Rachel Levitin: Do you root for the name on the front or the back of the jersey?

The wild and crazy weekend of trade rumors and moves has passed. Before (and after) 4 p.m. Sunday, fans took to Twitter to express their concern about whether or not Drew Storen would stay on the Nationals’ roster. With all of that hoopla over a singular player, a thought arose: Is it better to devote one’s unconditional fandom to an individual player or to a team?

There are pros and cons to measure both claims. To keep it simple, though, I’ve narrowed it down to a rubric of five items: trades, slumps, awards, uniforms and memorabilia.

Trades: Teams cannot be traded. Players can. There are few exceptions in which a team will be uprooted and forced to find a new place to call home. The Nationals, of course,moved to D.C. in 2005 and shed their Montreal Expos past. When talking about trades, it’s harder to watch a player from your home team change their mailing address during the regular reason.

Slumps: Teams and singular players can find themselves in the midst of a slump. For teams, there’s the loss column. For players, there’s on-base percentage, earned run average, batting average and many more numerical categories for unproductive play. Which is worse then, a whole team of poor performances or one player struggling? Nationals fans have witnessed Jayson Werth’s shortcomings at the plate this year. Some of their disappointment can be attributed to high expectations, but when it comes down to it, the guy’s been in a slump. Nationals fans have also seen their team improve (slightly) by finishing at .500 at the All-Star break. The team might still be in the National League East basement but an improvement in an improvement.

Awards: As a team, a collection of players can win a division, a pennant and a World Series in any given year. Players, on the other hand, can win Most Valuable Player awards, a Silver Slugger or a Gold Glove. Fans want to see their favorite players and favorite teams succeed. In theory, the team with the highest amount of award-winning players would find itself the victor of at least a division championship. In the Nationals’ case, Ryan Zimmerman was a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner in 2009. The Nationals are far from reaching a division title in 2011, but in a few years, thanks to some young talent expected to arise from the farm system, a division title may not be out of reach for much longer.

Uniforms: Besides a player’s number and name, a team’s uniform is the same for every player (unless a player is designated the captain and get’s a “C” for their jersey). No matter whose jersey you buy at the team store or online, it’s still going to have their team name on the front.

Memorabilia: Collecting baseball cards isn’t the after-school activity it used to be back in the days where kids would buy protective sleeves and sort them in binders just to keep the cards in mint condition. But who says those days have to die? The search for your favorite player’s rookie card or an entire season’s roster is easier these days with the Internet. The question is, Which would you prefer to have 50 years from now: your favorite player’s rookie card or just one card with a particular season’s 25-man roster?

The moral of the story is: There are pros and cons to both, but the decision comes down to personal preference. If your individual fandom draws you toward the love for a player, that’s great. If they get traded, that doesn’t mean you can’t root for them any more. In fact, if your favorite player does get traded, it’s not such a bad thing. It just means you’ll have to follow baseball a bit more closely to keep track which, in turn, is good for the game overall.

Rachel Levitin blogs about the Nationals for We Love DC, and will be sharing her observations about baseball in the nation’s capital as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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