really, at any time since the Bush administration. It’s a distinctive shade of green. Bright, unnatural. Maybe it’s called Kelly green? I don’t know. It seems to me that Forest Green is very deep green color, and everything else is Kelly Green. Or turquoise.

But these shirts and hats I’m seeing definitely aren’t turquoise. Turquoise only shows up in this region in April or May of years when the Sharks are both in line for a top playoff seed AND didn’t underperform in the playoffs the season before. So, basically never.

“Never” is also when I assumed I’d see this garish green-and-yellow again, but it’s the summer of 2018, and it’s back. When I first moved to Northern California, in the early 1990s, it was everywhere, the unofficial color of spring and summer, after which it became garnet-and-gold season. Then it disappeared, only to have a brief resurgence in the early aughts, coming up for breath once per decade like the Nessie above the surface of her Scottish loch. I’m wracking my brain for what that precise confluence of events, which stars and constellations have aligned, to bring out the blinding combination once more.

Wait. Could it be… Let me double check the standings just to be sure and… Yep, the Oakland A’s are holding the wild card. If the season ended today, they’d be in the playoffs.

At least the Giants aren’t in contention, so we don’t have to worry about the green-and-yellow clashing with the black-and-orange that is usually seen around these parts this time of year. Of course, you could never have both teams being represented at the same time. Because the people wearing the green this year are the exact same people that were wearing the orange two years ago.

You see, Northern Californians are horrible sports fans. When a team is losing, they are either afraid to represent it, or more likely, they simply stop rooting for that team. Ignore it like Janet Jackson asking, “what have you don for me lately?” And then, when that team starts to win, they all of a sudden come up with these wonderful stories of how they’ve been lifelong fans, busting out clothes that looks either twenty years old, or freshly purchased this week.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not just NorCals. ALL Californians are horrible bandwagoners. Northern Californians are just much more obvious about it. The SoCals’ fandom expands or contracts based on the viability of the team at the moment. A decade ago, Dodger blue was only noticeable in the Valley and LA proper. Now it’s the unofficial color of the Southland. At least it was until LeBron signed with the Lakers, and then my Facebook feed looked like it was 2010 all over again.

But the SoCals don’t swap allegiances quite as fickly as thee NorCals. Now, maybe that’s because Southern California teams rarely change position. The Clippers, Angels, and UCLA aren’t competitive enough to do a true control experiment. The Angels won one World Series, but usually underperform. The Clippers gave us a little test run, being a better team than the Lakers for most of the past decade. And while I saw more people checking in at Clippers games, and many people saying “Hey, good for the Clippers,” nobody was changing their profile pictures to suddenly claim their lifelong Clipper fandom. If the Clippers and Lakers played in San Francisco instead of Los Angeles, there would be a whole lot of people shuffling past their red-and-blue to find their antiquated purple-and-gold the moment LeBron signed. (See Below: Kings, Sacramento; Warriors, Golden State)

Southern California does have one sport with two different champions. And I give them credit for sticking by their hockey guns. The level of excitement for the two Kings championships was equaled only by the general level of ho-hum, oh-wait-there’s-another-hockey-team-here apathy the two times the Ducks won it all. And most of my friends live in Orange County. However, most of them became hockey fans before the Ducks existed. Oh, and they hate Disney. Still, if Orange County gives more of a shit about the LA team than the one in their own backyard, they’re not bandwagoning.

Back to Northern California and the impending return of “A’s Country.” Northern Californian teams swap places on a more regular basis, and boy howdy, do those fan allegiances give me whiplash. Fifteen years ago, when the Sacramento Kings came within one compromised referee game of winning the NBA championship, everything north of Fresno might as well have been washed over in purple. You couldn’t go anywhere without proudly showing your allegiance to the basketball team-du-jour.

There was another NBA team in Northern California at the time. Not that you’d know it. They were called the Golden State Warriors. I doubt you’ve heard of them. Their colors were… dark blue? Or maybe grey. I seem to remember they had some sort of ninja on their logo. With lightning-bolt lettering?

I’m being serious here. I don’t remember what their colors were in 2002, because NOBODY owned any Warriors gear. Or if they did, they wouldn’t have had the audacity to show it in public.

I know what the color and the logo look like now. It’s blue and yellow, with a picture of the Bay Bridge in a circle in the middle. I know that because the Warriors are good now, so everyone is wearing their gear. And a hell of a lot of these “Lifelong” Warriors fans were so decked out in purple a decade ago that their own children might not recognize them.

Nowadays, if you  wear a Sacramento Kings hat in Sacramento, you will be mocked incessantly. This is Warriors-county, baby!

Does this bleedover happen in other markets?  I imagine that, even when the Dallas Mavericks were very good, the predominant gear worn in Houston would still belong to the Rockets. Am I wrong here?

The good news is these Warriors fans can’t claim they bought their gear twenty years ago, because the Warriors have changed their look so many times. And yeah, their current look is a bit of a throwback, but the Bay Bridge has been torn down and rebuilt since the 1980s logo.

We went through the whole bandwagon with the San Francisco 49ers, too. Again, when I moved here, you could barely go out in public between August and February without sporting a gold Starter jacket. But by the time Y2K rolled around, you couldn’t find Niners gear everywhere. And I know these fans still rooted for their team. They would come into work on Monday morning rehashing every play of the game. Even in shitty Candlestick Park, the team was still selling out games. But there were no hats or jerseys or Starter jackets.

It got to the point that I forgot I lived in Niner Country. Then Jim Harbaugh showed up and they started winning again. All of a sudden, people who I had worked with for ten years started showing up in Niners polos and jerseys every Friday. I even mocked some of my students (“Oh hey, you Niners fans finally found all that gear at the back of your closet”), which was mean and probably a bit errant because the Niners had never been good in their life, so if they had gear, they probably were legitimate fans.

Although, in my defense, last year I taught the younger sister of the girl I mocked. I asked her if her sister still wears a lot of Niner gear. She said no.

Northern California fans feel this is absolutely normal. They simply believe the way the world works is to stop showing support for your team when they are losing. Clearly they’ve never been to Chicago, where people were wearing Cubs and White Sox gear when neither team had won anything in fifty years or more. Or Boston before 2004. Hell, I’ve never been to Cleveland, but I bet there are still a lot of people wearing Browns gear during football season there.

And this says nothing of international destinations, where people still wear shirts for their teams when they drop down to the minor leagues.

At least Niners fans didn’t put on silver and black when the Raiders got good. If there’s one sport where NorCal fans don’t just jump to the currently successful team, it’s football. But when you talk to a Giants fan who thinks it’s perfectly fine becoming an A’s fan overnight, and you ask them if they should do the same thing with the football teams, they will look at you aghast. That’s fucking crazy talk.

It should be for baseball, too. Browns fans are still Browns fans, even after years of being horrible. They wouldn’t jump ship to the Bengals just to save face. Nets and Knicks fans don’t have to look at the standings to know which team they like that day. I have a White Sox friend who says, “I’d rather my sister be a whore than my brother be a Cubs fan.”

Of course, I always told him those weren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

And I guaran-fucking-tee there is no New York equivalent of this monstrosity:

20180810_074941

I’m not saying you can’t root for a team other than yours. On any given day, there are usually 14 games that do not feature your favorite team. It’s not a bad thing to prefer one team over the other. In 1986, when the Mets were playing the Red Sox in the World Series, I assume that Yankees fans wanted the Mets to win. But I doubt they started spouting off about how long they had loved the Mets and started wearing Mets gear instead of Yankees gear.

That’s what puts California fans apart. They are proud of switching their allegiance on a dime. Again, look at that atrocious hat. People are PROUD to own that hat.

But when two teams share one media market, dammit, those are supposed to be rivals. I grew up an Angels fan and I absolutely hated the Dodgers. The typical sports news in Southern California was eighty percent Dodgers and twenty percent Angels. We were the red-headed stepchild of SoCal.

Then the Angels won the World Series and the whole Southland was smothered in halos. Not only did the Orange County Register remember there was a team in Orange County, but the Los Angeles Times did, as well. It was unnatural. I felt uncomfortable. I actually felt a little sorry for the Dodgers fans who stayed true, because I knew how they felt rooting for the forgotten team in the market. Just like those Golden State Warriors fans.

Even worse, the Angels started selling out their games. I was like the fan of the indie band that hits it big. For two or three years, I couldn’t get tickets.

Of course, the Angels only won once and within a few years, the Dodgers were back on top in SoCal. Now I can get any ticket I want in a stadium that’s only forty-percent full. All is right with the world. Until we lose Mike Trout…

Which brings me back to the Bay Area. I thought we had finally gotten to an equilibrium a la SoCal, with the A’s as the permanent underclass. They haven’t been competitive in over a decade, and they usually have to trade away their entire team every year. Even worse for them, their decade of crap was also a decade when the Giants won the World Series three times.

And some of the A’s fans that switched to the Giants actually acknowledged it. They say it’s tough to root for a team that will never sign good players and will always trade away their stars. The irony, of course, is that it’s the Giants fault. Back in the early nineties, when NOBODY went to, or watched, Giants games, they threatened to move to Florida. To entice them to stay, the commissioner made it so that the A’s would never be able to move out of very-heavily congested Alameda County. So then the Giants built their brand new stadium and everybody started going to their games. The A’s tried to follow suit and the Giants blocked them. The Giants are literally the only team in all of sports that can control the ability of a rival to make money.

And that power was given to them because the A’s were too popular in their market.

Now, or at least up until this year, the Giants have the fancy new ballpark and the world championships and all of the fans. Fans who say, “I just love the black-and-orange color scheme. That rustic, intertwined SF Logo. I mean, the A’s logo is just so gauche and doesn’t really match with anything.”

Until 2018.

In Sacramento, our AAA team switched affiliates from the A’s to the Giants, thinking this would bring in more fans. Not only did they switch, but they went Giants all the way. When they were the A’s franchise, they marketed themselves as “Sacramento’s team.” Since the switch, they reference Sacramento as little as possible. All of their giveaways are Giants players who never played in Sacramento. The bobbleheads all wear Giants, not River Cats, uniforms. They even put the fucking Golden Gate Bridge on our hats and uniforms.

It’s sucked for attendance though, because they forgot that Northern California fans are fickle. The year after the World Series? Yeah, gangbusters in Sacramento. But since then, it’s been dismal. Plus the team has tanked. The A’s usually have really good minor league teams, a result of that whole “trading their entire team every other year” thing. But the Giants don’t really build through the minors.

So now the River Cats are horrible and the stands are empty. The only time fans show up is if a major leaguer is rehabbing, and then they only pay attention when that particular minor leaguer is at bat. Then they talk over the rest of the action and check their phones and just generally don’t give a shit about anybody else on the team.

When Madison Bumgarner was rehabbing, tickets were being sold on eBay for over $100. Fifteen-thousand fans showed up. MadBum  pitched into the third inning. By the fifth inning, there were only about four-thousand fans left. The following week, MadBum was back up in San Francisco. The stands were half-full. Those Sacramento fans probably could have seen him for substantially less than $100, even after paying for gas and bridge toll.

Hey, at least playing in Sacramento is preparing those AAA guys for what it’ll be like to be a real San Francisco Giants, where nobody will come to their games or bother knowing who they are unless they’re winning a World Series or are named Barry Bonds.

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