Current Date: Tue, 11 Mar 2014 19:58:05 -0400
It’s the bottom of the ninth inning in Boshamer Stadium. The No. 1 North Carolina baseball team is handling Duke 10-1.
Most fans have either exited or are sitting down, patiently waiting for pitcher Trevor Kelley to close out the sweep.
But one fan remains on his feet. There are two outs left, but he’s standing, clapping with the heels of hands because the weekend has left his palms too raw, too blistered, too chapped to continue his normal rhythm.
He turns around in his seat in section 107, slightly to the right of home plate, and looks to his fellow Tar Heel fans to join in his exuberance. But he’s met with half-hearted cheering from a crowd that’s just ready for the blowout to finish.
Instead of accepting mediocre cheers from the crowd, he begins yelling for everyone to stand.
Some look around, confused at his instructions. Others whisper to their neighbors. Who does this man think he is? Can’t he just leave us to watch one more out in peace?
But eventually, he has everyone on their feet.
Kelley gives up a hit, pushing a run across. Still, the fan doesn’t sit down.
Instead, he remains on his feet. And behind the rallying “TAR” … “HEELS” echoing between the fan and his compatriots, Kelley forces the last batter to ground out, sealing the win.
He claps and whistles along with the crowd, lingers a moment through the alma mater, then gathers his things and exits Boshamer along with the flood of Carolina blue-clad fans, disappearing until the next game.
And that’s just the way he wants it.
That’s because he’s not looking to be the center of attention. No, he’s there to give all he has to support his team through every game.
To the Tar Heel faithful, he’s known as “Super Fan.” To opposing fans, he’s public enemy No. 1. To politicians, he’s a rising star working out of a small polling firm in Raleigh.
But to those who know him best, he’s Tom Jensen, the truest of UNC baseball fans.
Approaching the mound
Jensen’s hands have permanent cuts during the season from his constant clapping. There’s a deep gash in on his right hand in between his index and middle fingers and another on the side of his left pinky.
He said his hands are in a permanent cycle of getting cuts, bleeding and partially recovering all season — but he doesn’t mind, it’s just part of being a fan.
In his early years as an undergraduate at UNC, his hands weren’t always in such rough shape February through early June.
Jensen might be the loudest and most distinguishable fan in the stadium, but his fandom is a recent phenomenon.
As a freshman, the Michigan native lived on the sixth floor of Ehringhaus Residence Hall facing the stadium — the perfect position to sit out on his balcony and watch games. A laid-back fan in his first three years at UNC, Jensen attended about 15 to 20 games per year.
But in his senior year, his casual attitude about the program morphed into something greater.
Jensen, a history major, was enrolled in just one class during his last semester in spring 2006: Sports in Society. In that class were a few members of a UNC baseball team that would make the long-awaited trip to Omaha.
Jensen first caught the attention of centerfielder Mike Cavasinni, second baseman Garrett Gore and pitcher Brian Farrell in the discussion-based class when he argued with Farrell about whether Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton was one of the top-five NBA players of all time.
“Tom gave it to him pretty good,” Gore said.
The friendship that was cultivated between Jensen and his baseball classmates in that class was the catalyst in the explosion of Jensen’s fandom.
But the transformation from casual fan to “Super Fan” wasn’t instantaneous.
“He has grown to be one of the best fans there, if not the best fan there,” Cavasinni said.
After being a part of UNC’s 2006 run to Omaha from the stands, Jensen’s dedication to the program blossomed exponentially.
Though in the next few years he was becoming one of the most accurate pollsters in the nation at Public Policy Polling, Jensen still attended most home games.
Jensen knows that there are times to whip the crowd into a frenzy, and he knows that there are times to remain silent.
For the self-proclaimed professional fan, cheering isn’t a mindless task — it’s a science.
“I’m most likely to start the ‘Tar Heels’ chant when we have a couple guys on base, there’s a trip to the mound, the catcher goes out, and the pitching coach goes out,” Jensen said.
He said his purpose as a fan is not to put down the other team, but to celebrate UNC.
“You will never hear me say something ugly about an opposing team or players,” he said.
The positive, thoughtfully timed cheering is just what coach Mike Fox said should fill the crowd. To Fox, in a perfect world, every attendee would emulate Jensen’s fandom.
While Fox lauds Jensen for his dedication — he’s attended every 2013 ACC series, home and away — opposing fans despise his flashiness.
Earlier this year, Jensen faced a scary situation at Virginia Tech when a few fans targeted him throughout the weekend series, heckling him with obscenities.
After informing Chancellor Holden Thorp, Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham, Fox and their counterparts at Virginia Tech, Jensen was assigned an undercover police officer during the series finale and received a formal apology for the fans’ actions.
“Anytime you go on the road in the ACC, fans probably don’t expect us to have a presence, and we do,” said Tyson Lusk, Jensen’s friend and UNC clubhouse and equipment manager. “Tom is very active in big situations. And sometimes it just rubs people the wrong way.”
Closing the game
After first coming to games to support his classmates seven years ago, Jensen has maintained his fervor for UNC baseball even though his schedule is busier as director of Public Policy Polling.
Though the College World Series is still a more than a month away, Jensen has already booked a flight to Omaha in the hopes that he’ll see his Tar Heels take the field.
Two years ago, on fan appreciation day, he was presented with a signed jersey from the team to commemorate him.
“I don’t think he wants the attention — he gets enough attention by starting the chants and being our biggest cheerleader,” Lusk said. “I think he would rather us not make any acknowledgement of what he does.
“It was the loudest that the stadium had gotten all year, when we recognized Tom.”
Fox said that he wants a stadium full of Tom Jensens. and his players agree.
“If you had 4,500 people in the stands at Boshamer Stadium and they were all like him, that would be like playing with 10 guys on the field,” Gore said.
And on Friday night’s series opener against rival N.C. State in Raleigh, through all the rowdy, rabid Wolfpack fans, without a doubt one voice will still echo through the hostile stadium.
“TAR” … “HEELS.”
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