Today we have a guest post by my good friend Gareth Simpson, who’s been watching baseball much longer than I have, and tells us why it’s sometimes more difficult to root for a great team than a bad one.
“I’m not quite sure why I like sports.” This is something I actually thought the other day. I was at a baseball game, appropriately enough, and the team I was rooting for was winning. And I was very nervous. This is because I am a fan of bad teams. I started liking the Seattle Mariners because they were good, and because they were a hundred miles south of me. While the second part is still true, they’ve been a disappointment and a punchline and everything in between for the last decade or so. This is mostly fine with me. It’s a comfortable arrangement, because I don’t really have to care about most of the games, and if something interesting happens I can treat it as a bonus.
Felix Hernandez’s perfect game is a great example of this. Ruhee frantically texted me about it while I was on vacation, and I was able to watch the final inning over 3G on a dock on Lake Okanagan. But at no point was I worried about the Rays getting a hit. This was not only because Felix Hernandez is a force of nature, but because I knew the game was utterly meaningless. It’s the advantage of having low expectations, because if I’m surprised, it’s usually a pleasant surprise. It also helped me deal with the Ichiro Suzuki trade, because Ichiro always seemed like a decent enough guy who happened to be an incredibly good baseball player marooned on an awful team. As much as I like the aforementioned awful team, it seemed unfair to begrudge Ichiro the opportunity to play meaningful baseball games.
By contrast, I imagine that being a fan of a good team is incredibly stressful. Let’s take Ichiro’s new team as an example. Given the financial status (not to mention the cultural significance) of the New York Yankees, they will basically always be World Series contenders. However, the dark lining in that silver cloud is that any time they don’t win the World Series, it’s a failure. There is basically no good experience that a baseball fan can possibly have that a Yankees fan hasn’t had over the last decade or so. So what’s left? As we learned in the 2001 World Series, or the 2004 ALCS, disappointment. The sort of disappointment where you know that everyone else who is not exactly you is laughing at you. I don’t follow a lot of Yankees fans on twitter, but I looked around a bit during their recent losses to the Blue Jays, and I saw what seemed to be some pretty unhappy people saying some pretty spiteful things. Who wants that in their life?
The baseball game I was at wasn’t a Mariners game, as you might suspect. I was watching the Vancouver Canadians, who are actually a pretty good baseball team for their level. It’s near the end of the shortened single-A season, and the Canadians are contenders to repeat as league champions. They’re hardly a dynasty, but their parent club (the Blue Jays) have an excellent farm system, one of the best in baseball, so expectations are justifiably high. But on that day, they seemed to have a serious case of the yips. Javier Avendano, who had been pitching masterfully after replacing Roberto Osuna, was starting to look a bit shaky in the 9th. The bases were loaded, and it suddenly occurred to me that what I’d thought was an unassailable lead could actually be erased in an instant by behemoth manchild Daniel Vogelbach. It’s possible, indeed likely, that you’ll never hear of any of these players troubling the majors. But in that moment, Dan Vogelbach was the most frightening man in the world, because everyone knew he was capable of hitting a grand slam. This was when I wondered if I even really enjoy this, if I’m the sort of person that has the nerves for this.
Dan Vogelbach didn’t hit a home run, because he’s not a very good baseball player. He took three big swings at three bad pitches, and looked foolish, just like he had done a few innings earlier. I exhaled and thought to myself “of course you like this, you idiot” and filed out of the stands.
As I write this, the Vancouver Canadians have just repeated as Northwest League champions. They haven’t made it easy on themselves. They gave up a lead in Game 2 of the final against the Boise Hawks, and lost in extra innings. They were behind 7-5 in the 8th tonight, in the deciding game of the series. But they, almost inexplicably, charged back to win 12-9. The very first Canadians game I went to, I arrived in the second inning, as the C’s were in the process of giving up 7 runs. After a few more innings without much change, I retired to the left field beer garden, assuming that this was a settled matter. The only baseball games I’ve been to have been in Seattle and at Wrigley Field, and at those stadiums, the deficits usually stay deficit. But as I craned my neck over the fence during the 7th inning stretch, I saw the Canadians had brought it back within a run. By the end of the game they had won it on the strength of their designated hitter, Art Charles, who is effectively a child but has the name of a mid-20th century grifter.
All this happened, this win, this improbable win, after most of the continent had gone to sleep. I texted Ruhee during the comeback, delirious with glee and overcome by the urge to share this with literally anyone who cared (and, likely, those that didn’t.) The disclaimer: “YOU’RE ASLEEP PROBABLY, BUT.” The joy: “OH MY GOD CANADIANS.” Later, when victory was assured: “THEY WON, THEY ACTUALLY WON. A TEAM I LIKE WON A THING.”
I’ll likely apologize for this in the morning, but you’ll have to excuse me. This is all very much for a man accustomed to mediocre teams.