Thursday, April 12, 2007

Last Fans Standing, Part 2

Well….still another hockey season has ended in the Lowcountry. This time the ending was even more bittersweet than in years past. This year, for the first time in the 14 year history of the team, the South Carolina Stingrays did not make the playoffs. To add insult to injury, we only missed the playoffs by one point in the standings. But to really rub salt in the wound and twist the knife a bit, the team that made the playoffs ahead of us was just knocked out last night by being swept in a best-of-three first round series. Way to go, Augusta…

In the ECHL you get to develop a rapport with most of the players because they’re so accessible after the games and make so many community appearances. It’s common practice for us and many of our friends to hang out for an hour or so after the games and talk with the players and get to know them not just as players but as regular guys. And as a general rule, the guys are usually very willing to talk for 5 or 10 minutes with the fans, especially the die-hard fans and the kids. The guys are always especially good to the kids.

This year though, it seemed that the team was even more close to the fans than before. Maybe it’s because we got to know some of the girlfriends and spouses, or sent gifts to a new baby in Moscow, or talked at length with players’ parents in from out of town. It could be the miracle of MySpace, too; I know that by seasons’ end I had about 8 current and former Stingrays on my friends list and emailed some of the guys regularly. I turned a couple of them on to the joys of German gluhwein on a chilly night, and am still trying to translate the last name of one player from Ukrainian into English; it’s become a sort of running joke with us.

It was a little bittersweet to see this years’ team walking away out to the parking lot. There are a few guys who will likely progress within the Capitals’ organization to slots in the AHL. While I hate to see good players go away from the Rays, at the same time it’s great to see them go to bigger & better things. Invariably there will be guys who sign with other teams or even other leagues both here and overseas. Some of the guys seemed genuinely sad to say goodbye and sincere when they said they’d keep in touch. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to say I’m friends with professional athletes. It’s a great feeling to be recognized by people that I pay to see.

Once again it was the same cluster of die-hards out there in the cold night air saying goodbye. There were a few new faces, which is always great, and there was the comforting comradeship of friends that we’ve known from seasons past. However, once again and all too soon it was over and we all made our separate ways to our cars and headed out into the night. We all plan to get together like once a month in the off-season to hang out & imbibe of a few adult libations, but there will be a few that I won’t see for another six months.

Yeah, hockey season in the Lowcountry is over, but on the bright side I’ve already started the countdown till the puck drops on the 07-08 season. See you in October at the rink!

1 comment:

John said...

I'm not a hockey fan, but I can relate to what you're saying about getting to know the players on a personal level- I've been taking my mother to a lot of stand-up comedy shows down here in Orlando, usually once or twice a week, and most of the comedians are like your hockey players- they stick around after the show, to "meet and greet" the fans, and after they've met you a few times they remember you, and in some cases you actually become friends with them.

Of course, taking them to dinner after a show doesn't hurt either... but then if you think about it, the comedians are spending their entire lives, traveling from one town to the next, and their entire life consists of doing a show, sleeping, and traveling. Having a fan offer to take them to dinner is a nice human touch- it lets them know that there are people out there who care.

In fact, two of my favourite comedians (Kim Harrison and her husband Big Daddy Will, who happen to live right up the street from you in West Columbia) are true friends, to the point where they usually bring their nine-year old daughter with them when they come down to Orlando, so she can stas overnight at our house and play with our greyhound (and so mommy and daddy can have some time alone together...)

I've also had times where the comedians have called Mom and me out in the middle of the store- I don't really need the attention but Mom loves it.

So I can truly identify with what you're saying about sticking around after the games, not only so YOU can meet the players, but so the PLAYERS know that there are fans out there who still care about them, even if they didn't just win the game or the championship.

You're a good man, Charlie Brown.