(Originally posted February 16, 2000, reposted to new blog on December 9, 2008)
So, I never really thought about the difference between female baseball fans and male baseball fans, until the whole Derek Jeter thing.
Let me explain. Growing up as a kid, I was a tomboy, and was always doing this that the “guys” did: I ran cross country track, and played the sousaphone (tuba), and I was the one girl in my fifth grade class who traded baseball cards. (Because I only cared about the Yankees, I didn’t mind letting the guys bid on my other hot players who were non-Yankees… the going rate for a “trade” back then was a penny a card, or a card of equal “value” for a card… which meant someone like Reggie Jackson wouldn’t go for less than 75 cents, and could get bid up to about $3. In milk money, that was a significant amount! I was also my class’ treasurer… and I made a killing shedding the Dodgers, Reds, and Mets I didn’t want…)
Anyway, the thing is, I didn’t really think of baseball fandom as a masculine thing, particularly. And I still don’t, especially not with all the women I always see when I go to games. And they’re not there as tag alongs to their boyfriends or husbands.
Then again, in New York, maybe they are just there to see Derek Jeter.
I was slightly shocked when I went to a game at Yankee stadium in 1999 to find that, as the players were introduced, the decibel and pitch level of the screams for Jeter were considerably higher than for other players. Being the baseball exile I was for so many years, and not being in New York, I had missed the whole Jeter-as-Heartthrob phenomenon. I thought to myself, hmm, yeah, he’s kind of cute, single, and plays shortstop, chicks dig that. But I didn’t really see the attraction myself. Maybe, I thought, it’s because I’m, ahem, seven years older than he is–I mean, s**t, he’s the same age as my little brother.
During the post-season this year, though, I’m not sure what it was, but all of a sudden I “got” Jeter fever. This was especially weird since I haven’t had that Beatle-mania kind of feeling for any athlete, movie star, or pop singer since I was, oh, a teenager. But, as Mel Stottlemeyer is fond of saying, Jeter is “special.” The more I watched him play, the more fascinated I became. Who is this guy? I wondered.
Then came the offseason, and as I was surfing the Internet, I came across many great Jeter articles and interviews I’d missed while in baseball exile. Turns out, he’s also the nicest, best-mannered guy in the sport. Jeez. I read features from Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine, GQ (!), Time Out New York, People (!!)… Perhaps even more intriguing was that rarely did I read these interviews on their original magazine’s sites. More often than not they were lovingly scanned, or perhaps painstakingly re-ryped, word for word, by dedicated fans of Mr. Jeter. I found hundreds of Jeter fan sites. And not surprisingly, most of these sites are run by young women, in their teens and twenties.
I was deeply involved with teen heartthrob fandom myself when I was young (I ran a fan club for Puerto Rican boy band Menudo, and yes, I met Ricky Martin many times back when he was thirteen–you’ll have to wait for my autobiography to hear more…). So I know the turf. I was capitvated by features on the sites–the modern day equivalent of home-made fan club newsletters–like “101 Reasons I Love Derek Jeter” and the still-ongoing speculations about Jeter’s relationship with Mariah Carey (despite the fact they broke up years ago).
Even more captivating was all the actual baseball talk that got tossed in with the discussions of Jeter’s eating habits, social life, and eye color. Okay, granted, there were many, many messages posted on the boards with subject lines like “OMIGOD DJ IS SOOOOOO HOT!!!!!!!!” but maybe that’s why it was so surprising to me to find women arguing about Chuck Knoblauch’s throwing problems, for example.
Then again, think about the character of Annie in “Bull Durham.” She wasn’t just a dugout groupie–she knew her baseball.
No, I really shouldn’t have been surprised at all, I guess. I salute baseball women, the “diamond girls,” whether what thrills their blood is Jeter’s smile, or his lightning throw to first. Or both. And I’m proud to be one of them.