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If it all goes wrong (it’s all going wrong)

Good news for people who love bad news

Seattle Mariners v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

When I took Spanish in high school, our teacher began every class with a “dicho”—adage—of the day. I’ve forgotten how to conjugate most Spanish verbs properly but I still remember many of the dichos, which I copied carefully in purple pen and kept in the front of my notebook. One that stands out:

“Cuando llueve, diluvia”

When it rains, it pours. I’ve always admired the concision of this phrase, needing just three words to make its point, the elegant consonance of the v’s and l’s. The simplicity of its condemnation echoes the feeling of getting bad news, that blitzkrieg assault on your faculties. Receiving bad news takes no time at all. It’s the after—after the doctor has left the room, after your formerly loved one has walked out the door, after you’ve gone back to clean up your desk—that seemingly stretches on forever.

When something bad happens, your limbic system notifies your brain—specifically, your lateral habenula, which then puts a freeze on your production of dopamine, a.k.a. the happy juice that helps you act productively and make good decisions. This causes a dissociative state sometimes described as shock. Your body is then flooded with cortisol, the stress hormone, which increases your heartbeat and gives you that sick feeling in your stomach. Evolutionarily, these responses make sense. It’s your body’s engineering telling you not to make this mistake again. In fact, your brain is such a good helper that it even holds on to previous disappointing memories and links this latest disappointment to them, like beads on the world’s shittiest necklace. If you are the kind of person who enjoys identifying patterns—and what intense baseball fan isn’t—you might go on to link other bits of bad news to this current bad news, leading to an overall feeling of helplessness or depression. Cuando llueve, diluvia.

When news of the extent of Drew Smyly’s injury broke, many of us immediately recalibrated our expectations for the Mariners’ season, docking them some number of wins based on how one feels about Ariel Miranda’s ability to suddenly develop a fourth pitch (or a third, depending on your viewpoint). Then the season started, and everything looked bad, although not in the way we thought it would. The starting pitching was fine, but the offense had all the vitality of a used teabag. The bullpen, which seemed to be a point of strength, faltered some. The heart of the order failed to beat. Cruz looked lost at the plate, hacking at pitches in the dirt. Canó grounded out into the shift seemingly every time, leading to at least one person in the LL account mentions to declare him “the most disinterested player in baseball.” Kyle Seager seemed to be up to his usual April tricks. Things weren’t any better in the rest of the lineup: despite a remodeled plate approach, Mike Zunino continued to strike out. Leonys Martín looked like he was, in fact, the second half of his 2016 season. The new additions didn’t seem to be panning out, either: Mitch Haniger put up a few decent plate appearances and also seemed overwhelmed by MLB offspeed pitching. Jarrod Dyson looked offensively anemic. Danny Valencia seemed to inherit the Ghost of First Base curse, popping out first-pitch swinging. Only Jean Segura was a consistent source of offensive production.

So when Jean Segura exited Monday’s home opener with a hamstring strain, I imagine I wasn’t the only one to feel like a boulder had dropped into my stomach. Every team faces adversity over the course of a long season, certainly, but this felt like a targeted act of cruelty by the baseball gods. We have such a rich history of disappointment as Mariners fans: how easily Segura connects to Smyly connects to the image of game 161, despondent Félix in the dugout. Bret Boone: “It wasn’t supposed to end like this.” Jay Buhner grounding out to end Game 4 in 1997. Joey Cora crying in the dugout. Despite the Mariners’ relative infancy in baseball, our necklace has maybe a few more beads on it than some other teams. Our emotional landscape is one dominated by disappointment, especially for fans who weren’t around for the fun of the mid-90s or the magical 2001 team. It’s understandable to expect the worst when that’s all you know. It’s understandable to expect the rain will pour, here in Seattle. Après M’s, le déluge.

It’s understandable, but it’s not enjoyable. If you live long enough in disappointment, eventually it wears at you—psychically, but also physically, nibbling away at your immune system and depositing nasty cortisol all over your body. That’s what’s so frustrating about this team, and their failure over the years. They’ve been so bad, for so long, and it’s taken such a toll on us, who just want to support our hometown baseball team. So what can we do, other than become deeply invested in hockey?

People who write about resiliency and bouncing back suggest that one of the most important things we can do when faced with disappointment is to try to regain a sense of control. When we’re fired, broken up with, or overly invested in a bad baseball team, it can lead to a sense of despair that we have no control over our lives. But of course we control our fandom, and our response to it. I personally am guilty of doing this: I want so badly for the team to succeed, which would validate the amount of work I put into the site every day, that it’s hard for me not to conflate the team’s success with my personal happiness or feelings of success. But after this rough start to the season, I’m realizing I can’t live like this, or I will become so bloated with cortisol you’ll all have to detonate me in Puget Sound like the Wahoo test. My new mantra: succeed or fail, the fortunes of this team do not reflect on me, my fandom, or the work that I do. Thinking the team would be good or a certain player would succeed does not mean I don’t understand something fundamental about baseball. Expecting joy is not a crime. I would a thousand times rather have hope and be wrong than remain in a defensive crouch, because I would rather be happy than correct. That’s just me, and how I choose to exercise the tiny amount of control available to me. That necklace of disappointment might be in my jewelry box, but that doesn’t mean I have to wear it every day.