Last night, I attended an event downtown with friends. On the way to it, we passed lots of baseball fans, most dressed in the aesthetically pleasing garnet-and-black of my alma mater, a few in the nauseating pumpkin orange of its opponent.
It felt weird. One, because these fans were walking to a fancy new ballpark by the river that I have yet to see. Two, because being surrounded by my school colors and its eyebrow-raising mascot after years of clinging to them as moorings in the barren sports lands of Virginia (burgundy and burnt orange, shudder) and Florida (orange, orange, everywhere, except for when there’s fake, pinkish garnet and gold) left me feeling like a literal face in a crowd.
In truth, I wasn’t the rah-rah-est of sports fans in my college days, which were more consumed with going out and working. I went to football games, sure – hours early to tailgate properly – and attended the odd basketball and baseball game, but sports weren’t as front-and-center then as they are now.
But when I graduated and moved farther and farther away, the Gamecocks and USC (there are several responses to those who would claim that stands for the University of Southern California, the cleanest of which is that my school was a school before your state was a state) became bigger parts of my identity. They set me apart in Hokie land or Gator country. They made me different and, in my head anyway, special. I’d see a Gamecock decal on a car on the Florida Turnpike and speed up to try to catch a glimpse of the driver. Meeting a former Gamecock football player whom I vaguely remembered from my days covering the team at a South Florida alumni gathering was a genuine thrill.
Back in Columbia on a residential basis for the first time in 21 years, such things are commonplace. My brain will, out of habit, note a garnet-edged license plate, and for a split second send out happy signals before catching up and chiding itself.
So I suppose I’m wondering where my place is in this familiar-yet-strange sports landscape. Having belonged here once, my too-carefully-nurtured sense of unbelonging is what connected me to it for years. If I am just one fan among many, who am I? I am largely happy to be back among my people, but I do not want to be assimilated.
Methinks, perhaps, that attending a few baseball games in this unknown stadium will help my readjustment, as will quaffing a beverage or two at local establishments where Gamecock games are de rigueur television viewing. It can’t hurt, right?
Oh, and Tennessee lost last night, 7-6.