Ryan Rowland-Smith And The Constant Struggle

You should know ahead of time that I'm on three hours' sleep and have no idea where this is going. This is just me proving to myself once more that I'm capable of making a post out of a single thought that I find to be moderately interesting.

At one of them USSM Q&A's with the front office a year or two ago, the speakers took a break from playing themselves up as complete and total statheads to field an interesting question from the audience, or Dave, or somebody. The question was - paraphrased - "What is one thing you wish those of us on the outside would understand?" I'm pretty sure it was Tony Blengino whose response was, "that these players are people. Real-life people." Or maybe it was Tom McNamara. My brain has lost more marbles than Lance Armstrong.

It's a simple point, but an important one of which we as fans can lose sight entirely too often. All of these players are people with feelings and families and complicated lives both on and off the baseball field, and it shouldn't take something like Nick Adenhart's death to remind us. We should never have to be reminded. With players, as with other people in general, we should always be aware and considerate.

In theory. Of course, it doesn't work like that. We all get frustrated. When we get frustrated, we get short-tempered, and we're prone to lashing out. Alternatively, we might just casually talk about other peoples' lives like they're no big deal. Dump this guy. Trade that guy. This one isn't performing, or that one could help us land a better player. That sort of thing.

So I would say the average fan - myself included - is not always cognizant of the fact that this sport we watch is built around a bunch of real people with a bunch of real lives. We're generally inclined to treat it as a game, while the people involved are inclined to treat it as serious business. Which makes sense. For us, it is a game. For them, it's a career. It's a living. More hangs in the balance.

But then you get a guy like Ryan Rowland-Smith. As trite as it sounds, RRS always helps us keep things in perspective. Because of his friendliness and ready accessibility, he's like a constant reminder that these are normal people trying to do a job. And it changes the way people talk about him. By the numbers, RRS has been arguably the worst starting pitcher in baseball this year. Too many walks, too many homers, not enough strikeouts. He's been miserable, and when Ian Snell was doing the same thing, nary a moment went by that someone didn't call for him to go away and never come back. With RRS, though, even now, most every comment begins with "well I really like him-". People exercise more understanding. People exercise more patience. People wants so badly for him to succeed - not just because he's a Mariner, and we like the Mariners, but because he's put himself out there and interacted with the fans, and many of us have used that as a reason to be more forgiving. He is, as so many have said, a remarkably easy player to root for.

There was an interesting comparison back in April. At the end of the month, RRS had a 5.28 ERA and a K/BB of 0.7. Ian Snell had a 4.66 ERA and a 1.1 K/BB. The fans were willing to be a lot more lenient with the former than the latter. Granted, the former has had more recent success, but the latter has better stuff, and the difference in response was far greater than simple performance would explain on its own.

With RRS, many of us continue to be critical but fair. Well, we wish he would do this. We wish that would change. With Snell, and with nearly every other player, the leash isn't as long, and the words aren't as measured. We're more willing to be negative. Overly negative. We're more willing to be mean. We're more willing to wish releases or worse upon them after any bad play. In other words, while most players get the standard fan treatment, RRS is treated by many of us as something a little more significant. Not as a buddy or anything, but at least as a person whose feelings we don't like to see hurt.

By and large, it's pretty easy to maintain this distinction. RRS is active on Twitter, and he's always so positive, so we like him. The other players aren't, so they don't get the same treatment. Okay. But then, when you think about it, that isn't really fair. We aren't more forgiving with RRS because he's on Twitter. We're more forgiving with him because we understand that he has a lot of shit going on, and this is his life. We don't want to see his life go down the tubes at 27. He seems nice. None of us wants to see bad things happen to nice people.

And when I think about that, my brain twists itself. I've been more forgiving with RRS for reasons that apply to everyone on the team. Or at least, almost everyone. I'm sure there are a few bad apples. And it makes me think back to the answer at the USSM event. All of these players are people. But what is my place, here?

Blogging, and just being around baseball boards on the internet for a decade, has certainly conditioned me to believe that snark and insensitivity are never inappropriate. Nearly everyone involved in the discussion online comes from the standpoint of being a fan who just wants to see his team win with whichever players are necessary to make the team win. But what about the players themselves? Don't they deserve to be treated more like people and less like faceless commodities? Isn't this why so many of us find Shannon Drayer's blog to be so compelling? If we're inclined to be more understanding with RRS, shouldn't we grant the same courtesy to the rest of the players, provided they haven't proven themselves to be complete and utter dicks? I honestly have no idea. What's the proper approach? Is there a proper approach? Does it even really matter what we do in the first place?

I don't have the answer, and I don't know that I'll ever find it. I'm always going back and forth, and the way I feel today may not be the way I feel tomorrow. Ultimately, it may not make any kind of difference. I just wish someone would clue me in, because right now I'm stuck in the in-between. Fandom is complicated, when you think about it.

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