In Part I of my Stiles on Sports Fans Week roundtable discussion with Justin Kenley (Cardinals, Panthers, North Carolina fan), Ryan Pittman (Cubs, Packers, South Carolina fan) and Garrett Black (Clemson fan), we discussed both exciting wins and heartbreaking losses they’ve experienced as fans.
In Part II, I asked more about their fan experiences, including who they admire on the field and the crazy things they’ve done and seen as a fan.
SOS: Who is your favorite player, and why?
Justin: For the Panthers it’s hard, but I’ve got to say Luke (Kuechly). And not even just from that fandom perspective; I just love how he brings it every single play. The dude is everywhere. And I guess that’s something that, as a fan, you appreciate a guy going all out.
For the Tar Heels, it’s hard man. I love me some Marcus Paige, though. I just love his story. Kind of a guy that not a lot of people knew, coming out (of high school), and “is he really going to be that good,” and to carry the team the last two years the way he did, that was just, I love Marcus Paige.
And Cardinals, good gosh, if this was six years ago, I would’ve said (Albert) Pujols, without even a wink, definitely. I don’t know, man, I like so many of them, for different reasons. There’s very few guys that we’ve had in the last few years that I said, “man, I just don’t like that person.” If I had to say my top ones, I love Molina (Yadier Molina), because I was a catcher, and I think he’s just amazing at what he does. I love the way Carp (Matt Carpenter) plays, I love the way Waino (Adam Wainwright) pitches, and then… it’s hard to narrow that one down.
Ryan: There are three. Jason Grilli is probably my favorite player of all time. I met him when I was 10 years old at a baseball camp in Toledo. He actually taught me how to bunt. He’s a relief pitcher, and he was a nobody then, and I guess he’s kind of a nobody now, but he’s had some times where he’s been closer with the Pirates, he’s been closer with the Braves, and the occasional game saved for the Blue Jays now.
I met him 12 years ago when he was nobody, and I’ve watched him ascend throughout the major leagues, and he’s almost 40 now and still pitching. It’s kind of cool to be like, hey, I’ve got his autograph right there. It’s kind of cool.
Another is Omar Infante. I just watched him growing up, and he played the same position I did, and he played for the Mud Hens in Toledo. He played shortstop, then moved to second base; I played shortstop, then moved to second base. And it was kind of cool.
Carlos Pena is also on that list. There was one time I called him over to sign his baseball card, and they asked everyone to stand for the national anthem. He’s holding my pen and my baseball card, and he says “Hold on,” and puts it on the railing, turns to put his hand over his heart for the national anthem, then he grabs the card, signs it, and then runs over to first base to play. He went from me to first base to start the game, and it was just really cool.
And then he went on the next year, two years later, to hit 40-something home runs for those same Rays that I described earlier, the ’08 Rays, and he became a huge power hitter, and I still remembered that fond memory as a kid. Kind of changed the way I think about professional athletes.
Garrett: I’m gonna have to go with Hunter Renfrow. Not only did he catch the winning touchdown, but he’s got the story and the character to go behind it, and it’s just great to see a former walk-on catch a touchdown and then be vainly tackled by three future draft prospects.
SOS: Who is a “role player” you’ve always liked, and why?
Justin: Easily Skip Schumaker. Just a guy that comes, and didn’t matter where he was playing, he was going to bring it, every day.
I’ll never forget in 2013, we went to St. Louis for my graduation present, and the Dodgers were playing, and it was the first time Skip had come back to St. Louis after he got let go, and man, Skip Schumaker, who a lot of people wouldn’t know his name, he got a standing ovation from like 40,000 people in Busch Stadium, and it was awesome. It was just really, really cool.
If you know the Cardinals, you appreciate what he did. Because he could play second base, right field, pinch hit. You knew he was going to do something.
Ryan: I’ve always been a fan of utility players in baseball. Currently Ben Zobrist fits that, and I guess there are so many now. It used to be a lot more rare.
Guys like Martin Prado, who’d play every infield position and every outfield position, and I appreciate that, they might not have a set position that they’re best at, but their bat is valuable enough and their leadership is valuable enough their team can’t take them out. So they might not have an everyday spot, but they play everyday.
Garrett: I really have to appreciate Cole Stoudt. Can we call a backup quarterback a role player? Because he was never gonna be the guy.
I mean, he was a starting guy, but the expectation was never to win a championship with Cole Stoudt. But I think he provided leadership to keep the team together, in the Tajh (Boyd) to Deshaun (Watson) handoff, and got hurt just in time for Deshaun to come. But I think the kind of leadership he provided for the team, in that transition year between Tajh and Deshaun truly taking over, kind of kept that team together.
SOS: That’s interesting, because that’s not necessarily a popular opinion in Clemson fan circles.
Garrett: Here’s the thing: at any other school that wasn’t swimming in quarterback prospects, like Clemson has been lately, Cole Stoudt could’ve started. I mean, he wasn’t great, and to be fair we kind of got spoiled with Tajh, so we kind of expected we’d get that kind of production, and to be fair we got better later on, but we should’ve known it was going to get worse before it got better.
SOS: Besides your favorite teams’ known archrivals, who is one team you can’t stand?
Justin: I really don’t like the Reds, but I feel like that falls in that rivalry a little bit. There’s a couple of NFL teams I don’t like. Really, the AFC North. The Ravens, the Bengals, and (my fiance) Courtney would kill me because Courtney is a Bengals fan, but just, the way they play just irks me. There’s not one team—I hate the Patriots, obviously, but I feel like everybody hates the Patriots, so I feel like that doesn’t really count.
I will say in basketball, I really don’t like Kentucky. Kentucky just, I love beating Kentucky. I don’t mind the whole one-and-done movement to an extent, but I kind of hate the way they’ve done it, and I just, I don’t really like Kentucky.
Ryan: Typically because of fantasy sports, I don’t hate any team, because I need their players. That’s tricky.
I don’t like the Mets. I really don’t like the Royals either. I feel kind of bad saying it, but like the kind of players they had that have now since passed who were frustrating to watch, you know, Yordano Ventura was just annoying… rest in peace. He was trying to cause fights, and they seemed to be getting into fights with other teams because they didn’t think they were getting the respect they deserved, and I was like, “come on, play the game, earn the respect,” and that was really frustrating recently. But yeah, the Mets. The Mets just always beat my team, knocked us out.
Garrett: Everyone hates Alabama, but we just beat them so I don’t have as much hatred in my heart anymore. I’m probably going to have to go with Florida State next, although that’s a division rivalry. It’s hard to hate Pitt (laughs).
I loved beating Ohio State (in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl). That felt good. Because everyone was telling us how Urban Meyer’s like the best coach ever, and to be fair, he’s a great coach, but it feels good to topple the big guys.
SOS: Who is one team you wish you had been alive to watch or old enough to remember?
Justin: I would have loved to seen, and I don’t have a pinpoint year, but I would’ve loved to have seen Stan Musial play for the Cardinals. Just because he meant so much to my grandpa; I mean, that was my grandpa’s dude.
Ryan: Actually there’s two. The Yankees, back when they were with Babe Ruth, and Joe DiMaggio, and those Yankee greats, I’d love to see one of those Yankee teams play. And then, more recently, but still before me, was the Big Red Machine. Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan…
SOS: Pete Rose…
Ryan: Yeah, I’d love to go back and watch them, because they were a dominant team, but they weren’t in a big city. They were small market Reds winning games, pretty cool.
Garrett: ’81 (Clemson), obviously. That was the other golden era.
SOS: Do you have any strange superstitions when your favorite teams play?
Justin: If I go to one game, and what I wear works, I wear the same thing again.
Two years ago in the (NFL) playoffs, the first day we went it wasn’t that cold, so I wore my Luke Kuechly jersey, and just a hat or whatever, but then the next game it was really cold, it got colder, and I didn’t care, I just wore the same thing. We won in this last time, I’ll win in it again.
I’ve never been like a crazy superstitious kind of guy. I will always, though, if I’m watching my team play, I’m going to wear something of that team. I will do that, even if it’s just sitting on the couch.
Ryan: Sometimes, in a game that really matters, in football or baseball playoffs, something like that, if my team is struggling, say, two-thirds of the way through the game, and I’m not wearing any gear of that team, I’ll go track down a Cubs hat or a jersey or a Packers t-shirt, just to see if (it helps), just supporting. Never the opposite, though. If I’m wearing gear and they lose, I don’t take it off, but sometimes you’ll get halfway through a game and go, “oh shoot, I’m not supporting my team,” so you do whatever you can to make them get back in business.
Garrett: I have a mechanical tiger that plays Tiger Rag. He used to dance, but the wheels broke. Every time we score any points, I always click his paw and make him play the Tiger Rag song, and while this probably has more to do with Dabo (Swinney) and Deshaun (Watson), it has only been wrong, like, three times in the last four seasons.
SOS: What do you mean, “it’s only been wrong”?
Garrett: Like, whenever I hit the button every time when we play, we always win. Again, that probably has more to do with the players, but I like to think I’m contributing.
SOS: What is a crazy or unique experience you’ve had while watching a game?
Justin: I remember, it was so funny, because my dad is not a guy to like freak out on TV. At the game, he’ll freak out and stuff, and yell, but on TV he just doesn’t. And I vividly remember when Marcus Paige hit that shot (to tie the game) against Villanova last year, the shot that no one will ever remember except Carolina fans, my dad jumped off the couch and just screamed his head off, and was pumped.
And I remember, it was just so funny, because obviously I was caught up in the moment, freaking out, but it was just funny to me, because I was like, “my dad never gets this into it in a game.”
The Seahawks game two years ago in the playoffs (was crazy). We made that huge run, 15-1, divisional playoffs, and I kid you not, the upper deck where we were sitting at, we did not sit down for the entirety of that game.
Like, we were up at first half, at kickoff, when they came out of the tunnel, and then we sat down at halftime, and then when the clock hit zero we left. And it was just crazy. Because like, I’ve been at games where you stand a lot, but just the way that season was rolling, and the electricity in the air, you didn’t want to sit down, and so that was pretty crazy.
I about hit Courtney in the face this year, when Luke Maye hit that shot against Kentucky. I really did. I was punching the air, I was going nuts.
I will say, I am really weird about, like—regular season, and I can just sit on my couch and chill, but like, if it’s the playoffs, I bring a chair, and I sit probably as close as me and you to the TV, and I’m in it. I’m in it. Because it’s every pitch.
Ryan: I was at Wrigley Field in 2003 when Barry Bonds, in batting practice, hit a baseball over Sheffield, through a window across the street, and that video’s kind of gone popular now, a cool “I didn’t do it,” you know, that was pretty funny though, just to—I don’t think he even noticed that it was out there, and it was like “did he just…?” Yeah, he just hit one across the street, through a window. That stands out.
I seem to have been to a lot of games where Top 10 plays happen on SportsCenter. You were at one where Andrelton Simmons made that sick play against the Mets that we didn’t see because people (standing in the aisle) blocked us.
SOS: I kind of saw it. You were a little more blocked. The best play I’ve ever seen live.
Ryan: It’s kind of cool, you see it in person and then the next day it’s #1 on SportsCenter. I was at a Hawks and 76ers game and a dunk made #1 on SportsCenter, and I was sitting right there watching it. That’s pretty sweet.
Garrett: The year of the “Kick Six” in the Iron Bowl, we were sitting in a beach house, and the Iron Bowl was taking a little long to finish that year, so we had the Iron Bowl going on here (on one TV), and the Clemson-(South) Carolina game going on here (on another TV).
And I would much rather see us win and Alabama win—I don’t like Alabama, but I’d rather–I’d trade an Alabama win for a Clemson win, if that makes sense—but I was incredibly ecstatic watching, what’s his name, Chris Davis run that kick, that (missed) field goal back for a touchdown, but then my joy quickly turned into despair when Tajh Boyd proceeded to throw like six interceptions.
Tomorrow, Fans Week continues with a look at some of the crazy things I’ve ever heard and seen from fans at sporting events.