SFOpera - Bats vs. Batons: Are Opera Fans and Baseball Fans Really All That Different?

Bats vs. Batons: Are Opera Fans and Baseball Fans Really All That Different?

The fans are on their feet, cheering and whistling. You shout and clap along with everyone else, swept up in the sights and sounds, the rush of excitement. Are you at an opera performance or a baseball game?

One glance would settle the question. But when you come right down to it, is the contrast between these two fandoms as stark as it seems? Are opera fans and baseball fans really all that different from each other? From the wide-eyed newbie to the stat-hoarding old timer, there may be a commonality that defies easy classification.

Consider the old timers. Opera and baseball both come equipped with rich histories and arcane mysteries that fill the brains of devotees. Names and dates, first acts and final innings, wrong notes and missed pitches, legendary debuts and rookie seasons, standing ovations and no-hitters, all are argued over, hashed out, triple-checked and endlessly replayed by those whose subscription seats date back to World War II. Their shelves are lined with deeply-indexed books, vital statistics ready at hand; their YouTube playlists teem with arias and at-bats.

Marvel at their terminology. Do you know the difference between a groundout and a ground-ball rate? Between jugendlich dramatischer and hochdramatischer? Heaven help you if you can’t tell your slide from your slancio!

At the other end of the spectrum are the newbies, clutching print-at-home tickets and trying to figure out what section they’re sitting in. For them it’s all fresh, not a tradition-encrusted ritual but a brave new world full of strangeness and surprise. What is everybody applauding for this time? Hard to say, but the newbie gets right into the spirit of the thing. Let’s keep them away from the old timers, shall we? We don’t want to spoil their innocence right off the bat.

In between these two extremes we find every imaginable sub-species of fan. For some, the sport or art form is itself the prime consideration, regardless of changing personnel. For others it’s all about the stars — who’s up, who’s down, who’s tackling their first big assignment, who’s saying farewell, who’s firing on all cylinders, who’s barely getting through it. Then there are those who follow the whole event with their orchestral scores or their own meticulous stat sheets, alert to every error or deviation from standard practice. Over here are folks who would never dream of two-timing their home team or local opera company. Over there are jet-setters who fly hither and yon for hot games or performances all over the country.

At the center of it all is the drama. Edge-of-the-seat stories unfold in real time: stories of great music-making and great athleticism, of seasons that soar and seasons that sag, of promising careers that flame out, of overlooked second-stringers who suddenly burst into the spotlight, of local favorites who take it one methodical step at a time and phenoms who seem to appear out of nowhere.

Human drama fuels all of it. Human drama keeps us coming back, opera fans and baseball fans alike, to the theater and the ballpark, watchful for those rare moments of majesty that seem to exalt the whole world.

In this age of sheltering in place, both fandoms mourn the loss of these precious spectacles that should never have been in doubt but have now vanished beyond recall. Theater denizens, take a moment and wave to your sisters and brothers in the stands. You have much more in common than you might have thought.

Paul Dana has been a member of San Francisco Opera’s staff since 1984, sharing his humor and encyclopedic knowledge of opera with colleagues through his role as support services coordinator.

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