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Nelson Cruz and The Nature of Fandom

There is no biographical information on Nelson Cruz’s Wikipedia page. Just a name, a date of birth and a chronological listing of his baseball career.

I don’t know anything about his family. I’ve never heard him speak in an interview and I’ve never read a magazine profile about him.

As a Dallas resident and extremely casual baseball fan, I am aware of his existence. But beyond telling you how good he is at baseball, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about him as a human being. It’s kind of nice.

I was a baseball fan as a kid, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to watch the games. They are really long and there’s hardly any action. I have about the same attention span as my five year old cousin; if you’re asking me to commit four hours to watching something, it had better be the Godfather.

** The NBA understands this. That’s why you are bombarded with loud music and artificial crowd noise while the game is played. If the action ever stops, they pump up the noise even louder: either by blaring an overproduced skit on the Jumbotron or parading a bunch of strippers around center-court. Some people might not like all the empty theatrics, but I appreciate anything that breaks up the monotony of everyday existence. **

A playoff baseball game is different though. Everyone watches playoff games. It’s an excuse to get drunk in the middle of the week, yell profusely and generally act like a front-running douchebag. More importantly, it’s an excuse for people in Dallas to feel good about themselves, send out "Dallas = Titletown USA" text messages and whitewash any negative feelings they have about their community.

Y'all wish you were doing it this big.

That’s what professional sports are about, providing a sense of community for communities far too big to have any real sense of the word. As a UT alum and a Dallas sports fan, I’ve been lucky enough to experience deep playoff runs in baseball, basketball and football in the last few years.

The difference is, because I don’t follow baseball as much, the individual Rangers players are more abstractions that actual people to me.

I know about Colt McCoy’s family in small-town Texas, and that he was lightly recruited out of high school and that he believes in Jesus and that his wife is good-looking. I know about Dirk Nowitkzi’s upbringing in Germany, and the trials and tribulations he suffered to become an NBA superstar and the time he dated a woman who was not very good-looking and turned out to be a criminal.

Nelson Cruz? I know he’s a 6’2 240 pound outfielder who moves surprisingly well for a man of his size. He’s a tank of a man who can walk off having a 100 mph fastball beam him directly in the chest. He doesn’t hit just-barely home-runs; he hits moonshots that explode off his bat. His arm is just as powerful: he gunned Miguel Cabrera down by ten feet in Game 4.

That’s all I know about him, and I feel like that’s enough. Because I’m free of any narratives about his career that have grown up around him, I can simply appreciate him for what he’s doing on a baseball field.


If you ever watch one of Hubie Brown’s telecasts of an NBA game you’ll notice this. The man is a fan of the game, but that’s as far as it goes. Ask him about Zach Randolph, and he’ll tell you how impressive his post-up game is and what soft touch he has for a big man. Ask him about whether LeBron can win a championship, and he’ll hem and haw and talk about how skilled LeBron is and what the Heat can do to win a title. He doesn’t seem to know anything about Z-Bo or Bron’s off-court issues, nor does he really seem to care.

He’s watching them as players and not as characters in a story. So from his point of view, the question of whether LeBron or Dirk can win a championship is entirely besides the point. They can do certain things on a basketball court that can be combated in certain ways. He expects they’ll perform with a level of professionalism so that only what happens on the court will affect their performance.

As someone who writes about the NBA, I get asked about LeBron a lot. Is he arrogant? Well imagine if you were a 16-year old who was put on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Imagine you were bigger, faster and stronger than all your peers. Imagine that you were always the best athlete and the most skilled player on the court, and that this never changed, even when you entered the NBA. If I had to guess, I’d imagine he’s fairly insufferable in person.

Gandhi would be a dick if he was this famous at 16.

On the court, he’s a 6’9 270 point guard. There’s never been a man of his size with his speed and skill level before; he’s operating in totally uncharted waters. As a fan of the game, how could I not enjoy watching him play basketball?

Off the court, he’s just a really tall dude who can jump really high and do cool stuff with a basketball. He’s not important in any way. We’re almost the same age; if I ever met him, I would go out of my way to act like meeting him is no big deal: "Picture me being scared / of a n**** that breathe the same air as me."

There’s no real difference between an athlete and a rapper, between LeBron and Biggie. They’re just entertainers. Who they are as human beings has really no bearing on how much they entertain me when I’m watching them perform.

I enjoy listening to Rick Ross rapping about how many people he’s killed, how much drugs he’s sold and how much money he’s made. Does it matter that he used to work as a correctional officer? Not really. He’s got hot beats.

Similarly, I enjoy watching Nelson Cruz hit home runs. It’s very entertaining.

If it turned out that he used steroids when he was younger, a lot of Rangers fans would be disappointed. I wouldn’t. If anything, I’d be impressed: here’s a man willing to sacrifice his health in order to amuse me! I’d appreciate that he was that dedicated to making my viewing experience slightly more enjoyable.

I have no emotional investment in Nelson Cruz. If he stops hitting home runs, I don’t want him playing for my team anymore. If he continues to hit home runs, I don’t care what he does with his free time.

He’s just Employee #17 to me, and that’s all I'll ever ask him to be.