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When family means fandom

Sometimes, like in the case of these three fans, our fandoms really do run as deep as blood.

Most of us are fans of something: A sports team, a celebrity or even a type of food (I’m talking to you avocado toast fans). Those fandoms had to start somewhere, right? For some of us we caught a glimpse of an athlete and something stuck, others, like the men and women featured here, the fandom hits much closer to home. They are fans because their family member was a fan and to them, the connection through blood is stronger than anything else.

Giovanni DeVera, Boxing

Giovanni DeVera, 30, fell in love with boxing through his grandfather. Together the pair would watch some of the biggest fights of the generation. He recalls watching George Foreman vs. Michael Moorer, and the Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield trilogy. He and his grandfather cemented a life-long fandom that would eventually turn into a career for DeVera. He recalls watching late-night boxing matches on HBO and being so excited he got to stay up late that it didn’t even matter if the fights were exciting or not.

“Unfortunately my grandfather has already passed away,” DeVera said. “The connection through boxing is still there, but when HBO decided to stop airing boxing, I was crushed. It meant a lot to me, it meant that my son wouldn’t watch boxing with his grandfather on HBO. I know it seems strange but watching boxing on HBO was special to me, and to be honest the commentators have a lot to do with that. When Jim Lampley made his closing farewell, I got so emotional and choked up. It was almost as if a close friend was going away.”

DeVera says that his grandfather wouldn’t have hesitated to make fun of him for cheering for the wrong boxer and he believes if he was here today he’d be rooting alongside him for MMA fighters like Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Robbie Lawler.

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Alisha Grauso, Pittsburgh Penguins

Alisha Grauso, 39, may live in Los Angeles, CA but her love of all Pittsburgh, PA sports has never wavered, thanks, in part, to the legacy of fandom which was passed down from her father.

Her love of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and hockey as a whole, was destined since birth, due in part to the city she grew up in.

“Sports are a whole other level in Pittsburgh; they’re the glue that has kept the region together through its toughest times,” she said. “There is a symbiotic relationship between Pittsburgh sports teams and the fans that support them; it’s one of the reasons so many athletes come back to Pittsburgh after they retire, whether to work for their previous team or simply to raise their families. Even when you move away, as I have, those ties still bind. I still follow my boys in black and gold; I still wear their jerseys to games when they’re playing in LA; I still have a Terrible Towel.”

Grauso says her childhood memories are intertwined with Mike Lange calling plays while eating dinner with her family. She even learned to play the game her father loved so much.

“It started out as something that I didn’t understand but wanted to because my dad cared so much, then became a security blanket and ritual, then it became a passion of my own.”

That connection to her father ran even deeper when, in a dark time, the team bonded them together and helped to save her father’s life.

“Five years ago, my dad was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma — the same cancer that Mario Lemieux had when he was the all-star captain of the Penguins. Lemieux is now an owner of the team and one of his philanthropic endeavors was founding the Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers through UPMC. That’s where my dad was treated. It’s why he’s in remission. And it was the team that helped, and continues to help, him when it was discovered the chemo had destroyed his heart and he had to first be implanted with an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) and then, finally, undergo a heart transplant. I can now say the former captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins literally helped save my dad’s life. I’ll never not be connected to the Penguins, in more ways than one.”

If that’s not a deep fandom, I don’t know what is.

Michael Frazier, Chicago Cubs

Not many men can say they got their baseball fandom from their grandmother, but that’s exactly how Michael Frazier, 38, learned his. Frazier remembers spending the summers with his grandmother watching Chicago Cubs games on the WGN network.

“My first question when I walked in the door is who are we playing,” Frazier recalls. “I remember the voices of Harry Caray and Steve Stone. My grandma always had a crush on Steve Stone.”

He recalls watching players like Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace, Andre Dawson, and Shawon Dunston and says he and his grandmother had always wanted to take the train to Mesa, AZ for spring training but her multiple sclerosis made the trip impossible.

“My grandma passed more than 10 years ago but a few summers ago I finally made it to Wrigley Field with my sister and some friends,” Frazier said. “Turning the corner and seeing the stadium literally brought tears to my eyes. I could feel my grandma being so excited that I’d finally made it to the temple. It couldn’t have been a better day for baseball especially in the middle of August in Chicago.”

He says that he feels that his grandmother is close to him when he watches games and he cried “real tears of happiness and relief” when the Cubbies finally won the World Series thinking about his grandmother and so many other Cubs fans with stories like his.

“My grandma helped foster my love of baseball in general, she never missed my games from little league to high school. She also loved Vin Scully so hearing his patented “It’s time for Dodger baseball” always made me think of her. During Opening Day I have a small conversation with her in my head saying ‘here we go again’.”

Fandoms have the ability to shape our lives and these are just three examples of how and why our favorite teams are so important.

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