When I was a kid, I wanted nothing more than to dunk a basketball. I spent hours at the park Ã¢â‚¬â€œ day after week after moth after year Ã¢â‚¬â€œ jumping as high as I could, dreaming about the day IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d finally be able to push off from the ground, slam the ball into the hoop, and land gracefully underneath to the raucous cheers of friends, neighbors, and anyone else who happened to be around.
The only problem was I was shorter than all my friends, and built like a refrigerator with legs, which made me unstoppable in pickup football but ultimately unsuccessful at basketball (I could set one great pick, though). Eventually, I had to accept reality. My hoop dreams would never come true.
Reality, it seems, is the great equalizer.
Most of us have already accepted the Reality that our favorite baseball team isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t going to win this year, and thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a good chance weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be in a similar, albeit slightly more successful, situation next season. What other Realities are out there, waiting for us, putting our dreams beyond reach like a fat kid struggling to dunk a basketball?
REALITY #1: JAY BRUCEÃ¢â‚¬â„¢S CAREER IS NEARLY OVER
I hesitate to say this, because IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been burned before (Paul OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢NeilÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s success with the Yankees in the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ90s comes to mind), but this one seems fairly certain. Jay Bruce peaked in 2013 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ three years ago Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and has been slightly worse than league average since. If you take out his short-lived streaks of AwesometasticnessÃ¢â€žÂ¢, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been even worse.
Fading stars are often like a mirage in the desert. The dream is almost enough to keep hope alive. Michael Jordan, at 50, would occasionally show up at the Charlotte practice center and school the younf NBA stars, for a few minutes at least. Sandy Koufax, more than a decade after retirement, allegedly pitched batting practice one of the late Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ70s or early Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ80s Dodgers teams prior to a World Series game and mowed everyone down. Heck, even my idol, Spudd Webb, can still dunk.
Fading stars epitomize the Toby Keith line, Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not as good as I once was, but IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m as good once as I ever was.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Jay has always been streaky, but the valleys have been lower and longer with each passing season, and the peaks fewer and farther between. He will most likely break out of his current slump to have a magical week or two where heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll launch a few monstrous homers, but heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll eventually settle back into the less-than-pedestrian production weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve seen this season.
Jay Bruce is a great guy. I have LOVED having him on the team, and I will happily eat crow if he proves me wrong. But if I were a betting man, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be willing to bet the entirety of the $5.92 in my savings account that heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s nearing the end.
REALITY #2: THE REDS HAVE AN UPHILL CLIMB
The Cubs are good. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to say that with a straight face, because of how bad theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been for what seems like ever. I feel like IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m in Bizzaro world. The Cubs are good. Scary good.
That kind of Good doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t just go away in a season or two, when the Reds hope to be competitive again. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a difficult Reality to face, because most of us arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t interested in the Reds just being competitive again. We want them to win.
The Reds were competitive 2010 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ 2014, and it was a lot of fun, but they nearly always found themselves looking up at the Cardinals, the Phillies, the Pirates, or the Giants if it was an even-numbered year. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be happy if they get there again Ã¢â‚¬â€œ wins are always better than losses Ã¢â‚¬â€œ but the Reality we need to face is that we want to see a World Series winner this time around and, in order for that to happen, the Reds will have to get through the Cubs.
Jake Arrieta and Dexter Fowler are only 30. Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward are just 26. Kris Bryant is just 24, which means he was in high school when the Reds broke out of their decade-long slump to make the playoffs in 2010. He was in Kindergarten when the Reds traded for Griffey.
The Cubs are currently 26-9, they are demolishing everyone in their path, and they likely havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t peaked yet. If the Reds are going to be more than just competitive in two years, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got an uphill climb in front of them.
REALITY #3: WE WERE WRONG ABOUT BRANDON PHILLIPS
Reality isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t always negative.
Okay. If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re a Cleveland sports fan it is (I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wait to hear the complaints when they lose to Golden State in the finals again this year), but for the rest of us, Reality sometimes takes a positive turn.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been singing the siren song of DatDudeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s demise for longer than all four of my kids have been alive. Somehow, he finds a way to prove me wrong each and every season. BrandonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an elite defensive second baseman. There is no arguing that.
Where he has excelled is his versatility, as Patrick said in a recent post. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not the ideal at every position in the lineup, but heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s good at most of them. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s found a way to maintain production, despite his loss of speed and power.
BP is one of if not THE best second basemen in Reds history not named Joe Morgan. Which is saying something. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been with the team so long, he played with the actual Eric Milton, not just the goat that shows up when the Reds play poorly.
WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been expecting a catastrophic decline for nearly half the time heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been here, and the Reality is we were wrong. When BP takes his final bow, he will have had an amazing career the defied the cynics, and for that, we should be thankful.
REALITY #4: THERE IS REASON TO HOPE
I have to confess. Despite my apparent doom and gloom, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a part of me that thinks the Reds still have a chance this season. Perhaps IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve seen too many Ã¢â‚¬Å“plucky group of loveable losers somehow finds a way to winÃ¢â‚¬Â movies. But the Reds are still only a few games shy of .500.
Moving forward, however, the Reality is there is reason to hope. With an infusion of young talent and an organization that seems to be moving in more of an Analytic direction (the results of which remain to be seen), there is good reason to believe the Reds will eventually develop into not only a contending, but also a winning team in the near future.
All we have to do is wait and see.