For the Love of the Game

Sydney Trent wanted to connect with her husband, so she set out to become a true fan of baseball. Was her strategy successful?

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

If you're a baseball fan, I hardly need to tell you, spring is nirvana - a chance to hit the bleachers, obsess over the stats, the history, the ups, the downs, the in-betweens of your favorite Major League team.

But what if you are not a fan? What if you really don't care? Worse, what if you really don't care and you're married to one of those baseball obsessives? What if you are a baseball widow?

Well, at the start of the nationals current season, we learned what one baseball widow's strategy is for coping. Sydney Trent is the deputy editor of the Washington Post Sunday Magazine. She wrote the April 1st cover story, "The Gal of Summer." Sydney Trent joins us from her office at the Washington Post. Sydney, thanks for being here.

Ms. SYDNEY TRENT (Deputy Editor, Washington Post Sunday Magazine): Hello. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Now, you took the radical step of trying to become a fan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TRENT: I did.

MARTIN: Now, I have to point out that this wasn't one of those fake first-date moves where you pretended to like it. You were already married for a very long time, and after years of tolerating this obsession, you actually decided to make a project of becoming a fan. How did you come up with that idea?

Ms. TRENT: Well, basically, I didn't come up with it, actually. If I were going to come up with it naturally, I would have done it, you know, 20 years ago when I started dating my husband. This is the first season of the nationals, and everybody is kind of very into it. I guess that's before it started to go sour at the end.

And I was just kind of ranting about why it is that people get so into sports and practically throw themselves off a cliff. And so, you know, I was telling, you know, my boss this. And he said, you know, that's a great story idea. You should try to make yourself a fan over the course of the season. I didn't really…

MARTIN: Leap at the prospect.

Ms. TRENT: …think…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TRENT: Well, yeah. I was skeptical about my ability to do it, because I felt, well, shoot. You know, if I were able to do this, wouldn't I have done it a long time ago? But at the same time, I was curious about how people reach that state and, you know, what it would be like to experience this.

MARTIN: Well, what was your baseline, though? Did you have no interest in sports at all?

Ms. TRENT: No.

MARTIN: I mean, was there any other experience that you could readily translate, or you just were just not feeling it.

Ms. TRENT: I did not grow up playing sports. We didn't talk about sports in my house. And you know what? And I guess I thought, well, you know, I was very into presidential politics during the last election. I mean, weren't we all? And so I was thinking, you know, maybe it's similar to that. It's like an affiliation that is stamped on you in childhood, you know, whether you're Republican or Democrat. And that's where all of that passion comes from. So that was probably my closest parallel, is getting into political races.

MARTIN: What did you do to get immersed in the life of the baseball fan?

Ms. TRENT: We decided that I was going to be somebody the reader could relate to, so I wasn't going to take advantage of my ability to interview people at the nationals or, you know, to do a lot of, you know, research. So I mainly just relied on the Post, the sports pages and people I knew who were into baseball. And then, you know, I would go to games occasionally. And I tried to listen on the radio, and I think I'll be doing more of that this season. But…

MARTIN: But you also went to spring training.

Ms. TRENT: I went to spring training, and that's great, because it's so beautiful. It's just so relaxed, and you're very kind of up close and personal watching the players.

MARTIN: Did you get autographs?

Ms. TRENT: I did. I sure did. I got Jose Vidro to give me an autograph, and I immediately, you know, felt this kind of surge of thinking he was a good guy, and maybe I would pay attention to him - made me realize how that kind of personal contact with a player can make a difference.

MARTIN: Was it helpful to find somebody to root for?

Ms. TRENT: You know, for me, that made all the difference. I have to tell you, I've really wound up rooting for Alfonso Soriano because he's turned out to be, you know, not only a great player - you know, kind of a charismatic, flashy player - but also seemed to me to be a pretty decent guy. And for me - I know it's cliche, because they say this is true of women when it comes to hooking in to sports - being able to kind of humanize one of the players and kind of get an attachment to a person out there was important, because it was a pretty lousy season.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TRENT: You know? If it weren't for that, I don't think there would have been any hope for me.

MARTIN: So how did it end up for you? Could you call yourself a fan?

Ms. TRENT: Hey, you know, I guess it depends on what level of fandom. I was not going to, by the end of the season, I wasn't going to be throwing myself on, you know, the floor when they lost and, you know, crying or getting upset, or kind of like, you know, my husband was pretty upset when the Phillies almost became the wildcard team and then they didn't. He was worked up about it, and I watched him and I thought, I'm not a fan like that.

MARTIN: Well, what did you learn over the course of this season? Did you figure out what it is that makes people care so much about these teams?

Ms. TRENT: I learned that, you know, it's a lot easier to care if you pay attention and become knowledgeable, just kind of the beauty of focusing on something helps you to care, and I have never really focused before. And I learned a tremendous amount; it's like a drop in the bucket compared to, say, what my husband knows about baseball, but it's much, much more than I ever knew.

And I also, you know, hear my husband, you know, and I tell him kind of the best - my favorite part of the piece are the long kind of grasps from him, where he's talking about his first feel of the ball park, you know, how you - coming up with his dad, you know, from this dark concourse and seeing this stretch of emerald green and kind of how it seemed magical to him. I just thought - I just - after so many years, it just kind of helped me understand what a part of his childhood and his relationship with his dad and his brother baseball was. I never really thought about that before, and I just think that's true. I think people have memories of growing up, and it just becomes part of the fabric of your life and who you are.

MARTIN: If someone were to listen to this who is, like you were, a baseball widow who's just, you know, married to a partner who had someone who's just in love with the game and just they don't get it, and then maybe they don't have the time that you had, because you had kind of the professional incentive, right, to pursue this project, but still wanted to be interested, what would you recommend?

Ms. TRENT: That they read the sports section every day and, you know, they talk to people about, you know, what hooked them in the sport, and kind of what they get out of it from season to season, and that they become knowledgeable and take it seriously and just spend some time. You know, time works miracles, really. You know, just spending time.

MARTIN: So how are your (unintelligible) doing so far?

Ms. TRENT: Oh God, it's painful.

(Soundbite of Laughter)

Ms. TRENT: It's really awful. I don't know. You know what I'm thinking, Boy, we have these tickets. I guess we got to use them.

MARTIN: So what's going on? They dropped the opener. And then what happens?

Ms. TRENT: Yeah, they've just - you know, people are talking about them being, you know, historically bad, you know, record losses this season. But you know, the thing to remember is that this is really a calculation on the ownership's part that they're not going to not spend money on them in the short term, and after, when the stadium opens next year, they're really going to start infusing the team with cash, and so you can't really look at it and get too demoralized because, you know, really, there is next season to look forward to, so you know, we'll just sleepwalk through this.

MARTIN: You sound like a fan. Sydney Trent.

Ms. TRENT: I am kind of. I am. Okay. I said it. I am.

MARTIN: Sydney Trent is deputy editor of the Washington Post Sunday Magazine. She joined us to talk about her April 1st cover story, "The Gal of Summer." You can read it on our Web site. Sydney Trent, thanks so much for joining us.

Ms. TRENT: Thanks a lot, Michel.

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