I grew up as a rabid fan of the Cubs and Bears (eventually adding the Bulls to that group later in childhood) largely as a product of the western suburb culture of Chicago. My neighbors were Cubs and Bears fans; our local Catholic parish priest would provide updates on Bears' scores during mass and during the 1984 NLCS against the Padres, to prevent widespread absences from our elementary school, the administrators decided to set up a tv in the gymnasium so we could all watch a day game in Wrigley. However, I never had a connection to the players per se. I had never obtained an autograph from a Cubs player in all the time I spent at Wrigley; the only football game I ever saw in Soldier Field featured the USFL's Chicago Blitz and not the NFL's Bears; and to the extent there was any personal relationship, my sisters and I once met Wilber Marshall at a Sears where he was signing autographs. That was it. My loyalty to these teams was unrelated to the players or their personas; it was, instead, a connection to other fans.
Now, in my thirties, I have taken advantage of the opportunity to experience another side of being a fan. Spring trainings and frequent road trips to see these teams play has built a connection both with the franchises and the players that people them. When Carlos Marmol is dominating on the mound, I can turn to my wife or sister and remind them of watching him pitch in a AAA spring training game against the Brewers and the quick exchange we had as he signed a baseball and demonstrated his command of the english language.
The remoteness of fan from player seemed perfectly natural as a kid. As a fan of a "big" club, one was simply just another face in a crowd of 30,000 or more. There's nothing wrong with it and the distance certainly never impacted the rabid nature of my affinity for the teams. Nevertheless, I find everyday things like shopping at the same Babies R' Us as Coach Brenda Frese, eating lunch a table away from Greg Maddux and David Wells, playing golf at the same tournament as former Nationals reliever T.J. Tucker, and hanging out with NFL players at charity events at Union Station to be no less thrilling than when I got the attention of one of the Bears' outside linebackers for thirty seconds as a nine year old (only I am old enough and wise enough to recognize how pathetic this all is). For these reasons, I love being a fan of D.C. United.
On Sunday, for the second year in a row, we went to D.C. United's "meet the team day" at RFK. The first year we went, I spent much of the time embarrassed about how excited I was just to be there standing in front of a number of players that I paid significant sums of money to watch run around a field chasing down a spherical object. This year, with last year's experience behind me, I was much more able to enjoy just being there. In particular, I was in a far better position to appreciate how much children enjoyed the opportunity to make a connection, however brief, with D.C. United's squad. The attendance -- and patience -- of the players was impressive. Attitudes are generally great and some of the players seem to genuinely enjoy the chance to interact with fans. Marcello Gallardo, Jaime Moreno, Gonzalo Martinez, Franco Neill, Jeremy Barlow, James Thorpe, Mike Zaher, Ben Olsen, Santino Quaranta, Luciano Emilio, Fred, Jeff Carroll, Pat Carroll, Jose Carvallo, Ryan Coredeiro, Rod Dyachenko, Zach Wells, Marc Burch, Dan Stratford, Quavas Kirk, Domenic Mediate, Devon McTavish, Bryan Namoff, Clyde Simms, Coach Tom Soehn, Coach Chad Ashton and Coach Mark Simpson made themseleves available for three hours and tolerated all reasonable requests from fans in attendance. Only Francis Doe, Gonzalo Peralta (for good reason), and Dane Murphy were not in attendance.
The three hours these players spent, even if only for a few hundred fans, clearly has an important impact on many of the children in attendance. For me, on the verge (precipice) of starting my own family, I am an even more committed season ticket holder because of the promise of one day bringing my daughter to a "meet the team day" event. Sunday was a credit to the organization, D.C. United's players, and D.C. United's fans and I am very appreciative of having had the opportunity to once again participate.