King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Loving the home team to death vs. struggling through the dog days of devotion: A tale of two fans.

Published July 7, 2005 3:44PM (EDT)

So I'm sitting around wondering why it is I just can't seem to get interested in which guys do or don't make the All-Star teams when I read about a guy in Pittsburgh named James Henry Smith.

Big Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and I mean a big fan. How big? When his friends and family stopped in to see him this week -- Fourth of July week -- he was sitting in his armchair in his Steelers pajamas and robe, Steelers highlights playing on a big-screen TV.

I sometimes envy folks like Smith, people who can give themselves heart and soul to a team, to live and die with the home 11, or nine, or six or five, to love unconditionally.

I don't envy Smith, specifically, though. That's because he's dead. His friends and family were dropping by to see him at a funeral home, as described in a lovely Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story written by Ervin Dyer.

This guy really lived and died with the home 11.

Learning about him made me feel worse about my total lack of outrage over Morgan Ensberg of the Astros and Travis Hafner of the Indians being snubbed for Tuesday's All-Star Game, or my failure to get excited about the recent surge of the formerly dormant Oakland A's, second in the Complicated Calculus of Teams I Root For.

I'm not sure what it is. I'm looking forward to the All-Star Game as usual, but I usually spend the week or two before it ranting about who should be on the teams, how the "one player from every team" rule stinks, how the All-Star Game shouldn't decide home field in the World Series and on and on.

Not this time. Maybe it's just that I've decided on some level that the subject's been covered. You know, we'll always have that aging or injured superstar making the team over some guy who probably deserves it more, and we'll always have some closer with a 6.35 ERA representing a last-place team because someone has to, and so what?

I notice that I was starting to feel that way last year.

I've never heard anyone defend the rule requiring each team to be represented. So OK, all of us except Major League Baseball agree. There are more important things in the world.

There aren't really, I'm just testing out theories.

And then there's the way that the actual season hasn't really grabbed my attention yet. The Cardinals, my local team and No. 3 in the Complicated Calculus, are running riot over the National League for the second straight year, and I'm no more excited by them than I am by the A's.

Could it be something about baseball, my favorite sport? After all, it was less than a month ago that I was fascinated by the NBA Finals, and feeling like I was practically the only person in America so afflicted.

I do think that the recent innovation of having players vote on the All-Star pitchers and reserves rather than letting the manager choose them dilutes the thrill of outrage over the picks. It used to be you could focus your fury on the skipper -- that Torre! He just brings all his Yankees! -- but now you find yourself arguing with an election, and there aren't even any voting-machine controversies to chew over.

But that doesn't explain the rest of it, the not rising and falling with the fortunes of my various teams as the baseball season passes the halfway point. The Giants are No. 1 in the calculus, by the way, and they've been dismal, but that's not it. They've been dismal before.

Did this ever happen to James Henry Smith? Did he ever have a year when the Steelers games just kind of came and went for him, and he watched or didn't, but couldn't get too excited one way or the other? I'm guessing not.

Smith was a steelworker. He didn't have to think and write about this stuff every day to keep the cable bill paid. Maybe it's just that I need a vacation. Maybe it's the reason I'm about to get one, a reason who's due to show her face in three weeks.

Maybe, doc, I'm subconsciously hunkering down in anticipation of my 2-and-a-half-year-old son discovering sports. If he's anything like almost every male child on my side of the family in the last two generations, I'm about to embark with him on a decade or so of little-boy fandom, James Henry Smith-like devotion to the home teams. Maybe I just need a break before that because I won't get one during it.

I don't know, and you shouldn't care. But if you've found your fan-light dimming at various times, I'd like to hear about it. Did it come back on?

I said I sometimes envy devoted fans like the late James Henry Smith. I also sometimes feel bad for them, because it seems to me that they're involved in a one-sided relationship.

Do you think the Pittsburgh Steelers even knew that James Henry Smith existed? Or if they knew, do you think they cared? I mean other than in the most basic, customer-relations type way, and even then only if he ever bought tickets. I don't. There are plenty more fans where Mr. Smith came from.

But it doesn't matter, does it? The relationship may be one-sided, but it's satisfying. Smith died too young, in his 50s, from cancer, but it sounds like he had a pretty happy life, and that it wouldn't have been as happy or satisfying without the Steelers. That's something.

The All-Star Game could very well relight my fire, or the A's surging long enough to actually get into the wild-card or division race. Maybe I'll have to wait until the start of the NFL season or the baseball playoffs, or just until the next good controversy comes along -- what's Larry Brown up to today?

But I don't want to stray too far from the vacation theory.

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