Sports fans in America may need a p.r. campaign. Last week, in a frenzied fit of disapproval over an umpire’s call, Atlanta Braves fans dangerously hurled bottles and cans onto the field. Then Kansas City fans booed their own resident quarterback, Matt Cassel, while he lay unconscious after he took a rattling duo of hits that put him in that position.
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Yes, these moments are not displaying mankind at its best. As a player, I certainly did not like being booed, and I heard my share. The most extreme case was when I misread a ball hit my way in centerfield in the last inning of one game and ruined the rare and special chance for all in attendance to see a no-hitter. After a pitch whizzed by my head in my next turn at bat, my home fans cheered profusely. But even so, it did not take away the vast majority of the other 1,000 games where I felt they were in my corner.
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Every year there are outrageous incidents of fan bad behavior. Yet when we focus on specific moments, we lose sight of the positive impact fans have had even in the same season. When Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers earned the first Triple Crown in 45 years, Royals fans (yes, also from Kansas City) cheered him like he was their own. Or the leaguewide support for A’s pitcher Brandon McCarthy during his recovery from getting hit in the head by a line drive. Most fans not only want their teams to do well but are compassionate for the team’s individual players and those that compete against them.
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Fans can be tough. They always have been tough, but to say they are worse today than when Jackie Robinson broke the color line in the 1940s and feared for his is a bit of a stretch. In the speed of today’s world, results are sought instantaneously; patience is thin, reactions premature, but sportsmanship is still alive. We just have to pay attention.