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HARD DRIVES: Losing doesn't deter fan worship

by John E. Gibson (Mar 3, 2010)

A couple of years ago, Hard Drives sat down with a player who had just changed teams as a free agent. We discussed the notion of pressure to perform with a new team and the tendency for fans to focus on what draws the interest of fans.

His observation: "There are many ways to enjoy baseball."

Really? Because winning seems to be the best way to enjoy it. But his statement explains why Yokohama fans ardently root for the twinkle-less BayStars in September, when the team's only involvement in the playoff race is watching someone clinch postseason spots by beating them.

It's easy to watch a winner, and some fans have a sense of entitlement--sky-high expectations for their teams, no matter what the name is on the back of the jersey.

Players in postgame on-field interviews always remember to spout the company- contrived cliche, thanking the crowd with the uninspiring "best fans in the world" line. But we all know human nature is to snuggle into a seat on the nearest bandwagon, so every winner has great support.

Each team has a unique set of followers, though. The typical Giants fan, for instance, looks at winning as a birthright. Obviously driven by the bottom line, these followers tend to skip through the tedious details of the how and why, and shoot straight down to the final score.

No other team here has had as much success as Yomiuri and fans at the Big Egg crack a proud smile when the team wins, but boil over when it doesn't.

The typical Dragons fan is hopeful, but not willing to invest too much emotionally.

The Dragons, despite being a perennial pennant contender, have only won seven Central League titles since 1954. Finishing as the bridesmaid 21 times the past 55 years tends to make fans take a cautious approach to giving devotion until the pennant race or playoffs get so exciting they can't turn away.

Japan's attendance leaders, the Hanshin Tigers, have fans of a separate breed. The unbridled passion the area has for the Tigers has little to do with the standings and more to do with the hustling and fierce competitors who keep Koshien Stadium packed and rocking from Opening Day until the home season finale.

The Hiroshima Carp faithful have been swimming upstream for years. The Carp won it all in 1979 and '80, but have only three CL titles since. Certainly the red wave of interest in the new stadium last year upped home attendance to 1,873,046, according to Baseball Stats Lounge. But what also fed fan interest was Hiroshima's fight for the last playoff spot, which continued until the final month of the season.

Tokyo Yakult fans, many of whom are Giant-haters at the core, are fueled by wins. Simply put, victories raise the number of dancing umbrellas at Jingu Stadium.

In the Pacific League, Seibu Lions fans have, since 1999, been forced to brave the elements of the semi-enclosed Seibu Dome. The capped stadium is bafflingly colder than the outside temps in the winter and hotter than standing under a blazing sun in the summer. Win or lose, fans tend to follow on cable TV more often than making the trek to Tokorozawa.

Fukuoka fans pack a ton of passion into Yahoo! Japan Dome. The Hawks, the only game in town, have finished out of the top three only once since 2000 and led the PL in attendance last year.

Nippon Ham has spoiled fans in Hokkaido into thinking the regular season is a place to hang out before the playoffs start.

Chiba Lotte's fans are always jumpy and, at times, more entertaining than the team. Winning is important, but fighting spirit is enough to get Marines' backers up.

The Rakuten Eagles fans, just like the team, are comfy in a winner's seat and after last year's playoff debut, will anticipate more team-oriented success and not focus on individual accomplishments.

The Orix Buffaloes' fans, who enjoyed Ichiro Suzuki's seven straight batting crowns and a 1996 Series title--as the BlueWave--seem disinterested in recent years. That's nothing a homer king couldn't fix.

But BayStars' backers take the prize as "best fans in the world." Amid a shriveling economy, they continue to come out and root for Yokohama, which has finished in the CL cellar six times since 2002.

Bottom-line thinking is what counts, but these fans deserve big-time praise for finding reasons to pay to see the worst team of the previous decade.


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