Monday, March 14, 2011

The One Where He Stops Talking About Hockey

The other day an old friend posted a Nietzsche quote on Facebook: “Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of men”. It made me wonder if Fred was into sports, because that sounds exactly like something a sports fan would say.

To me hope is a good thing, especially when it comes to bad teams - like the Baltimore Orioles. O’s fans have had a pretty rough century so far. Even the woebegone Cubs have made the playoffs since 2000. If they were a small market team with limited resources maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Yet even with their deep pockets they’ve squandered the last 13 seasons. Bad free agent signings, untimely injuries, undeveloped prospects and unfocused management have decimated the once proud franchise.

Watching the Yankees do their thing (spend lots of money) and the Red Sox do the same was tough, but expected. Instead of soaring with the eagles the team was mucking about with the Blue Jays and Rays. Fans woke up in 2007 and realized they supported the laughing stock of the American League. With every Steve Trachsel homerun hope died a little more.

When Angelos opened up the checkbook and allowed Matt Wieters to be drafted and signed, a little bit of hope was restored. Young pitchers developed in the minors then shot up the top prospects lists and hope grew a little more. Sure we suck now, the orange and black faithful told themselves, but wait till Matusz, Arrieta and Britton all get here - Cy Youngs for everyone!. Heck, look what Buck Showalter did, hon, he done brought back The Oriole Way!

This off-season General Manager Andy McPhail took the club’s weaknesses to task. Middle relievers were turned into a slugging 3rd baseman and a slick fielding shortstop who should out hit his weight. McPhail took his time in the free agent market and signed a couple of veteran names who excited the fan base a little more than they should of.

It was undeniable in March, hope was rounding third and heading home. Fans on the message boards and in the comments sections started talking about the wild card, about beating the Rays at their own game and shocking the baseball world. Pride replaced pessimism.

Then, two weeks into spring training, the words Brian Roberts and back spasms started showing up in the same sentence. Those fans, so excited days before, tore at their hair and cried at the Baseball Gods’ cruelty. Side note, why are their Baseball Gods and not A baseball god? Is one god in charge of offense and the other defense? Do some lesser gods take care of base running and hitting the cut-off man? And is the Garfoose a god or a pet of a god?

So before a single meaningful pitch was thrown, before the bunting was unfurled in the grandstands, the season was over. Without the most tenured Oriole, the offensive spark plug it would be business as usual, last place here we come. Hope was out at the plate.

Why? Why get so psyched up and psyched out by things that haven’t happened yet. Is hope really a delusion, an opiate if you will, that fans take to convince themselves things will be better despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

Rather then focus on the positive it seems that sports fans expect the worse these days. Or at least the fans who take the time to post on the internets. I’m not just talking about just O’s fans either. It seems to transcend teams and sports. No one seems to follow sports to be happy, they use sports as an excuse to bitch about the rich players and belittle the IQ of coaches and GM’s.

I watch sports because it’s not real life, because in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter. For two to three hours I don’t have to worry about bills or exploding fuel rods or thunder-snow. Yeah, I’m a little upset when the Lightning lose TO THE FREAKIN’ SENATORS, but I’m over it in an hour and moving on with life. If they win, great life is good and there is a bounce in my step.

Rooting for a team is like buying a lottery ticket. Sure in the back of my mind the odds are stacked against winning, but until the numbers are drawn have fun coming up with ways to spend a couple of million dollars. And until your team is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, feel free to dream of confetti and victory parades.

So, at least in sports, hope is a good thing. Maybe as Andy Dufresne said, it’s the “best of things”. Probably not the best thing in sports would be talent, but still hope is a very, very good thing. Perhaps certain fans should hold onto it a little longer, like maybe past opening day.

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