Schu Strings: The fan you hate

I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan. Sure, I said I've hated baseball in the past. And sure I don't follow baseball that much during the regular season, or when "my" team is laboring. But now I'm a St. Cardinals fan. I'm the fan you hate most, and the fan sports most needs.

It's no secret I can't stand Major League Baseball. A few columns back I outlined a brief history on my Three Labor Strikes and You're Out policy. And I've been pretty darned good about keeping my word. But over the course of the last week, I've caught myself occasionally glancing at baseball games. Worse, and even more laughable given the knowledge others in the conversation possess, I've actually talked a bit about baseball. Even worse than that, I've been "running smack" (I put this in quotes because this is one of Brad Allis' favorite terms. I know he stole this phrase from somewhere else, I'm guessing Jim Rome) [I also go with 'talking stuff', 'talking yang' and the good ol' 'talking s#!t'--Brad] on the Cat Tracks Editor about the Cardinals and their ability to dispatch the Diamondbacks with ease.

This is wrong on so many levels. For starters, Brad can actually name the Diamondbacks' starting lineup. He actually attends the occasional game. My knowledge of the Cardinals, "my favorite team," is that they have that one third baseman who nobody likes who banged up his shoulder, and they're managed by Tony LaRussa, who's been in the dugout for a bunch of good teams seemingly since 1932.

Frankly, Brad's knowledge of the D-Backs, which is very good, pails in comparison to Ryan Radtke's devotion to the Oakland A's. I don't know if Radtke missed an A's broadcast. He has the Internet package. He finished his football postgame show on KNST after the Oregon loss, which had to have concluded somewhere around one in the morning, hopped a plane to the Bay Area and watched, in person, Game Five of the ALDS between the A's and Minnesota. Now that's dedication.

These are people who have a vested interest in their product. They are fans. They watch the ups and downs. They endure the heartache and relish in the triumph, and they hate people like me. I am part of the bandwagon. I am the guy who does other things, then pretends to engage in conversation about something I don't know with people who do in an effort to act as if I've been there all along. Yet I am the guy who keeps sports programs afloat.

I am the guy programs like Arizona football hope to attract. Programs like the Tucson Sidewinders. Programs like the Icecats. Insert program here. Programs that want to operate in the black. Every athletic endeavor, regardless of how big, regardless of how small, has a core audience. That audience will always be there. But the program that can survive by virtue of that core audience alone is a rarity indeed. That program probably plays soccer in Europe. It isn't a sports program in the States. It certainly isn't a program like Arizona football.

Let's cut the crap, shall we. Tucson isn't a sports town. Never has been, probably never will be. Anybody who tries to convince you otherwise, feel free to laugh at them, for yourself and then for me. Does Tucson have hardcore sports fans? Absolutely. Maybe as many as 20,000 strong in football.

But from there, the battle rages. The Tucson area has a population in the neighborhood of three-quarters of a million people. Arizona Stadium houses 57,000, give or take. That means that one out of every 13 people in the vicinity needs to attend a game to fill the joint. Not impossible, but it's asking a lot, especially when the product generates next to no interest.

The bandwagon is a nationwide phenomenon, but it's a greater issue in the Western United States. They're all reasons we've heard before. The transient nature of the west leads to folks who didn't grow up here, and thus don't have a long-term relationship with any given team. The weather's so good there are other things to do. We're so laid back anyway, we just don't care that much.

John Mackovic has yet to grab the community by the throat and convince it that he's going to have a product worth following, much in the vein Lute Olson did a decade-and-a-half ago.

They're all valid reasons, and they're hurdles the Arizona athletic program must overcome. Radtke has often gone on the air and posited a rhetorical question. "What else is there to do on a Saturday night in Tucson that would preclude people from not going to the football game?"

The answer: Nothing, if you're a sports fan, but a lot if you aren't. If the interest is marginal, why bother making the drive? Why bother dealing with traffic, finding a parking spot, enduring what crowds there are? It's not worth the effort when you can check out a flick right down the road, or just kick back at home.

In Tucson, you don't get a break. You have to win before they believe you will. Then you have to show you can win consistently before they'll bother to watch in person. If Arizona football can one day do those two things, then Tucson will be a football town. And Arizona Stadium will be filled with the people you hate. People like me.

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