There is a disturbing trend, and I’ve now seen it with two articles.

Are U.S. baseball fans boring?

It started with a Jeff Passan article, which is worthy of ignoring.  Passan is an idiot who has long since decided that if Skip Bayless can make it being a deriding, insulting idiot, he can do it better.  Considering that Passan is stuck as a writer on Yahoo Sports, his effectiveness is debatable, but from me he’s earned the same level of being ignored as has Rick Reilly.  But then, BaseballdeWorld, a nice blog that talks about the international state of the game and covers the many international leagues, responded to the article with tacit agreement.

The basic theory is this: Fans in countries like Japan, and the Dominican Republic, and Korea, and many others treat baseball games like parties.  Their fans are loud and raucous, and blow horns and bang drums, and U.S. fans are quiet, and get told when to cheer and sing, but otherwise will complain to the ushers about those who do such things when they aren’t told to so that they will shut up.

Now, I’ll openly admit to not being someone who’s had the opportunity to enjoy the Asian or Latin American cultures of the game.  I’ve been to games all across America, from Major League cities like San Francisco (Candlestick and AT&T Park days), Oakland, Los Angeles, Washington and New York, to minor league cities from Fresno to Connecticut to Augusta to Las Vegas.  I’ve seen loud crowds and quiet crowds, big and small.  I’ve even been to Olympic baseball games (in 1984).  But what I’ve seen in highlights, and parts of the World Baseball Classic, I’ve been impressed by the fans there.

Last night, I got my first taste of that Japanese culture.  I was sitting in a section that had a lot of Japanese-American friends (including one of my own I came with), and many people who came from Japan for this game.  And you know what I noticed?

They are loud.  They are raucous.  They are amazing.  And for a few innings, they sat on their hands as their team struggled.

And what I realized is something I realized a long time ago as a cinema major: idealism and fatigue.

The fatigue is a simple concept.  We’ve lived in our own baseball culture for decades.  We grew up with it.  We know it inside and out.  We know the cues, we can predict the reactions.  We get snarky about the types of fans we see, if not snooty.  So, when we see a culture that’s different than ours, we get excited and starry-eyed and love it.  I get it.  It’s natural.

The idealism is also a simple one, and the film version goes like this: Movies back then were so much better.  Every time we went to the movies, we had fun and that idea of wonder, and it was a good story and everything.  Nowadays, there are some good movies, but the vast majority of films are utter and complete crap.

The reality is this: there was crap back then, too.  But you didn’t go see that crap, and you don’t remember them because, well, why would you?  You just remember the good stuff.  If anything, there’s more crap now because there’s just more movies.  But the ratio of good to crap?  Probably just about the same…and if it seems like there’s less, it’s because you can love old crap: it’s called nostalgia.  Just ask me about what I think about everything 1990’s.

That’s what’s happening with baseball fandom: Us here in the states are used to and tired of what fandom is here.  We’ve seen flashes of great and amazing (and exotic) fans and fan behavior, and we long to be like that.

Yes, I’ve seen “The Last Samurai” too.

I noticed quickly that the Japanese fans had about five chants.  They were led by the same guy on a drum in our section.  They got quiet when their team was down, and got excited when they had a chance to come back.  They cheered close calls that went their way, and booed the close calls that didn’t.  And same was true of the Puerto Rican fans, with their flag waving and horns, though they didn’t have to deal with being down.

I also noticed something else: when China played Brazil, a lot of Japanese fans didn’t show up.  It felt like some minor league games I’ve been at.  But at this game, where many Americans didn’t have a rooting interest, they were there.  I saw a lot of Giants clothes, I saw quite a few A’s outfits, Cardinals hats and Tigers hats, and Mariners and Indians and even Dodgers.  I saw a lot of Irish outfits.  I even saw Venezuelan and Nicaraguan fans.

These were people who didn’t have a direct interest to a nation or a uniform or a city on the field.  If they were rooting for someone, they rooted because they decided to root for someone to have someone to root for.  But they were there.  Maybe it wasn’t a full house, but it was a great game with great fans, fans from all countries.

Now, I’ve been a San Francisco fan for years, and you know what?  It’s had amazing moments.  Watching that Bonds home run chase, both of them.  Others may have hated it, but that made it even more amazing.  The opening of a new park.  Three different World Series.  Small post-strike crowds in Candlestick.  A perfect game.

We don’t use drums, no.  Or horns.  Mostly, we don’t have flags.  Sure, Passan may make fun of Giants fans who sing a song from an old band that broke up in 1984, but he wasn’t here to know why:  Why?  Because a fan put a video up on YouTube that took the song of a local band, but reworded it to sing about his team, and it was a huge hit.  Oh, and then during the World Series, the team played another song by that band, and 42,000 just sang it.  They didn’t tell us to.  They didn’t post the song lyrics.  We knew the song, we loved it, and we sang it.  And Passan’s own site lauded the moment.

So yeah, nowadays the Giants play it regularly, and now it’s a regular cue in the middle of the 8th inning, and they do post the lyrics.  But we do it because we love that moment.

I was also there on June 13th, 2012, in the bleachers.  No, no flags, or rally rags.  But we stood up and started cheers with the rest of the bleacher bums.  We chanted long-known lines like “What’s the matter with <Insert-Other-Team’s-Player>?  HE’S A BUM”.  We chanted “Yes!  Yes!  Yes!” as they were doing in the WWE to show our love of big moments, something I rarely see at baseball games.  And we made up the chant “You Got Blanco’d” to Astros center fielder Jordan Schafer after that amazing catch, on a moment’s notice.  Let me tell you, no one gets louder or crazier or more electric than that park was that day.

I was there when the Giants were a game away from elimination to be played far away, and the team’s most reviled, hated, despised and disrespected player was going to pitch that game.  And all the fans took to Twitter and Facebook and put up pictures of him for support, and made that support trend worldwide.  It’s a very unique level of fandom to be sure, but it was amazing nonetheless, and had never been seen before.

I was there in 1995, when a nobody Dodgers catcher was playing in front of a few hundred people there post-strike slid into the dugout to try and make a catch, and failed.  And that San Francisco crowd gave him a standing ovation for the effort, regardless of the uniform, because it was baseball.

And I was there at a minor league game in Las Vegas, where there weren’t fans standing all game or making things electric, but I was able to sit and converse and enjoy the game with old-time strangers, because we had one thing in common: the game we were watching.  Maybe some might call that boring…I don’t.

And while I have to admit that there are days I feel like we’ve watered the fans down, and frowned on revelers from getting too loud and too crazy and too offensive…I’ve also seen what happens when that goes unchecked.  We all have in the last few years.  And I doubt that these things don’t happen in the D.R., or Japan, or Venezuela, or Korea, or anywhere that emotions and alcohol mix.  Is it good fandom to have fans who throw things at opposing players, as what happened to Canadian team members in the WBC game against Mexico?  If we are to celebrate having no restraint, this is the inevitable outcome.  And yes, I say that knowing that Giants fans have done that in the past to the Dodgers, and even their own mascot.

There is a downside to having no restraint on one’s selves.  It’s not always violence, but oh so often it is.  It could mean fans who stalk players, or attack them.  Or other fans.  Or it could simply be fans displaying unhealthy behavior that is so close to what the good fans do, but yet so different.  And the impressions made by those people can be far more damning to the sport, and the people they want to draw to the game, than any positive impressions from good fans can be.

I don’t say this to run down any nationality of fans.  We here in America don’t cheer the same way they do in Japan.  And they don’t cheer the same way as they do in the Caribbean.  But that doesn’t make anyone better or worse.  Don’t confuse the differences in culture for the differences in quality.  I’m enjoying this chance to see the different cultures, and I respect the hell out of them.  Going to see games in Japan and Korea have now moved even higher on my bucket list.  But just because every moment spent at an American ballpark doesn’t resemble the top highlights we’re seeing from these others doesn’t mean we’re boring.

It just means you’re used to us.

But frankly, Passan, I invite you to leave and go enjoy these other cultures.  Seriously.  One day, you’ll miss American baseball life.  But we won’t miss you.