OPINION: MLB playoffs and burgeoning questions of Mississippi pro sports allegiances

Published 3:53 pm Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Baseball playoffs are awesome. They do a strangely good job of reminding baseball fans of how great the sport can be after summer months lacking enthusiasm.

That’s pretty much the whole point of this column. That, and me just raising questions that I don’t understand yet. Mostly, I just want to know what team people in this state actually care about.

I saw a map on Sunday describing which playoff team each state is rooting for, and I have to be honest – it made no sense to me. A website called sportsinsider.com compiled a bunch of geotagged Twitter data to create a map of what team people from each state are rooting for in the MLB playoffs.

Now, a large portion of this map makes logical sense. No one cares about the Tampa Bay Rays and people in New England are pretty much staring into blank oblivion wondering how the Red Sox didn’t make the playoffs, muttering to themselves in some awful Boston accent, “Just anyone but the Yankees.” But Mississippi raised questions for me.

Obviously, a state without its own team is going to have a mixed bag of allegiances. That said, just about everyone I know is a Braves fan, whereas this map has Mississippi as an Astros state. Growing up in Austin as an Astros fan myself, I wish this felt more true.

The map just raises simple questions for me. Do I just happen to only know Braves fans and they’re just rare outliers? Is the southern half of the state Astros crazy, enough so to overpower the northern-portion’s Braves allegiance? Geography and fandom are clearly intertwined; yet this still doesn’t make a ton of since to me. McComb, Miss. is hardly closer to Houston than Atlanta. It’s relatively negligible compared to how much faster it is to get to Atlanta than Houston for the northern portion of the state.

Now, these Facebook map state things are always horrendously incorrect, or at the very least, strange. One circulated just a few weeks ago showing America’s favorite movie theater candy by state. Sorry, but I just don’t know anyone who eats candy corn at movie theaters (Mississippi). And honestly, I don’t even know what Necco wafers are (looking at you, weirdos in Utah).

At least in Oxford, Mississippi seems like a Braves state. I certainly know more Cardinals people than Astros people, and that’s okay – I’ll celebrate the impending World Series victory by myself. It’s just an interesting thought experiment that I’ve had a few times in the nearly year that I’ve lived here.

I you would’ve asked me 18 months ago who the favorite NFL team in Oxford was, having never been here, I likely would’ve guessed the Atlanta Falcons. That’s just wrong. It’s definitely a Saints or Titans split, and I feel bad for those of you who fall on the Titans side of that. Yet Nashville and New Orleans don’t have baseball teams, so I would’ve guessed (maybe) accurately on the Braves. Therefore, those same Atlanta Braves fans are often not Atlanta Falcons fans.

It’s part of the reason the SEC is as big as it is. Spreading from Columbia, S.C. to College Station, Texas, there’s not a ton of professional franchises. The only cities in that landscape with multiple professional franchises are Charlotte, Atlanta, Nashville, New Orleans and Houston. Not one of those cities has a team in all four professional leagues. Yet in the same area, we have 14 major SEC schools, not even counting other colleges like Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech.

Inevitably, this increases the geographic diversity of pro fanbases in the south and inflates the importance of rivalries, such as the Egg Bowl. It also creates a fun dynamic called playoff time, especially an MLB playoff season with Houston, Atlanta and St. Louis being three of the eight remaining teams. But I guess the point of the whole thought experiment is simple: root for whoever you damn well please – just enjoy baseball’s postseason.