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The importance of geographical identity on fandom

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Being a fan of a sports team is about more than just the team. It's a tie to the local culture.

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I have a friend who, for the sake of convenience, we'll call Bill. Bill grew up in Southern New Jersey, went to college in Philadelphia, and continues to live in Philadelphia. It is very likely that he will move in the next year, but that will be to somewhere that could be called a suburb or satellite of Philadelphia. All of Bill's family is also from the Philadelphia area, as are most of his friends. One would assume, based on all of this, that Bill is a Phillies fan, right? Or maybe at a stretch Mets or Yankees. This is a very rational conclusion. But no, Bill is a Red Sox diehard.

Of course, there are many reasons one might cheer for a team, but to me all reasons pale in comparison to geography. Jerry Seinfeld famously joked about cheering for clothes, and while he's not entirely wrong, he's missing the deeper part. We're cheering for what those clothes represent, which is the city or town that is called out by name on those clothes.

Let's look at it from a different perspective -- when a team wins a Pennant or a World Series, who benefits and how? The players and coaching staff benefit in terms of a sense accomplishment, a pay raise, and a likely improvement on their career prospects moving forward. Ditto for the front office staff. The ownership group benefits in future earnings, an increased value for the club, improved ability to attract future talent, and mostly more butts in seats, eyes on screens, and memorabilia sold. And we as fans, what do we gain? We get that moment of euphoria, but we didn't actually accomplish anything. What we get is the ability to celebrate with those around us. Sports teams provide us with a standard for a community to rally around that doesn't involve rampaging over the walls of the neighboring community to raid and pillage. It gives us a sense of belonging without needing to shave our heads and wear bed sheets. It's why I was so excited when the Maryland Flag was added to the O's uniform -- these guys are for us, they are the sworn swords that fight for the poorly defined area that more or less surrounds the City of Baltimore.

In turn, a sports team then becomes a part of the fabric of a place. The Cartoon Bird is as much a part of the identity of Baltimore as Bromo Seltzer, The Aquarium, Crab Feasts, Natty Boh and calling everyone "hon." I moved away from Maryland about 12 years ago, and continuing to follow the Orioles has been a tether for me. I love that in the comment section on this blog conversation often drifts to local happenings or discussion of Baltimore institutions. As an MLB.tv subscriber, I love when the local commercials come on the radio feed. I'm immediately 14 again with my ear pressed against the speaker in the car so that I can hear the call over the crackle and hiss of the AM broadcast. Being told to pick up Esskay Quality Meat or Schmidt Old Tyme Bread is almost heartbreaking because there is simply none to be found by me. It's not that Esskay and Schmidt are truly that special, but they are Baltimore, just like my Birds. All of this stuff is home for me, even though I live 7 hours away. The Orioles keep me closer to my family, help me stay connected to people and places that defined my childhood years. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has picked up a phone to call my dad after a big trade announcement or a crucial win. While some people (specifically my mom) might brush that off as being a superficial conversation, Dad and I are closer thanks to the Orioles.

I'm sure there are a handful of readers who are Orioles fans but aren't from Baltimore and/or don't have strong family ties to the area, who may have come to love the team for a myriad of reasons. I'm not here to tell you that you're wrong, I'm sure you get plenty of satisfaction out of your arrangement. I just don't understand it.

I now live deep in the heart of Red Sox country. That's ok, because I know who I am and where I'm from. I high-five (or at least attempt to high-five) anyone I see wearing an Orioles hat. I've yelled "Let's Go O's!" across crowded malls because I spot a fan in the distance, much to the deep embarrassment of my wife. It's not just sports related. Every trip to Maryland includes the purchase of things like Natty Boh and Pikesville Rye. I'm not near the geographical community anymore, but it is the place that made me who I am.

My brother also lives up here, and he has a 2 year old son. We make sure to keep him stocked with O's and Ravens stuff as a sort of inoculation against the plague that surrounds us, but I'm a bit concerned about whether this is the right decision. I love the Orioles because I'm from Baltimore, but what about this little kid who might spend all of his formative years in Rhode Island? Who are we to deprive him of the excitement of cheering for the home team? Are we robbing him of this essential part of what it means to be from somewhere, to have a hometown? And if I were to have a child, even if I intellectually assent to allowing my progeny to forge their own way and not start out their life as an outcast at school when it comes to their sports allegiances, will I be OK with having brought another Red Sox fan into the world? Is it worse to not have the ability to be a part of your geographical community in that way, or for my nephew not to be able to call his dad in 20 years when they are both in different parts of the country to celebrate another Orioles World Series?

Thankfully, these are issues that don't have to be settled today. Today is Opening Day, and everything is perfect.

The stories presented as part of the 2016 Camden Chat Opening Day Marathon are written by members of our community. To add your voice to the site please consider writing a FanPost.