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  • The Weekly Dispatch: Hot Dish and Friday Fish Fry

    Brent Sirvio

    WIth the resumption of annual proceedings between the Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers this week at Target Field, a look at the nature of the fan, the triviality of modern rivalry and how allegiance to laundry helps us miss the forest for the trees.

    Image courtesy of © Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

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    The Weekly Dispatch is a column on the Brewers. 'On' may do heavier lifting on some weeks than others.

    The rivalries MLB set up with the dawn of interleague play are mostly ridiculous. Some are intuitive; others, historically-inclined: Cubs-White Sox, Yankees-Mets, Royals-Cardinals, Giants-Athletics. Others -- Rays-Marlins? Padres-Mariners??? -- have the stink of MLB's marketing brain trust all over them.

    Yes, there was brief history between the Brewers and Twins, but there really isn't anything there. If anything, similar to the Detroit Tigers-Pittsburgh Pirates rIvAlRy (aside below): they took another rivalry, in the latter example, the NHL's Red Wings and Penguins, in the former, the old NFC Central/North's Packers and Vikings and called it a border battle, even though the two metropolitan areas are five hours apart. 

    [Aside: Anyone who's been around the region knows that Pittsburgh and Cleveland are two cities that hate each other. Failing to seize upon that rivalry in favor of a fairly non-descript diagonal rivalry with Cincinnati was peak lazy MLB. While I'm here, the fact that it's the Ohio Cup (seriously, look at this hunk of metal) and not the Chili Bowl doubles down on just how facile this business is. As you were.]

    Rivals should have history. They should bring out the best in each other. At the very least, they should have great players on both sides who faced off with something to lose. The Royals and Cardinals have 1985. The Lakers had the Celtics. The Milwaukee Brewers (410-495) and Minnesota Twins (427-476) had Robin Yount and Rob Deer and Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek in the 80s, but the baseball heritage these franchises actually share is poverty and Paul Molitor.

    Forgive me for not really feeling invested in what is an obviously-astroturfed deal, especially when the Brewers' actual rivals were just in town last week.

    Complicating my ennui for this two-game(!) series being something of actual importance is that I was born in Wisconsin to a Yooper expatriate father steeped in the Lombardi-era Packers and a native outstate Minnesotan mother. My first memory is seeing the decaying Metropolitan Stadium from northbound Highway 77 in Bloomington. My maternal grandmother was a lifelong baseball and Twins fan, the Edgar Martinez of church picnics in southwest Minnesota. The Brewers were mostly terrible when and where I grew up; ours was a household with limited exposure to the Brewers, who in most of my formative years had no television presence outside Milwaukee. 

    In 1987, my grandparents mailed Homer Hankies to my brother and me. Grandma kept a pristine stash hidden away and, when she passed, we found them in amongst her hoarded things. They were placed under archival glass and framed. One hangs in my family room today in her honor.

    The idea of a rival is that someone is close to your equal in greatness, someone who brings out your best. The rival need not be a bad descriptor, provided there exists respect between the two, or at least an acknowledgement of the other's humanity. Think Larry Bird and Magic Johnson; Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Without those qualifiers, it's not rivalry as much as it is bullying, or the most pitiful form of prejudice known to mankind, because we default to lesser instincts as a result of the clothes on a person's back. How is this different from hating or marginalizing another based on their skin color?

    To be a fan is to pledge allegiance to a tribe. Colleges and high schools are more -- for better or worse -- entitled to this tribalism instinct. They are communities within which their athletes are developed and placed at the competitive level. In this respect, the Wisconsin-Minnesota collegiate rivalry rings true in a way Brewers-Twins, or any professional team, for that matter, cannot. The university rears; the professional club acquires. Joe DiMaggio was a West Coast native. Babe Ruth hailed from Baltimore. Joe Mauer is an extreme outlier. 

    Henry Aaron's closing act as a Brewer was far more doing right by the player and getting a novelty act as it was a prudent baseball decision. No one faults Aaron for coming home or the moribund 1970s Brewers bringing a Milwaukee god back to the city where his legendary career started. But a theology of adoption is lost in the modern American church, saying nothing of the cathedrals of our modern religion. Christian Yelich was beloved until a foul off the knee seemingly derailed his career. Now Brewers fans largely think of him as an albatross. "What have you done for me lately?" is a pretty crappy measure of commitment.

    The idea of a fan was flawed to begin with, and is totally unraveled now. I love the Milwaukee Brewers, but I came to my love for this team by way of being a displaced undergraduate student, following the Brewers by way of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online gamers and opinion pieces from Tom Haudricourt, Drew Olson, Dale Hoffman, Michael Hunt, Bob Wolfley and Todd Rosiak.

    Having said that, I'd have no affinity for the Brewers without falling in love with baseball. That renewal of my passion for the game happened almost literally in the shadow of the Metrodome, watching the Twins come back to life as much as I followed Jack Zduriencik from afar as he used those years of Brewers failure to sow the drafted seeds welcoming in this new era of relevant Brewers baseball. Then, waiting for Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, Jeremy Jeffress, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart and Ryan Braun to arrive. Love and commitment are two sides of the same coin. Penelope waited, and her persistence, even defiance in waiting, was in time rewarded.

    Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds faithful: your day will come. Maybe.

    In the end, it's all hot dish and fish fry. One shouldn't dislike one because she happens to like the other. That's the least-valid, most childish reason to not eat.

    If our allegiance isn't first to the game and then to its participant clubs, we will have missed what makes this entire enterprise so special. And that means looking past the laundry to see players for who they are. Luis Arraez is a remarkable talent. Byron Buxton, when healthy, is about as enjoyable a player to watch as anyone in Major League Baseball. These guys don't suck because they wear another uniform. They don't suck at all.

    If rIvAlRy forces us to marginalize Minnesota Twins because MLB did some gerrymandering 25 years ago, then this rivalry, perhaps any rivalry, is to Baseball's detriment.

    Enjoy the games this week.

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    As a fan of both teams, I've never understood the (mostly manufactured) hatred. I lived in WI for a long time. I've lived in MN for a long time.

    Then again, the teams I actually "hate" are few and far between. That's just not how I really form a fan experience; I want a certain team to win, I'm not particularly interested in a certain team losing.

    Obviously, there are divisional rivalries where one team winning means a competitor loses and that's doubly beneficial to the team I want to see win.

    But outside the division, the only team I come close to "hating" is the Yankees because everybody not from NY should hate the Yankees.

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    When the game comes first, you can find yourself watching any team anywhere and appreciate what's happening because it's the game.

    Someday, I'd love to be able to sit up late and watch West Coast baseball and not worry about being dead the morning after. Do I like the Mariners? Not especially, but I love watching the way the game is played, interpreted and presented by teams outside of my own primary experience.

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    21 hours ago, Brent Sirvio said:

    When the game comes first, you can find yourself watching any team anywhere and appreciate what's happening because it's the game.

    Someday, I'd love to be able to sit up late and watch West Coast baseball and not worry about being dead the morning after. Do I like the Mariners? Not especially, but I love watching the way the game is played, interpreted and presented by teams outside of my own primary experience.

    This is how I've come to view baseball more over the years. While I don't do it as much this year due to general busyness, I'm the type of person that tunes into a Pirates/Marlins game if that's the day game happening. There are obviously teams I'm more interested in than others but I'll watch almost any MLB game if that's what is available to me in the moment.

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