May 17, 2010

on giving up, believing, and what it means to be a fan

L-girl guest post, cross-posted on wmtc

The JoS community probably looks at the title of this post and rolls their eyes. Here she goes. Whether it makes you smile or cringe, you're expecting a pep talk, or a thrashing, or at least a lecture on fat ladies singing and 162 games.

Sorry. No can do.

If the Red Sox manage to seriously contend this season, if we make a run at the division or the wild card and make the playoffs, it will be an amazing comeback. But so many things would have to happen for that to occur – the Sox playing much better than they appear to be able to do, and more than one other team hitting a prolonged slide. It's looking highly unlikely.

So no, this post isn't about how we all must believe to the bitter end.

But all the talk of giving up – whether or not we have given up, when we will, why we won't, and so on - got me thinking about what we mean when we say we're giving up on a season. The Red Sox are going to do what they're going to do whether or not we declare ourselves still on board or done. It doesn't make a difference in terms of baseball. It only makes a difference in how we feel, and maybe how we approach the games.

* * * *

In 2007, the Red Sox were were 9 games up on July 29. (On July 5, they had an 11.5 game lead!) On August 13, the Sox's lead had been cut to 4 games, but on September 4, it was back to 7.

After that, the Yankees started closing in. First our lead dropped to 5 games on September 10. A week later, September 17, it was 3.5 games. On September 23, the lowest point of the season, the Sox still had a 1.5 game lead.

They never fell out of first place. The closest the Yankees came was 1.5 games back on September 23. But woe is us, the doomers were out in force.

More than anything, I wanted the Sox to win the division. I announced on a gamethread that I wanted to win the division more than I wanted to win the World Series, that the Wild Card wasn't good enough, not even if it (again) took us all the way.

This caused some controversy. I remember someone lecturing me about "keeping our eyes on the prize". It meant nothing to me. I'm not saying it was rational, or justified. It was just the way I felt. We were in full command of first place for almost the entire season. I didn't want to hear how "of course" the Yankees won it, how the Sox could only get in the playoffs through the back door. That division was ours and I wanted it.

Some people agreed with me. Others emphatically did not.

But I also knew we didn't have to win the division by 10 games. Or by 5 games. And in a pack as good as the American League East, the chances of winning by a wide margin are very slim. So a shrinking lead didn't matter, it was bound to happen. We didn't have to win by any certain number of games. We only had to win.

Sometime during that nail-biting September, a JoS commenter - not a regular, just a drive-by - announced that he was "throwing in the towel". I went ballistic. He was throwing in the towel and we were still in first place! Smoke was coming out of my ears. It was an epic smackdown.

Now I want to look beyond my own contempt for such behaviour and ask, What made this fan feel that way? Knowing his team was in first place, he was ready to jump ship. Why?

I suspect he couldn't stand the tension as he waited for what he imagined was an inevitable heartbreak. Whether he was conscious of it or not, he thought it was better to jump now and get it over with. Better a quick death at his own hands, then to be slowly crushed by daily torture.

Maybe that towel-throwing-in fan was performing a premature, exaggerated ritual that we all do sometimes in other contexts. We want something very badly, but we say, "I'm trying not to get my hopes up." We're trying to protect ourselves. We think, if I don't have my hopes up, it won't hurt as much to have them smashed.

But I think there are other things at work, too. Some people are very heavily invested in being right. They're after putting some kind of cosmic "I told you so" on the world. Sometimes it looks like fans would rather say "I told you so" to the more optimistic fans than see their team win.

These "I told you so" fans seem to think they're more savvy, more worldly-wise, more in-the-know. Optimism is for suckers. You naive fools can get your hopes up for a sunny day. I'll sit here scowling in my dark corner predicting rain. Then when it rains -- as it always does at some point -- you'll see that I was right.

Of course, once it rains, we'll all get wet. But some of us will have enjoyed the sunshine all that time.

In sports, like in politics, people love to make predictions. You can flip on your TV and find a dozen people being paid to sit in studios and predict what's going to happen. (In Canada the national pastime is predicting when there will be an election.) The fan who gives up when his team is still in first place is like a political pundit on a cable news show. When the team is skidding, he shouts "They're finished!" If they lose, he sneers I Told You So. If they win, no one holds him accountable for his gloomy prediction.

And some people declare they have given up, I think, because they don't want to be associated with a losing team. They think if the logo on their cap represents a winning team, this somehow reflects on them personally as winners. So if it doesn't look good for the team, better back off, rather than be tainted by a loser's logo.

Of course, for these people, the only thing that gets reflected is how superficial they are. If you're only a fan when your team is winning, you're not really a fan at all. All good teams attract pseudofans. And amazingly, the Red Sox have become one of those teams. That's a good thing.

* * * *

During the 2008 playoffs, I didn't really believe we would win. I felt like we weren't a championship team, and I had a really hard time staying optimistic - faking belief. I still watched every game, and I sweat out the seven-game ALCS with everyone else, but in my heart, I didn't believe. Allan thought I was giving up - and he wasn't too pleased. But here's the thing: I didn't give up. I kept hoping and I kept watching. I was pessimistic, but I was on board.

How many of us thought the Red Sox would come back to win the 2004 ALCS? I'd be surprised if anyone can honestly say they did. We weren't just down three games in a seven-game series. We were about to be swept. In the historical context of The Rivalry, and especially after 2003, unimaginable heartbreak was on the horizon.

But we kept watching, and we kept hoping. We were going to watch and hope until the final out. When that final out turned out to be in Game 7, after the greatest comeback the sport has ever seen, we were rewarded - for some of us, after a lifetime of heartbreak. We weren't rewarded for our belief, but for our loyalty.

That's what shows we didn't give up. Not what we believed - because what we believed didn't matter. We might have thought the Red Sox would lose the 2004 ALCS, because at some point, that seemed the only possible outcome. We didn't know the impossible was about to happen! So belief or lack of belief is not the issue. Pessimistic doomer or pollyanna optimist, we didn't give up. We kept watching. We kept hoping.

So here's what I've decided. I don't believe the Red Sox are going to make the playoffs this season. But I'm still watching and I'm still hoping.

* * * *

I mostly watch regular-season games with a relaxed, zenlike attitude. I take it as it comes. I enjoy a great win and I dislike annoying losses, but I rarely get very upset about the outcome of any given game. I like the tension and drama of close games, and I get very caught up during pennant races or in the post-season. But in general I watch baseball on an even keel. People like to say, "Of course I get upset – I'm a fan." So am I less of a fan because I don't get upset?

On the other hand, I watch almost every game. As much as possible, I organize my life around watching or listening to almost every game. During a game, I don't answer the phone, I don't wander off for something to eat. I see friends only on off nights. I don't watch movies when there's baseball on. I don't watch other sports when there's baseball on. I know not everyone does that. Does that make me more of a fan?

No, and no. There are all different ways to be a fan.

For some of us, no longer believing we have a chance doesn't really change anything. If Allan thinks the team is out of contention (I'm not saying he does, only if), he'll watch every game and only miss a game if forced to. He'll still stay up for west coast games, still not leave his chair except between innings, still keep score.

For me it probably means a little less of everything. Less watching every pitch. Less scoreboard watching. Less waking up and going immediately to the computer to check the standings. I might even miss a game here and there. I guess it's just a slight change in attitude. Loosening the grip a little. A subtle shift in priorities.

So at this point, no, I don't believe. But I haven't given up.

What about you?

29 comments:

Dr. Jeff said...

1) The game is designed to break your heart. Only one team out of 30 wins the WS each year, so fans of 29 teams will be disappointed. Some people can't handle these odds and become MFY fans.

2) The journey is as important as the arrival. If you only care about winning the WS, then don't watch any games during the season, and pay attention during the playoffs, if your team makes it.

I like watching baseball. It's an enjoyable way to pass the evening, esp. relative to all the other crap on TV. I consider myself a die hard Sox fan and a casual fan of other teams that I have followed over the years, mainly the Bay Area teams (A's and Giants). I live in an area where there are no MLB teams.

When I watch the Sox (on MLBxtra for the first time, THIS is the year I picked to sign up!), I'm happy to be able to see so many games, and I'm happy when they win, but I can't get too upset when they lose. Or at least, I'm upset but it doesn't last too long. I know that you can't tell tone on game thread comments, but it does seem like some people are getting very angry when things don't work out*. It's a long season and I hope we contend in the end.

And remember, it could be worse. We have two WS titles in the last 7 years. Think of the teams that haven't won anything for so long. Rangers. Royals. Indians. Giants got close but haven't won since '54.

Who knows. Like that Dead song says, "I may be going to hell in a bucket, but at least I'm enjoyin' the ride.

*Though Ramirez walking in that run on four pitches in the 12th sitll pisses me off!

blogtard said...

This was fantastic and I thank you for it.

I'm going to share it over at OTM...some folks could use the perspective.

Amy said...

I posted my comment on wmtc, so I will just copy what I wrote there:

I don't foresee us getting to the post-season, but you never do know. Even if we don't, I love the rhythm and unpredictability of baseball. I can watch games between teams I don't even care about, especially if it's a good game. The Red Sox are my team, and although I do not organize my life in order to watch or hear every game, I watch as much as I can because I love it--the team, the game itself. Not because I love winning (which I do, of course, but it's not all about winning; if it were, I would probably not have been able to stay a Sox fan from 1975 through 2003).

For those of us who game-thread, I figure we will have more time to talk about non-baseball matters, probably curse a little less, sweat a little less, but still enjoy the games and the banter. I certainly plan to do so!

westcoastsox said...

As someone who can only half-peek at games this season due to a very busy schedule, I'm not feeling the downs everyone else is feeling. Purely from an objective point of view, the hole in the AL East is not insurmountable, it seems like we have at least half a decent starting rotation (Buchholz, Lester, and maybe one of Beckett, Wakefield, Matsuzaka and Lackey on a given week), and some great pitchers in the bullpen (Okajima notwithstanding). This team has the potential to string together quite a few wins. And if they continue puttering along at .500, then Theo will hopefully figure out what part of this year's formula didn't click and adjust it for next season.

That being said, I have never been a watch-every-game kind of guy, so I can't speak to how this is affecting that kind of fan.

redsock said...

On the bus. Never off the bus.

For better and for worse. That's the deal if you wanna be a Fan. It's a serious relationship.

Starting pitching has been the one problem this season. We are getting on base and scoring runs, and we are catching the ball.

The pen has been iffy but (a) it's had more work to do because the starters have sucked and (b) name a team with a perfect pen.

With shitty starters and injuries (who predicted Darnell McDonald with almost 100 PA by late-May?), we have done as well as expected.

So .... have the starters pitch to their career norms (or better), put Cameron and LBJ back in the lineup, play 120 more games and we'll see what happens.

Making the playoffs is fun (and winning playoff games is even funner), but Red Sox fans who have followed the team for more than 5 years presumably understand that there is a bit more involved than that.

We once were proud of our scars.

B.R. said...

Despite all the shit...and the strong hatred both Allan and L-Girl have for more (partially my own doing)...gotta say, L-Girl can write...awesome post...just fun to read....there's a reason I read this site everyday, and it's not solely out of morbid curiosity of how the "other side" lives...it's because of solid posts, and consistent great sports blogging....this was a great example of that...

L-girl said...

Thank you, B.R. Allan left it up to me, and I put your comment through. Blame my ego.

Allan and I do not hate you. However, you are - except for this comment - a foul-mouthed, homophobic troll, and your comments will never be put through again.

L-girl said...

Reposted without typos...

Thank you, Blogtard, very kind of you.

Naturally I agree with Dr Jeff and others who point out that it's the journey that counts.

I wasn't getting into that on this post, but baseball is a singular joy in my life. Baseball is an oasis to me - it absorbs me, relaxes me, takes me out of myself.

My love for baseball is even deeper and more intense than my love for the Red Sox. (Or LBJ!)

(J/K, just had to throw that in!)

Being a serious fan has to be about more than the post-season. If it's not, you're a very casual fan at best, the way I am about any other sport.

tjd said...

Great piece, L.

I swear I'm not making this up:

I was never interested in baseball, or sports in general, really. Some years ago I was visiting friends out of town. We had been up drinking and talking, and eventually channel-surfing. We landed on a Red Sox/Yankees game.

It was the top of the eighth inning, the Yankees led by a run, and Fenway Park was very quiet. After a couple at-bats, my friends went to bed; I decided to stay up and watch for some reason.

I'm glad I did, because that game was Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. I've been following the Red Sox ever since.

Extraordinary things happen all the time - not usually on the 2004 scale, but the point is, they can and they do. As I've learned more about baseball since 2004 (and a lot of it from this blog) I can appreciate the more subtle, but still extraordinary things that happen every season, more and more. And I'm loyal to the Sox because I feel, in a funny way - given how I got into baseball in the first place - that if I'm going to root for anybody, I owe it to them. (And if you're not going to root for anybody - what's the point?)

I know enough about the game now to know that this is likely to be a tough year. But even so - when they are playing well, these guys are a pleasure to watch. And I think there are some cool stories unfolding even this season. The maturation of Clay Buchholz is one of those, for me.

So I'm sticking with them. Whether the starters get it together and the team starts to win a lot of games, or not. And I'll be back next year.

FenFan said...

Great post, L-girl. I don't get hung up by the wins and losses anymore, whether it's the Sox or any other team I follow, because I have no control over that. Plus, my knees cannot take climbing on and jumping off the bandwagon all season.

...fans of 29 teams will be disappointed. Some people can't handle these odds and become MFY fans.

LOL

Pepe Lepew said...

I never give up!

Maybe I'm not as emotionally invested as some fans, because I tend to get very distracted from baseball in late summer and autumn when I'm off climbing, but I've never understood negative nellie fans. I have a friend who is a Cleveland fan, and all he does is piss and moan about Cleveland and Ohio State. I figure why bother if you cheer for a team only to make yourself miserable?

I think the Red Sox have problems, but the cupboard isn't bare, and I'm always optimistic they are capable of getting it together, winning 16 out of 20 and getting right back in the thick of things.

I remember a few years ago the Yankees were 21-29 and still managed to make the postseason. Granted they didn't make it to the WS, but my attitude is make the postseason, then roll the dice and you never know what's going to happen (Remember, the Cardinals won a WS with a mediocre W-L percentage one year?). It seemed like everyone counted the Yankees out that season (I know I sure did). I also remember the Rockies were awful early one season (18-27) and made the WS.

Amy said...

tjd, I had a similar experience back in 1975. I had been a Mets fan in high school, had sort of lost interest in college, and then I started watching the Sox when we moved to Boston in August of 1975. My interest was piqued by the pennant race that fall---it was my one big escape from the stress of starting law school. But watching Carlton Fisk hit that home run in Game 6 of the WS that year sealed it for me: I was in love with the Red Sox, and there was no going back. So win, lose, good season, bad season, it is unconditional love. And like all such love, it doesn't mean I don't get mad, disappointed, bored at at times, and frustrated. But in the end, the love still conquers it all.

Pepe Lepew said...

Amy, that is EXACTLY my experience.

When I really became a Red Sox fan was when I was a wee little tyke staying up late watching Carlton Fisk wave that ball fair.

Then, I went through all the heartbreak of 1977 and 1978. It was really hard to stick with it after '78 (wasn't that the Bucky Effin' Dent year?), but I have ever since through thick and thin.

Joe Gravellese said...

I think some people use sports as an outlet to vent about what miserable people they are.

Joe Gravellese said...

2) The journey is as important as the arrival. If you only care about winning the WS, then don't watch any games during the season, and pay attention during the playoffs, if your team makes it.


This

I still have fond memories of 2003 despite how it ended, because of how amazing the journey was

Amy said...

Yes, it was Bucky Dent in 78. That was a definite low point, but not as bad as either Game 6 of the 86 WS or the last game of the 2003 ALCS.

SoSock said...

ON BOARD! (Actually have been all along)
Still thinking we should make the postseason even, but getting a little more anxious each week about the need to turn it around soon, and realizing there is a VERY distinct possibility we won't.

soundsofscience said...

Thanks, L. I will likely reread your post before this is over. It reminds me of another writer...

The bird would cease and be as other birds/But that he knows in singing not to sing.

San Francisco Red Sox Fan said...

I'll watch the Sox win or lose because I love the Sox and I love baseball. BUT I have to say what I don't like about myself this season is how I have quickly become the fan I was in the late 80s and early 90s. I'm very negative - I don't think we can do it and that is what I don't like about this season - or really about myself and the games this season.

I watched tonight's heart breaker with a friend who is a very positive fan and it was a good reminder to me to keep my chin up and just try to enjoy the ride.

San Francisco Red Sox Fan said...

Maybe I'm not as emotionally invested as some fans, because I tend to get very distracted from baseball in late summer and autumn when I'm off climbing,

Mr. Pepe LePew - we must talk. I am also an avid and addicted climber. Would love to hear about northwest climbing. Are you a mountaineer? Trad? Sport?

Pepe Lepew said...

Mr. Pepe LePew - we must talk. I am also an avid and addicted climber. Would love to hear about northwest climbing. Are you a mountaineer? Trad? Sport?


Northern Rockies.

Fragile Freddy said...

Well said. Your line about not believing but not giving up I think highlights the issue perfectly.

Any rational person sees a team that has struggled and is 7 back of a playoff spot already and realizes there is a tall task in front of them. At the same time, we still root, still hope, and still cheer.

gmillener said...

I have the same relationship with the Red Sox as I have with my car. I will believe she's going to run every time I turn the key until the battery's dead. I'll come back with a jumper cables and keep on believing that this turn is going to be the one. Any sort of splutter makes me think yes, here we go - next turn, baby. I can feel it. My faith in her is completely irrational: I'm completely aware of how many times she's stranded me, how many times I've been left stamping and cursing in the cold waiting for a tow. But it doesn't matter. I spend my life defending her, suffering the jokes, the well intentioned advice to just give it up already. I know, even if nobody believes me any more, that the next turn is going to do it. I love her, and she's not going to let me down again.

L-girl said...

Extraordinary things happen all the time - not usually on the 2004 scale, but the point is, they can and they do.

Word.

Last night was a great example of that. If I hadn't been emotionally involved in that game, I could say it was an absolutely amazing game of baseball, a perfect example of why it is such a beautiful and crazy sport.

However...

L-girl said...

A gamethreader friend compares my writing to George Orwell, and now it reminds someone else of Robert Frost. Hot damn, I like this crowd.

tjd said...

If I hadn't been emotionally involved in that game, I could say it was an absolutely amazing game of baseball, a perfect example of why it is such a beautiful and crazy sport.

I feel exactly the same way. (And interesting that your post yesterday was followed by probably the most faith-testing loss so far this season!)

A game I thought about when I wrote that was one last season, where Tawaza made his debut. (I remember one SoSH commenter called Francona's decision to put him in "borderline child abuse".) What an amazing game that was, even though the Sox lost.

It didn't hurt near as much as last night, though.

redsock said...

A game I thought about when I wrote that was one last season, where Tawaza made his debut. (I remember one SoSH commenter called Francona's decision to put him in "borderline child abuse".) What an amazing game that was, even though the Sox lost.

Did I do a best games of the year post last year? I think I did, and that game was on it. 1-0 loss in 15, right? (I'm not bothering to check this time!) It was the first time the Sox/Yanks had ever gone scoreless for 14 innings!

The child abuse quote is nonsense.

redsock said...

A gamethreader friend compares my writing to George Orwell, and now it reminds someone else of Robert Frost. Hot damn, I like this crowd.

And I have been likened to Yoda!

tjd said...

2-0 in 15 innings - Jeter was on base when A-Rox homered.

http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/2009/B08070NYA2009.htm

"Child abuse" was silly, but good for a chuckle.