Sorry for the late addition, I hope this is good late-afternoon Friday reading material as we eagerly wait for the weekend.
As I look at my first few entries for this column, I notice it has had a bit of negativity to start it off. I’m not a negative guy per se (though my brother might beg to differ), and in fact, sports fans have a lot to feel happy- or at least grateful- about. Whether or not your team is winning, whether they are terrible or incredible, we root for the drama and for the hope for tomorrow. So after over a decade of losing, why do we still care about the Orioles? By the way, if you hate them and leave a long angry reply below, you still care. Hate is closer to love than it is to apathy. But it’s that passion that keeps us going, good or bad.
After all, without a rose-colored view of things, how much fun is sports? Oh, it isn’t particularly hard to twist your mind to take joy in heckling your own team, that sadistic pleasure you get when punishing your team like a girlfriend (or boyfriend) who has done you wrong. You put your faith in the team and you hope they will come through for you, you have loved them for so long and committed yourself to them… then they go stink up the joint, betraying you. There is the sorrow you feel at the loss, but there is a part of you that blames them- maybe it’s Joe Flacco for throwing that interception, Andy MacPhail for putting together that horrific team, or Chris Tillman for just not pitching the way he was supposed to pitch.
In the end, we come back to that team and maybe, if we are mad enough, we leave them for another team. But by and large, that warped sense of schadenfreude can’t be reserved for just your team or teams you like to hate (Duke, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Alabama, Dallas Cowboys), you need to root for something, believe in something. Before the season, everyone thinks their team will be better than the year before. It doesn’t matter how many players they have lost, whether the new coach is any good, or how long the team has been awful. That optimism is the lifeblood of sports and more than anything else is the high that keeps us close to our teams.
It is the anticipation that makes sports so alluring- the crack of the bat, the corner three as the buzzer sounds, the moment where you aren’t sure if he is going to break that tackle or not when he just has one man to beat. After all, what comes out the day after the Super Bowl? Predictions for next year’s winner. We don’t really care (or remember for the most part) who got to the NFC championship game or even who played in the Super Bowl (or World Series, etc) unless their story was particularly remarkable. What gets to us is the excitement of what might be, driving people to invent new “predictive” statistics that say who will beat who before the season ever starts.
To those of you who take the loss of Heap, Mason, McClain, Wilson, Landry, McGahee, Gregg, etc. in stride and predict 12 wins and an AFC North title, I salute you. To those rare folks who insist that the Orioles cavalry will regain its form and they will be a .500 team come next season, I give you a bit of extra credit. Without that ebullience, that inexplicable yearning to make our dreams a reality through force of will, sports would be far less exciting. Cool blue reason is a good way to look at your stock portfolio, your job, or even buying a car. But fandom isn’t about reason, it’s about love- or at least infatuation.
Now, I am a disciple (though not an expert) of advanced stats and I try not to get myself in the mindset of predicting wins here and there (as a sportswriter it’s next to impossible), and I like to consider myself an informed fan. But that childish exuberance I get when I see the Wolverines take the field with the band playing, leaping to touch the Go Blue banner goes beyond whether I think they will win that day or not. So even if you don’t have faith in the O’s or think the Steelers will stomp the Ravens this year, you can’t help but revel in the thrill of the season, that kickoff, that first pitch, that opening tip. Even if the team let’s you down, love is pretty hard to shake, and far easier to embrace.