Note: I was provided with a free copy of the book by the publisher, but was given no other compensation.
Why are we fans of sports? When you stop to think about it, it is a curiosity. We spend so much time, money, and energy on a bunch of strangers who throw and hit a ball. Chip Scarinzi takes a closer look at the nature of fandom, particularly baseball fandom, his new book "Diehards". The book weaves in tales of fandom, both relatable and unbelievable, interspersed with a more academic look at the nature of fandom.
Scarinzi begins explaining his own fandom, which is a bit unique in itself. The Philadelphia native began as a Phillies fan, but adopted the Athletics as his American League upon moving to the Bay Area. He explains his heartbreak when he witnessed yet another post-season disappointment by Billy Beane's A's, this time in the 2013 ALDS to the hands of the Detroit Tigers. While the loss caused some anguish, it also sparked a question to Scarinzi - why did he care so much?
To answer the question, he questioned academics - anthropologists, sociologists, even religious leaders. The book reads at times like a Malcolm Gladwell book, using experts to explain everyday phenomena we take for granted and don't consider much. "Anything that has the ability to give somebody a sense of happiness, a sense of well-being, a sense of direction, a purpose in life and connections to others can be considered important," explains one psychology professor. "There are other pop culture activities that do that, but I would make the argument that sports is particularly well-situated to help achieve those personal and societal imperatives because it is a social activity."
Perhaps the best chapter of the book takes place across the state from Kansas City. Scarinzi visits with some diehard baseball fans. Not of the Cardinals, mind you. Of the St. Louis Browns. The team that moved away over half a century ago to Baltimore. The book delves into the wonderful St. Louis Browns Historical Society, a shrinking group of fans dedicated to the franchise that has not existed since before the Royals were even born. Most of the mementos left from the defunct franchise are stuffed in a box in the bowels of the Scottrade Center, home of the NHL's St. Louis Blues. That a group of fans could be that dedicated to the memory of a team that has been long gone, with no chance of ever returning, speaks volumes. "[My wife] says I'm stuck in the 1950s," says one superfan. "Well, I may be. I don't mind being stuck in the '50s. I had fun back then and I'm having fun with it now."
Scarinzi is not afraid to take a peek at some of the negative effects of fandom, such as the increase in domestic violence that occurs during football losses, or the riots that have erupted from long-standing ethnic or religious conflicts in international soccer. I was actually interested in more of a discussion on how cultural differences can bleed into sports rivalries. This is a topic Kansas City fans know all too well, as the sports rivalries of the local college teams often reflect long-held stereotypes of each fanbase and its socioeconomic backgrounds. What does it say about sports when fans demean each other based on how much money they make? Do sports provide us an outlet to resolve cultural and political differences that might otherwise be resolved by violence?
The book is an easy read at just under 200 pages and Scarinzi is a professional-level writer, even if his regular vocation is as a communications executive. Neither Kansas City nor the Royals are a subject in the book, although Scarinzi does talk to Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro League Baseball Museum. If you've ever been introspective about why it is you care so much about a team that stomped on your spirit for so many years only to rise from the ashes to give you the most thrilling fall this town has ever seen, give Diehards a read.