Tales of Bittersweet Loyalty

Author Archive

The Seattle Mariners: A Sinking Ship that Was Already Sunk

In Baseball, Seattle, Sport on July 28, 2011 at 2:46 PM

Prior to yesterday’s 9-2 rout of the New York Yankees, my beloved Seattle Mariners made headlines for all the wrong reasons as they dropped a club record 17 straight games.

Just a few weeks ago, the M’s record sat at 43-43, only 2.5 games back of 1st place in the AL West. Seventeen straight losses (and 1 win!) later, the season is essentially over. The question seemingly on everyone’s minds is, “How did it all go so wrong, so fast?” The problem though, is that the question exhibits a general lack of understanding regarding the state of the team. (Grab your forks and knives, folks. Pancho is about to dish out a healthy serving of perspective.)

Last season, the Mariners had a historically poor offense, batting .236 for the season and scoring a paltry 513 runs, both numbers by far the worst in the majors. That team lost 101 games. This season has actually been statistically worse than that: A team batting average of .224, and 336 runs scored through July 27, 2011. Again, both categories rank dead last in the majors by a considerable margin.

Coming off the 101-loss season, the M’s were picked to again finish in the basement of the AL West by most experts. So, why is it suddenly a surprise to everyone that the Mariners are where they are in the standings? On July 27, 2010, Seattle was 39-62. A year later, with a worse offense, this team is 44-60. The record is exactly where it should be.

I’m a believer that the 162-game regular season does the best job of crowning division champions in any sport. Because there are so many games, the law of averages tends to even things out to where they should be statistically. The statistics should then, in turn, translate directly to the standings. The fact that this team was .500 only a few weeks ago was a statistical anomaly. The losing streak was the statistical Mother Nature’s way settings things straight again. The losses should’ve been there all along. It’s just really unfortunate (and newsworthy) when they all happen in a row like that. Really, the only difference from a year ago is that we already knew last season was over in May. I appreciate that this team was able to stay in the race into the summer months this year. Was it blind ambition? Foolish hope? Perhaps. But when the only direction to go is up, any and every small positive thing can be built upon.

You're Our Only Hope, Dustin Ackley

As for me, I’ve taken much from this season and learned a lot about the state of the franchise going forward. I’ll take Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda against any 1-2 pitching duo in baseball for the next five years. Dustin Ackley has lived up to the hype of being the #2 overall draft pick two years ago, and he’s now the object of my current mancrush. I’m also a big fan of slugger Carlos Peguero, who was recently sent back down to AAA. He has no plate discipline, but he sure can mash the living hell out of the ball. Once he figures it out, you can pencil him in for 30+ home runs a season. There are also other prospects (Beavan, Carp, Seager, just to name a few) who look the part of being positive contributors in the future.

On the negative side, the M’s should bench, trade, or release the overpaid veteran bats who can’t hit. It makes no sense to pay $9 million a year for a third baseman with no power to hit .180. It also makes no sense to keep starting an outfielder who is hitting .190. Don’t care if he’s supposedly the best defensive centerfielder in the game. There’s a perfect role for him based on his production: Late-inning defensive replacement.

These are very trying times for this lifelong Mariners fan. It’s never fun when your team is in the dumps. There are two months left in the season, and I really hope that the M’s use this time to call up more prospects and give them all a shot. At this point of another lost season, the thing that keeps me coming back is the hope of a promising future, patiently waiting to be realized. More foolish hope? Perhaps. But there’s only one way to find out: Play ball. Go M’s!

The Teams We Root For

In Basketball, Loyalty on June 28, 2011 at 10:00 AM

The NBA Finals wrapped up recently, and one of the many fun facts used as filler by the announcers was that, despite being from Ohio, LeBron James grew up as a Chicago Bulls fan.  Not only that, but he also supports the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys.  If he liked the Lakers instead of the Bulls, it would have completed the trifecta of national bandwagon sports fan franchises.

While his allegiances make me want to stick my finger down my throat, it’s hard to find fault in the reasoning of how Mr. James chose the teams that he did.  Imagine being a child growing up in the 1990s with no presumable father figure. Now, imagine being a developing athlete in the process of cultivating your love of  sports.  At the beginning, you have no predispositions or influences regarding which teams to support.  It seems natural that one would gravitate towards supporting the successful franchises of the era.  In this case, the Bulls, Yankees and Cowboys were the clear choices.  Other teams never had a chance.

People pick favorite teams for a variety of reasons, all of which are valid: “I grew up near [city],” or “I went to school in [city], so I support franchise X.”  Often, a person picks a team because of their father: Either to coincide with or go against the paternal grain.  (This explains why there’s an inordinate Cowboys following in New Jersey.)  When there is a lack of personal or geographical connection to any city or franchise, the uninformed fan will logically, in most instances, choose the team that is winning.  People who care about following a sports team care about winning.  If winning isn’t the goal, or isn’t important, then you don’t really care about your team.

If you have a similar portfolio of favorite teams as LeBron James,  I will make fun of you and then shake my head.  This is a promise.  In fact, this has probably already happened.  However, I won’t disregard your fan loyalty, as long as you exhibit a level of commitment to the teams you claim to support.  As long your loyalty doesn’t waiver, you can cheer for the Yankees and the Cowboys.  Basically, everyone is entitled to jump on bandwagons as the basis of becoming a fan, but if you jump off that bandwagon, then there is something fundamentally wrong with your understanding of sport.

Then there’s the worst fan of all: The one who hops from bandwagon to bandwagon.  This is the guy who traded in his Yankee cap for one from Boston in 2004.  As a baseball fan, this makes me angry.  As a believer in sports loyalty, this makes me sad.  It doesn’t matter to this guy who he supports, just as long as he supports the winning team.  This is who Bob Dylan referred to in “Positively 4th Street”—You got a lotta nerve / To say you got a helping hand to lend / You just want to be on / The side that’s winning—that is, if the song were about sports and not some bitch that Dylan was ripping apart.  If all that you care about is supporting the winner and don’t particularly care who wins, then the sport itself means nothing to you.

There is a loophole to the bandwagon hopping system though.  If the reason you became a fan of a team is because of player X, then it is acceptable to switch favorite teams to stick with that player.  Since he’s been such a standout figure in recent memory, let’s continue to use good ol’ Mr. James as an example.  If you became an NBA and Cleveland Cavaliers fan as a result of LeBron, then it was perfectly within your right to move on as he did.  This logic is understandable.  Personally though, I would’ve grown attached to the Cavs as a result of him, and then stuck with the franchise even after “The Decision.”  Franchises trump players.  Players come and go, but the teams stay put (unless they’re owned by Art Modell or Clay Bennett, of course).

Almost as bad (and much more idiotic) as the bandwagon hopper is the polygamist who claims to have two or more favorite teams within the same sport.  The worst is when the two teams fall within the same division of the particular sport.  I went to high school with a guy who claimed that his two “favorite” NBA teams were the Celtics and the Knicks.  Liking these two teams equally is an impossibility, as they compete for the same division every year.  The inherent flaw of this guy’s logic exposes itself when the two teams face off against each other: He then roots for the Celtics.  If that’s the case, then you can’t claim for the Knicks to be your favorite, Bruno.  Look up the definition of “favorite” some time.  You’ll see what I mean.

So what kind of fan are you? Are you the bandwagon hopper? Or are you the die-hard superfan who, through good times and bad, stubbornly believes that this is the year your hometown will finally make a run at a championship?