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Fan Mail

November 20, 2021

I don’t know a lot about baseball but I do know that I like Joey Nicoletti’s poem “To Dave Kingman” from his volume of poems addressed to various baseball players, Fan Mail. Of all the poems in the volume, the one to Kingman, a famous home run hitter I’d never heard of before, seems to me to capture the essence of what it is to be a fan.

First of all, it’s addressed to “Mr. Kingman,” as if he’s someone we know, and it begins with a detail about his life, that he handed out “chrome/fountain pens/to New York-based sports reporters” on the first day of spring training. Then comes a purchased object associated with devotion to this particular kind of fandom: “your baseball card/from 1975 has arrived,/like summer.” The player’s face, already so familiar to the fan who has received this card, looks like it has “an expression of resignation,” which makes the fan wonder “why/do I feel so connected/to someone I’ve never met?”

Good question, isn’t it? Many of us have experienced this one-way feeling of connection and are well aware that our devotion is entirely one-sided, which is why these lines of the poem are amusing:

Why
do I feel so connected

to someone I’ve never met?
How is it that being a fan
of yours: of admiring

all of the moonshots
you launched in your career,
77 of them

at the time this card was made
and distributed,
can have such an affect

on me? I mean,
would you feel empathy
for me if I got a rejection letter

from The New Yorker?”

How could Dave Kingman feel empathy for someone he’s never even heard of? He can’t, but that doesn’t make us stop wishing for an answering closeness from those we feel so close to, those we sympathize with at their low points and celebrate with when they hit a home run because we realize “that no one can be at their best/every single moment/of their work or personal lives.”

Sometimes, at least for a moment, even the most ardent fans want to reassure their hero, saying something like yes, Dave Kingman, we see how you are trying “to play well consistently/on the field, yet protect/your privacy off of it.” Occasionally we have to acknowledge that a public figure is a person and a stranger, in addition to still being my own personal hero, the one I want to know everything about.

Of course, the fan relationship can make those on either side feel vulnerable and exposed. When we were pre-teens, the year the movie Young Frankenstein came out, my cousin and I composed a fan letter to Gene Wilder. He may have never gotten it—certainly he never answered–but it was sent with lots of love and spritzed with some of my mother’s perfume. How about you–have you ever sent fan mail?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2021 7:17 pm

    I sent fan mail -more than once – to various members of New Kids on the Block! I was about 11-13 years old. How I looooooved them!

    • November 21, 2021 7:54 pm

      It does seem that the first, fervent spring of fandom often hits at about 11-13!

  2. November 22, 2021 7:57 am

    I have sent fan mail, and several writers were incredibly gracious in writing back. Of course now it makes me absolutely squirm — what could be more embarrassing than being open about the things you love? 😛

    • November 22, 2021 8:06 am

      Nothing. You’re right, nothing is (potentially) more embarrassing than being open about the things you love. It leaves you open.

  3. November 22, 2021 9:51 am

    I wrote a fan letter long ago to Michael Damian when his big hit “Rock On” was all over the radio. I didn’t get a letter back from him, but his fan club sent me a poster, which I cherished.

    • November 22, 2021 10:03 am

      That’s so nice! I love it when there’s a fan club.

  4. January 12, 2022 12:30 pm

    I’ve sent fan mail to none other than Dave Kingman who returned to me an autographed 1986 Topps baseball card.

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