04/25/2014 02:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Fans Are Made, Not Born

by guest blogger Renee James, essayist and blogger

It's finally spring (fingers crossed), and that can only mean two things: I may soon have to appear in public wearing shorts, and the endless, soul-sucking, heart-breaking baseball season is underway. I take no joy in either one, but I find myself particularly unenthused about the latter, as my life as a baseball fan over the past 40 years has been little more than repeated disappointments from relentlessly bad teams, namely the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies.

I came by my affiliation with the Mets courtesy of my dad, who adopted them after watching his beloved Dodgers desert Brooklyn for sunnier skies, and my loyalty continued through the Joel Youngblood/Lee Mazzilli/Claudell Washington era, courtesy of my then-boyfriend in New York City. I headed a bit closer to home when I met the man I would marry, himself a resigned but resilient Phillies fan, who endured the 1964 "Phillies Phold" and still talks about it to this day.

Honestly, it's all just too sad.

Last week, I read about some research that indicates how, and exactly when, most fans are made, at least when it comes to men. According to economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, it turns out that between the ages of 8 and 12, boys are most likely to develop a lifelong affinity for a team if it wins a championship during those years. It matters little if the team was terrible before or after that: The seeds for loyalty are largely sown at that time, and it will be difficult--maybe impossible--to unsow them. But by age 14, all bets are off. The odds of a boy becoming a lifelong fan of a particular team drop dramatically, even if the team is a champion, and by the time a young man has reached age 20, a championship team is only "one-eighth as likely to create an adult fan as when a boy is 8."

This is fascinating, but what about girls/women? What do we know about females and their loyalty as fans? The same research indicates that women are "equally likely to be won over at different points in their lives." No details on exactly when those different points occur or how we are "won over." Hmmm. In my case, it had something to do with the following people: my Dad, a serious boyfriend, and my eventual husband. Hmmm, again.

But let's review from a slightly wider perspective. At least in terms of boys, "data analysis makes it clear that fandom is highly influenced by [childhood] events. If something * captures us in our formative years, it often has us hooked for life." That's kind of amazing, isn't it? Hooked for life. Maybe loyalty is a critical part of male DNA. Do boys have an abundance of it early on and then shed some of it as they grow older? This could explain a lot. Alternatively, do girls have the ability to affix or shift their loyalty, or to be swayed one way or another, for decades? This could also explain a lot--and not in a good way.

Maybe it's a good thing girls don't commit to things too early. Imagine the consequences outside of the world of sports. If women made lifelong affinity decisions at the age of 8, I'd be loyal to my Easy Bake Oven, Kenner's Easy Curl, and the Game of Life. Uh-oh. Wait just a minute. My kitchen has a Difficult Bake Oven, my bathroom drawers contain a flat iron, a curling iron, hot rollers and an ionic hair dryer, and I still have no idea what I want be when I grow up. Hmmm, yet again.

I don't know exactly what to make of this. Except that someday, I may take great pains to ensure that my 8-year-old grandson is "highly influenced" by [some pretty amazing] childhood events, including but not limited to a phenomenal sports team. He might thank me for it someday.

* Could this explain why men seem to take such joy in giving directions? Maybe as children they all watched their dads consult and then fold up AAA maps, and that's why you can't get two men in a room without hearing them debate the best way to get from Point A to Point B.

Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists' Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates--and broods about--life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, "Really? You're kidding me, right?" (Or wants to, anyway), and welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.

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