Unluckiest Fan In America

October 18, 2009

Stephen Krupin isa Nationals fan, which is reason enough to offer him condolences, but that'snot the extent of his misfortune. Krupin, a 27-year-old speechwriter who sharesseason tickets with his father, attended 19 games at Nationals Park this yearthat could have been promoted by the club's ticket office as the MasochismPack. Not once in Krupin's 19 visits did the Nats deliver a victory. Anumber-crunching cousin of Krupin's calculated that the odds of his 0--19season were 1 in 131,204, not all that different from the chances of gettinghit by an asteroid, which, come to think of it, might be less painful thanwatching your team lose every time you show up.

"That's therisk you run by being a sports fan," Krupin says. So true. Maybe youweren't as unfortunate a fan as he was this season, but you probably have morein common with Krupin than you realize. To root for a team is to experiencevarying degrees of misery, whether you're devoted to a club that hasn't won aWorld Series in generations or one that just missed the playoffs or, likelast-place Washington, one that muddles along so deep in the cellar that firstplace seems to exist only in a galaxy far, far away.

Those giddy,exuberant baseball fans we see on our television screens this time of year, theones waving their white towels and clapping ThunderStix as they cheer for theirteams in the postseason, are the outliers, like the swimsuit models and theguys with six-pack abs on magazine covers. They are the fortunate few, hardlyrepresentative of the masses. It's much easier to relate to Krupin because forthe overwhelming majority of fans championships are, at best, occasional.Losing is universal.

Fans everywhereshould give Krupin a tip of the ticket stub just for faithfully returning tothe scene of his disappointments, 26 rows behind first base. Only in sportswould a consumer keep patronizing the same establishment despite never gettingsatisfaction. What Krupin did is like continuing to have dinner at the samerestaurant even though it burns the entrée every time.

But as much as wemight empathize with him, even admire him, no one would have wanted to shareKrupin's fate this season. He was bad luck personified. Black cats were afraidto cross his path. It wasn't just that the Nationals were winless in hispresence, it was that they were actually fairly successful at home (33--29) inhis absence. Given those numbers, you can imagine the team's front officeoutlining Washington's goals for the off-season: 1) strengthen the reliefpitching, 2) acquire a slugging first baseman and 3) give Krupin free seasontickets—to the Orioles. "It was amazing," he says. "I went onvacation in August, and they won eight in a row. As soon as I came back, theylost three straight."

By that timeKrupin was well aware of the unenviable streak he was putting together. Afterevery loss this season the same song was played over the P.A. system atNationals Park: Three Little Birds by Bob Marley, a reggae tune that includesthe hopeful lyrics, "Don't worry about a thing/'Cause every little thinggonna be all right." After about a dozen games Krupin realized what aritual it had become, filing out of the stadium to the familiar refrain."That's when it hit me," he says. "I had absolutely no idea whatsong they play when we win."

There is nological explanation for his astonishingly bad run. Krupin chose games that fitinto his work schedule—dates during the week and on weekends, day games andnight, against elite teams like the Phillies and the Red Sox and awful oneslike the Mets and the Padres. His final chance to witness a win was going to bethe Nationals' next-to-last home game of the season, against the Mets, but hemade a late change of plans when he was offered tickets to a U2 concert.Washington wiped out a three-run deficit that night and scored in the bottom ofthe eighth to win 4--3. Naturally.

It's quite aconundrum, the proposition that the result you came to see is made impossibleby your mere presence, but Krupin is an intelligent fellow who never boughtinto the theory that he was bringing bad mojo to the Nationals. "I preferto think of it as correlation rather than causation," he says. "Maybeif I were part of the bullpen, I'd take some responsibility." Besides, he'sa fan. What was he going to do? Stop enjoying trips to the ballpark? Abandonhis team? A true fan keeps the faith. His team may be hapless but neverhopeless. "One day, maybe next year, maybe next decade," Krupin says,"I'm going to sit in the stands with my dad in section 129, row CC, andwe're going to watch our team in a playoff game."

The unluckiest fanin America is actually feeling lucky, so much so that he hasn't tried to findout what the Nationals' victory song is. (I would tell you, but I don't want tospoil it for Krupin. Face it, the guy deserves a break.) The only way he wantsto find out is by hearing it himself after a Nats win, preferably next OpeningDay. But the Marley song suits him better anyway. The thing that keeps Krupincoming back is the same thing that brings every other fan back—the belief thatno matter how their team may frustrate them, eventually every little thinggonna be all right.

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To root for a team is to experience varying degrees ofmisery. And not once in the 19 games that Stephen Krupin attended did theNationals deliver a win.

PHOTOJOHN BURGESS

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