This was originally going to be a Felix PITCHf/x post, but I wasn't sure where that one was going to go. I don't know where this is going to go, either, but I have a beginning, which is enough. I'm just going to write and think at the same time and see what comes out.
Driving to the airport last Friday, my Padres fan friend and I joked about how it was the second week of May and already our seasons were over. Then later that night, Matthew and I checked the Mariners score, saw that they were losing, and laughed. Some people might think that's kind of weird, but what choice did we have? There was no other appropriate way to respond. We laughed because our favorite team is bad.
The Jeff of ten years ago would've taken offense to this. The Jeff of ten years ago would've stood by his team and scolded us for giving up so fast. The Jeff of ten years ago wouldn't dream of abandoning hope until the numbers told him to, because the Jeff of ten years ago saw the bright side of dark.
But the Jeff of ten years ago was never fully exposed to the team, not like I am now. The Jeff of ten years ago didn't spend hours every day watching the Mariners lose and then spend more hours every day writing about how they lost. The Jeff of ten years ago could afford to maintain a high degree of hope because, for the Jeff of ten years ago, hope wasn't a costly investment. And the Jeff of ten years ago could more readily accept bad losses and worse seasons because the Jeff of ten years ago didn't know what it feels like to pour yourself into something and then have to come to terms with one crushing disappointment after another. I guess that's one of those side benefits that comes with age.
I'm more rational about these things now. The Jeff of ten years ago would call it something else, but I'm calling it rational. I'm more rational because I have to be, because once you identify a team as bad, there's no sense in continuing to live and die by how it does. Every action a person takes is preceded by a cost/benefit analysis in his brain. You drive to work because the convenience of quick transport outweighs the cost to your wallet and to the environment. You eat a piece of cake because the deliciousness outweighs your health concerns. Or you don't eat a piece of cake because your health concerns outweigh the deliciousness. Everything we do is done because our brains tell us it's worth doing.
Investing yourself in a lousy team - that isn't worth doing. It feels kind of bad to say that, since sports are supposed to be this massive catch-all emotional outlet, but in the interest of remaining sane, once you know a team is bad, it doesn't make sense to get up for every game, because the magnitude of the lows will be larger than the magnitude of the highs. That's a losing proposition if I've ever seen one.
Over the last several days, I have compensated for the Mariners' slump by lowering my level of emotional investment. It has indeed reached the point at which I can laugh at losses that - were this a contending team - would drive me up the wall. And I have allowed myself to get to this point because it's the only way for me to ensure the team doesn't break me down. Many of you have probably observed yourselves doing the same thing. Others of you probably haven't, and that's okay. I don't expect everyone to be in the same boat. This is simply what I have determined to be the best course of action for me.
As strange as it may sound to some of you, though, this isn't depressing. This isn't a letdown. Well, it's a letdown in that we all thought the team would be better, but I don't find myself to be particularly upset with the current situation. While it may not be all that exciting, it's comfortable, and it's familiar, and it's steady. For those of us who're fans of baseball more than fans of winning, parts are even rather pleasant. The existence of fans of losing teams is not an empty one. We're granted the option of watching a new game almost every single day, a game that will invariably feature all-world talent and at least one or two things that amaze us. More often than not, that's enough, even in the absence of wild emotion and a winning context. The sport doesn't need a pennant chase to be enjoyable, and following a losing team allows you to focus on baseball's other appealing qualities for which we're all so thankful.
People have asked me if part of the reason I'm okay with the current development is because it proves I was right all along back in the offseason. To which I reply:
(A) I wasn't right
I wasn't right because I thought the team would be better than this. I thought JJ would be healthy, I thought Bedard would be healthy, I thought Felix would be more consistent, and so on and so forth. I thought a lot of things that haven't come true. They may come true in the following months, but as of this writing, my overall expectations were wrong. What I was right about was that the team wasn't an ace away from being a title contender, and I suppose this is why people probably ask me that question, but my answer is "no" because I don't derive pleasure from being right. I expect to be right. Everybody expects to be right. And there's limited pleasure to be had from something you expect, pleasure that - if it ever existed in my brain - has been overruled by the disappointment of a losing season.
I don't have any faith in this team. I think this is the year that finally sealed the deal. I don't have any faith in this team, and I don't have any faith in the people running it. When I'm talking about events that could happen down the road, I don't say stupid things to be funny; I say stupid things because I expect stupid things to happen. That is the pattern that I have detected from the front office. This roster is loaded with all kinds of talent, but I have absolutely zero hope that the guys in charge will know what to do with it. Why should I? What reason do I have to believe that the suits will be capable of turning this Potemkin village of a baseball team into something more substantial? There isn't one. The organizational executives have never demonstrated a thorough understanding of how to build a successul ballclub.
But here's what might be the best part of lowering the level of emotion you invest: you're able to let these things go. If you can find happiness in watching a losing baseball team, it makes little difference how the team is constructed. In fact, I'll cast a broader net - it makes little difference how the team is constructed, how the team is run, or how the team performs. In times like these, I find myself to be far less critical and far more forgiving of errors and other assorted lapses in judgment. I didn't get mad at Jose Lopez for blowing that routine groundball the other day. I don't think I've called for McLaren to get fired since last September. And I'm not about to go crazy demanding for Bavasi's head on a stick, even after an offseason that at this point looks like a total catastrophe. I don't get mad about those kinds of things because I've found happiness in being able to come home from work every day and turn on a baseball game, and not even the dumbest of blunders is going to make the games go away. There will always be games to watch, no matter how bad the screw-ups. And so the screw-ups don't get under my skin the way they did a year ago when this team was actually playing for something.
There's always going to be that little part of me that continues to hold out hope until there's no hope left to hold. While the Jeff of ten years ago may have grown up, those childhood qualities never completely die off. Certainly, if the Mariners catch lightning in a bottle and manage to pull themselves into the race, that little part of my brain will admonish the rest for throwing in the towel, and I'll boost my emotional investment back to a level more befitting a fan of a contending team. Of this there is no doubt in my mind.
But assuming that doesn't happen (and probability says that it won't), I'll be okay. I'll be okay because I've managed to find happiness in the sport's most fundamental unit - the game - and as long as I'm able to drive home, make dinner, and watch the Mariners do whatever they end up doing, then baseball will continue to be all that I need it to be. I wasn't drawn to this sport by a winning team, and I sure as hell wasn't sucked in by one, so I don't see why I should make the existence of one be a condition of my continuing love. For 16 years, that hasn't been part of my policy. And for 16 years, my policy's worked.