The Vocation of the Fan

What is the responsibility of sports fans towards their teams? It is a question I’ve legitimately been wrestling with over the past few weeks after my beloved Colorado Rockies traded Nolan Arenado, arguably the best player in franchise history, to the St. Louis Cardinals. Not only did they trade him, they threw in $50 million. What did they get in return? A sub-par starting pitcher and some minor league prospects (one of which has some potential…maybe). I get that Arenado wanted out of Colorado, but the fact that the Rockies traded him for nothing AND spent more money to do it than they have on building a team around him, well, it boggles the mind.

What’s more, it makes me question why I cheer for that organization. 

If you’d asked me a month ago why I was a Rockies fan, the answer would have been easy. I grew up in Colorado. I remember their arrival in 1993. My dad got us tickets to the first Major League Opening Day in Denver’s history. We sat on the third deck of Mile High Stadium and watched Eric Young, Sr. take the first at bat for the Rockies and hit a homerun. I’ve been to Spring Trainings where I met players. I’ve cheered for that team through years of terrible baseball and through times of total joy. I still remember where I was in 2007 when Matt Holliday slid across home to defeat the Padres in the Wild Card game. I’ve taught my kids the game of baseball watching Rockies’ games. I pay every year to get the MLB.TV package so I can watch them play from my home in San Diego county. Cheering for this team, defending in vain the altitude of Coors Field (and longing to see a sunset there), complaining about their struggles, hoping next year will be better, all of this is a part of my dedication to this team. I am a fan and I love this team as much as one can love a sports franchise.

But, then they made the worst trade since Boston sent Babe Ruth to the Yankees. It was a joke. Again, not just because they let Arenado go, but because they attempted to get nothing in return. They set themselves up for a season of utter failure. This wasn’t even some tank job for a better draft pick, either. The ownership shows no interest in winning. They know they’ll draw fans every year, they know they’ll sell merchandise, they know they’ll make money. So, they aren’t interested in putting a winning team on the field.

 After arriving in St. Louis, Arenado was quoted as saying, “They [the Cardinals management] told me that their goal is to win the division and the World Series every year. I’ve never heard that before.” Ugghhhh…it just gets worse!

So, my question is this: What is my responsibility to this team? If the management does nothing to help their players win and put a quality team on the field for the fans, what is the responsibility of the fan? Am I still expected to buy tickets? To pull for the team that is destined to lose? Do I switch allegiances? I mean, I live in San Diego whose franchise is currently making major moves to win. If they lose, it is not for lack of trying by the owners or general manager. The Padres are working to win! But not the Rockies. They don’t seem to care.

I think this scenario offers an interesting exercise in thinking about vocation. We usually associate the word vocation with a job or a trade. But, in Lutheran theology, the doctrine of vocation can be thought of in terms of God-given relationships and responsibilities. So, husbands have certain responsibilities towards their wives and wives towards their husbands. Children owe their parents respect and honor and parents owe their children love, protection, wisdom, etc. All of our roles in the home, the church, and the culture come with responsibilities. These are our vocations.

“Love” is the best word we are given to describe the nature of our work in our vocations. Christ’s vocation was to die on the cross to forgive sinners. He demonstrates nature of His love for you by doing that perfectly for you. In your relationships, you are called to love as He loved you. Jesus, who never fails in His vocation to be our forgiver even when we fail in ours, grants us His Holy Spirit to produce love in our relationships.

Where this becomes challenging is when that love is not returned. Or, worse, when it is rejected or taken advantage of. How are we to act then? What does the vocation of a spouse look like when their partner is distant and unloving? How are parents to love painfully disobedient children? What does a citizen owe an evil government? Does love demand that we simply suffer? Take abuse? Allow the neighbor to hurt and harm us and others? 

Martin Luther has some challenging words on this when, in discussing the command to honor father and mother, he reminds us that we owe love towards our parents, even if they are no good to us. The honor is due them because of God’s command, not because of their deserving. So that, unless they are telling you to sin, you are to honor and obey them. So that, by extension, we are to love our neighbors in our vocations (bosses, employees, neighbors, etc.) even when they don’t deserve it. (A vitally important qualifier is necessary here: One is never called to suffer in an abusive relationship. The right thing to do in such situations is turn the abuser over to the authorities and get yourself to a place that is safe. God’s wrath punishes those who abuse His beloved children.)

Okay, so where is all this going? Obviously, being a fan is not a “vocation” from God. But, there are certain responsibilities that come with it. Cheering for your team through thick and thin, buying tickets to go see games, etc. But, what does such support look like when those whose legitimate vocation it is to help the team win are destroying that which they are supposed to build? I’ve seen a number of articles calling for the boycotting of games. Hit them in the wallet, then they’ll pay attention? Do you show up and boo the ownership? What is a fanbase to do? How do you love a team that doesn’t just lose, but actively takes your money and your support with no intention of giving you a winning team?

I don’t know if I have any good answers. But, I do know this, that there are those fans out there who will die hard with their team no matter what. Like the Indian fans in the movie Major League, they’ll still show up, all geared out for the game, and do what they can to cheer on their team. They’ll blindly hope that this is the year. And, if success ever comes, they’ll relish in their patient loyalty. I just hope the  upper management doesn’t heartlessly take advantage of such a loyal fanbase and continue to fail at their vocations by putting an inferior product on the field. These fans spend hard earned money to cheer for their team. Shame on the owners for not trying.

Maybe I should have titled this blog, “My Bitter Rant Against the Rockies Ownership.” 

Oh well. Go Rockies!