"What are you doing you idiot?!" I could hear the voice in my head scream. "There's so few of us as there is, don't turn this one away. We need him!"
The voice was loud. It was clear. But it was wrong. I had made up my mind, and from that day forth, the rules were created. They would be followed explicitly while anyone was in my presence, or said company would be cast out as an impostor. Like a Roman Emperor, I demanded nothing but true loyalty, and I demanded it at all times. Unwavering support. Unyielding dedication.
But hey, I was just a kid living in an apartment with a couple other dudes. What could I really accomplish?
"He's going to root for the Dodgers. You know that, right?" the voice said with the same snark I would come to know only as Twitter-snark in the future. "You're taking a big crap on the brown and gold or blue and sand, or whatever." The voice in my head was not only ornery, but also very passionate about uniform colors. Strange.
When I left home for the first time and started spending real time with friends and acquaintances who would become roommates, what had seemed like a passing enjoyment of baseball was quickly realized to be something so much more. These men, kids really, for whom I shared my first apartment had no idea just how passionate I was about the Padres. They thought they knew what they were getting into. When the lease was signed, and we moved our things into the apartment, the Red Sox caps clashed with Padres caps and clashed even more with football caps. That's right, hats for a sport in which hats are not worn. This meshing of sports fans is common around the globe. But somehow, it was different here.
I like to think it was my passion. Maybe it was fear from the others. Maybe it was my obsession. Whatever the case, I soon realized that my football-loving friend was starting to learn baseball. Hell, he was starting to love baseball. From evenings spent on the couch watching the Padres finish out their time at Qualcomm/The Murph/San Diego Stadium to countless hours spent playing EA Sports MVP Baseball, this one-time baseball virgin had become a man. And he was starting to root for my Padres.
Then, there was my other roomate. This one was no stranger to baseball. In fact, I had known him since his Little League days. But he was a Boston Red Sox fan. I mean, at least it wasn't the Yankees, right? He would spend plenty of time watching the Red Sox games before the Padres games would start at night, but when San Diego came on, that living room TV was mine. And after hours upon hours of Padres broadcasts, this life-long Red Sox fan started pulling for my Padres.
"This is the big leagues! A fan of the Red Sox converting to being a fan of the Padres? Let him in now!" the voice said with desperation. It was the type of desperation I had grown all too familiar with as I watched the Padres give me a sweet taste of success in 1996 and 1998 only to fall back to earth up to this point. I wasn't about to let the voice's desperation change my resolve.
As I watched my two friends/roomates grow closer to the Padres, learn their names, enjoy their successes, I caught one answer a question I had answered myself so many times. "Who's your team?"
"The Padres," said my friend who had never watched baseball before in his life before moving into this apartment.
He's declaring himself a Padres fan? I couldn't quite let this go. Maybe I should have, but in the long run, I think the decision was right. So, I issued a proclamation. To be a true Padres fan, one could not simply declare themselves a fan. They had to go through a three-year orientation period.
"Three years?! You're insane, man!" the voice yelled. And the voice may have been right. But three years seemed like an appropriate amount of time to gauge the longevity of a fan. It would weed out the fair-weather followers.
From that day forward, any of my friends, these two roomates and others included, who showed the slightest interest in the Padres were told that in my presence, they would have to issue the disclaimer that they liked the Padres but they had only recently started following them. For three years, this would have to go on before one could be a true Padres fan.
So my friends endured, for the most part. They bought Padres memorobillia. They went to games with me. We saw Opening Day and eventually playoff games. And soon, the San Diego Padres had a new, true fan.
Just one, though. You see, requiring a three-year waiting period opens up the possibility that the Padres could suck so bad that the weakest of fans will leave before earning their badge of true fandom. It's hard to endure a probationary period. But that's the point. This one friend, the one who made it through the trial period, is still one of the biggest Padres fans I know. No matter where our lives take us, I know anytime he is at a Padres game and I'm not, he WILL be rubbing it in my face.
That's how you build a life-long Padres fan.
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