For some baseball fans, supporting one's team is a year-round effort. Despite the cries and scoffs of the fashion police, it's not strange to see fans wearing baseball gear in January.
It's doubtful that any of Major League Baseball's apparel partners (New Era, Majestic, and Nike, to name a few) are in danger of closing anytime soon. Most baseball fans probably spend a good amount of money on team apparel over their natural lives.
By no means do I stand out from other New York Mets fans. I own the jerseys, the shirts, the hats. If you were to ask my friends to name one quality about me, being a Mets fan would probably be one of the more common ones (and no, I am not desperate or predictable enough to joke around that the other qualities are smart, sexy, generous, and funny. There's no joking around when it comes to the truth).
But what happens when one discovers the world of baseball around them? Let me put it in less romantic terms: What happens when you also support another team?
I happen to be a Mets fan who subscribes to the philosophy that Mets fans cannot root for the Yankees. You can't be "for the city." It's one or the other, and you are damned to an eternity of taunting from the other side. There's a rivalry there, no matter what your opinion is on the idea of inter-league play. If I were to wear a Yankees hat, people would be affected.
My first non-Mets piece of fan apparel was an Arizona Diamondbacks hat, shortly after they beat the Yankees in the 2001 World Series. I'll be honest and admit that this was mostly to get a reaction out of Yankees fans around me.
However, during that World Series, I also grew an appreciation for the Diamondbacks. They were a team of hard-nosed players and were still relatively new in the Major Leagues. Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson were gritty and dominating, and any baseball fan had to respect that. I was sold.
I only wore that hat a few times. Part of the problem was that the hat was purple (now they're a much cooler-looking red, and I wish I had that hat). But the bigger problem is, do the Diamondbacks take precedence over my main team, the Mets? I knew the answer was "no" before I even asked. So at what point does wearing the hat become unreasonable?
Similarly, I also purchased an Oakland Athletics cap. This is a little easier to admit to, since I remember the team from my childhood. I liked the elephant they used as a logo and their team colors. I remember watching the 1989 World Series on television when the earthquake happened.
But at the time, the A's and the Yankees always seemed destined to play each other in the playoffs. And I could not avoid that fact. However, much like the Diamondbacks hat, I barely wore my A's hat.
Was I afraid of an actual fan attempting to commiserate with me on A's history, or information I was nowhere near qualified to know about the team? The few times I wore it, I did enjoy the puzzled looks I received from Yankee fans. Even though their team won every series against the Athletics.
Now I know what you're thinking. "This guy's a front-runner! He probably likes the Red Sox too!" And I do, even though I don't own a hat (Josh Beckett jersey shirt, though). But facing the Yankees isn't the only vain reason I have for liking a team.
Fantasy baseball has turned baseball into a year-round activity for me. I have discovered more teams, more players and a better understanding of the game as a result. And at the end of May, my last-place team discovered Ryan Braun.
Since his call-up by the Milwaukee Brewers on May 24, Braun tore up baseball and became a sensation. I was lucky enough to pick him up shortly after he arrived, and he provided a great deal of help for my team.
As a result of following Braun's daily activities, I grew an appreciation for some of the other Brewer players. Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, and Corey Hart completed a group that, for me, couldn't be beat. And in order for my fantasy teams to succeed, the Brewers had to succeed too.
So, at that point, I became a "fan." Do I use the quotation marks? I obviously wasn't born in or near Wisconsin, nor did I know anyone affiliated with the team. But when the Brewers did well, so did I. It was the same with my Mets, of course, with the Mets affecting me on a deeper level than an imaginary trophy.
I was probably one of the first people in New Jersey to own a Ryan Braun jersey shirt when Majestic first released them. Unlike my affairs with the Diamondbacks and Athletics, I wore my Braun shirt a lot.
People noticed, and I gladly informed them of my fantasy baseball battle. People got a kick out of it, though they also probably considered me a lifeless nerd for thinking about a world of baseball outside of the New York area. Or by thinking about baseball at all.
I also recently purchased a Brewers hat. This process took some time, because I was very picky with choosing a hat. In my area, the retro logo is the only hat stores will carry. But it's not a logo I care for. This is 2008.
Whenever I came close to purchasing a hat with the current logo on it, I balked at the price. And I don't just mean financially. I started to wonder about my allegiances. Am I cheating on the Mets with yet another younger, sexier, newer, more exotic team?
Last week, I finally broke down and purchased the hat. It was a compromise. It's a slightly-lighter blue, with the new logo on the front, old logo placed askew on the back, and "BREWERS" stitched over yellow underneath the bill of the hat. The tags are still on it, not because I come from the mean streets of suburban North New Jersey, but because of the timing.
The Brewers are no longer in the playoffs, bested (or thrashed) by the Phillies. But the Brewers also won the Wild Card spot, one which the Mets were vying for. This can be a big deal to some Mets fans. Would I give off the wrong impression by wearing this hat? Will people think I enjoyed the Brewers making the playoffs over (but not beating) the Mets?
I eventually would like to see the Brewers in person, preferably in their own ballpark. There's no way I could see them at Shea, however. Maybe when they visit the Phillies again next year. I've gone in and out of their ballpark in Mets gear without so much as a bead of spit on me, so their fans are no problem.
What if I wore my new Brewers hat with a Mets jersey? Or my Braun shirt with a dark Mets hat? Would people understand that I just happen to like two teams?
I have not yet worked out an answer to these questions. The Mets being my favorite team, my main squeeze, will never change (that losing-on-the-last-day thing, hopefully, is another story). However, she'll have to get used to seeing someone else's lipstick on my collar from time-to-time.