I grew up during an exciting time for the University of Cincinnati football program. I loved going to Nippert with my dad, hoping for wins but still enjoying the losses. I experienced the highs of watching them become a nationally recognized program and agonized over their defeat in two BCS bowl games, falling just shy that elusive, defining win. When I attended college at Indiana University, I lost interest in college football and sat through only a handful of games during my four years in Bloomington. Back then, game time was nap time.

On Saturday, I watched and, for the first time in my life, rooted against the Bearcats while they beat the Hoosiers. Between IU’s lofty pre-season ranking and the early 14-0 lead, they had done enough to get me excited about pulling off the upset. But in the end it was not to be. Another disappointing result from a sports team. What else is new?

After the game I got a text from aa friend who shares my IU & Reds allegiances. “I hate my fandom”, it said. Of course, now that we get excited and buy into the once lowly IU football team, we are once again let down. Just as we have been by so many other teams in the past.

Athletes play to win the games. But aren’t fans supposed to have fun? Isn’t that the whole point?

I will be the first to admit that I am a very jaded sports fan. I don’t need to explain to any of you why that could be the case for any 30-year old raised in Cincinnati. While I can technically say that I have experienced a professional championship in my lifetime, it was from a minor league hockey team and the crowd chanted “Goalie! Goalie!” at one point because we didn’t know his name. Other than that, the trophy case is quite bare.

Being a Reds fan over the past two years has been one of the hardest stretches of fandom I have endured. Heading into the 2020 season, I was too mentally exhausted to keep writing about them, even with the worst of the rebuild behind us. I watched almost every game for three or four of the worst seasons in franchise history and enjoyed all the game recaps and player analyses I could write. Fast forward to this year and the team is in the hunt for a second-straight playoff appearance. Yet most of my tweets have been bashing ownership and management and all I can think about is the missed opportunity to have a great team rather than a good team. Shouldn’t I just be happy they are not going to lose 90 games again?

Expectations are a funny thing. Setting them high is exciting but can be hard to meet, leading to the perception of failure (see Bruce, Jay). Having no expectations makes it hard to get invested. Why even watch at all if they won’t be any good? We all have other things we could be doing with our time.

But the love for the game sucks us right back in. Then we get to see Votto have the best 2nd half of all time and almost win another MVP. We see Luis Castillo transform into an ace and remember that we traded Dan Straily to acquire him. We get the most improbable 4-HR game in baseball history from Scooter Gennett. Even in an abysmal stretch of team baseball, there were some pretty fun moments.

At a certain point though, we become unsatisfied with these. We want another World Series win. Or another division title. At least just win the Wild Card game!

That is when the frustration sets in.

Both of my main sports passions, the Reds and Indiana Hoosier basketball, have very parallel trajectories. They both had a lot of success a long time ago and both fan bases are beyond eager to experience it once more. We expect it will happen because it has happened before. It must happen again, right?

The Reds lost their 8th straight series this past weekend and the Cardinals have all but secured the final NL playoff spot with scorching hot play recently. This comes on the heels of multiple members of the Reds player development staff announcing they were parting with the organization due to the team “heading in a different direction”. Come again?

That direction helped improve a weak farm system into a formidable organization with strong minor-league talent. Heading away from that is not the most encouraging sign for Reds fans. With that in mind, I wouldn’t bet on the Reds breaking the World Series drought anytime soon. They probably won’t even have a chance to win a playoff series this year. And as much as that is sad and annoying and embarrassing and maddening, maybe it is ok too. Because it’s just a game, and it can be fun even without winning a World Series.

As fans, there is so much that is out of our control. We cannot control how the billionaires will spend or not spend their money. We cannot control how the people in charge will decide to run their business. We cannot control how one really good baseball player will perform against another really good baseball player. We cannot control who the manager will pinch hit with or who the next reliever will be. We cannot control how the umpire will call the strike zone. All we can do is watch!

The good news is that there is still plenty that we can control. Just as an owner can choose how much money to invest, we can choose how much we invest. Time, money, energy. If you aren’t happy with the team, take a break! Get off Twitter for a week and watch another team for a few games (the Blue Jays have been awesome lately). You are allowed to be mad and upset and tweet things about the front office. You are allowed to stop buying merchandise or boycott going to games. The Reds will still be there when you come back.

We can also adjust our expectations. If 67% of teams miss the playoffs, why only give ourselves a 33% chance to have fun? The Reds have made the playoffs only 6 times in the last 40 seasons. Making the playoffs is hard, even when you have a good team. Coming out of a rebuild, they definitely should be in a better position to get to and succeed in the postseason. But not every rebuild works. And again, that is something we fans cannot control.

When I was younger, I had no idea what pre-season projections or expectations were. I just hoped the Reds and Bearcats and Bengals would be good and if they weren’t I either stopped watching or enjoyed the games anyway. Even though I am annoyed the Reds were rarely good when I was younger, I still have fond memories from those teams which are a big reason I am a fan today.

Think about the feeling after a breakup when you keep remembering all the good things that you miss without remembering the bad things. This is like the opposite of that. Yes, there are lots of bad things and it’s totally understandable to be upset by them. But also remember that there are good times too. Joey Votto is the most entertaining player many of us will ever see. Wade Miley threw a no-hitter! Castellanos and Winker started in the All-Star game. Jonathan India could be the NL Rookie of the Year. It might not be a playoff series victory, but those are fun things.

In the end, we are in control of how we feel about the situation.

Does it hurt? Yeah. It hurts a lot, and we all deserve better than this. I feel bad for the players. I feel bad for the fans. I feel bad for those within the organization that are truly trying to win. Because sports themselves are about winning. But enjoying our favorite baseball team doesn’t always have to be. That can be easy to lose sight of when they never win the last game of the year.

As frustrated as I am at ownership and the front office, I have (finally) realized that me yelling at them online is not going to accomplish much. Neither is arguing with other fans or attacking coaches or players. Be kind to each other. Be kind to yourself. In situations like this, we all have to stick together and wait for the better times. You don’t have to hope for them or expect them to come anytime soon. Just make sure to enjoy them when they happen.

35 Responses

  1. centerfield

    Matthew takes the high road. Enjoy the games for what they are. I remember that not so long ago we had no games to watch.

    • centerfield

      And I do watch on TV and in person. This season has been both fun and frustrating. We see little things that might put us over the top, but they rarely come to fruition. I personally am very doubtful that the Reds will ever see a playoff game with the current management, from owner down to the manager. But, I watch anyway, usually somewhat in the background, and I check box scores every morning (note to sponsors: I leave the room for commercials). I guess I am a lifer, but at least the season is almost over and we can begin speculating on trades and roster changes. This is what it is to be a fan.

      • Matthew Habel

        Exactly. You don’t have be always be 100% fully invested

  2. SOQ

    I have been a Reds fan since 1961, and moved to Cincy in 1977-hoping to experience another BRM Championship. My kids were all born in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and sadly have never experienced a Cincinnati championship–in any sport. It has been 31 years since the Reds’ played for a championship. A decade longer than any other period of their existence. Bit I still watch. I still get hopeful when I see hints of quality ball. The excitement exuded by the younger players this year has been infectious. So I’m solidly in the “There’s always Next year” Camp. Great article Matthew except for one thing–we need to get you back into the Bearcats camp. 🙂

    • Matthew Habel

      I am still a Bearcat fan, it was just one game!

  3. John Orlowski

    Matthew, your article reminded me of “the good times” of 1964 when I was a 15-year-old Freshman who loved the Reds and who studied the newspaper (the Kansas City Star – I lived in Kansas City and developed a love for the Reds as a kid; it was hard to have a love for the KC Athletics in those days!) every morning to see if the Phillies had lost again and if the Reds were still cutting into that 6.5 game deficit. The one thing I didn’t pay enough attention to were those pesky St. Louis Cardinals who seemed to win at the same daily pace as the Reds. Fred Hutchinson was dying and the Reds seemed to be trying so hard to win the pennant one last time for Hutch. On the last day of the season, with the Reds tied with the Cardinals for 1st place, the Reds lost to the Phillies 10-0 while the Cards beat the lowly Mets to capture the pennant and the right to play in the World Series. I was devestated. But, as the years have gone by, I will never forget the excitement of following the pennant race of 1964, checking the newspaper for a Reds victory and a Phillie’s defeat, and dreaming of seeing my beloved Reds in the WS and seeking revenge for 1961. Sadly, it reminds me of this eason’s collapse since Winker went of the injured reserve list. It’s made me feel like a 1964 Phillie’s fan – it’s out of my control. But, it’s been a great season in so many ways. So, as we always say, “..there’s always next season.”

  4. redsfan4040

    Agreed. I prefer to take the optimistic approach and try and find things that are enjoyable. I was born in 1992, so I’ve experienced minimal Reds successful seasons. Even now, at 78 wins and playing pretty abysmally, I cautiously think they’ll still make it to at least 82 wins and can call it a winning season.
    With Reds fans it’s always hope for next year. – Geno looks like he’s remember how to baseball. Max Schrock should find his way into the lineup vs RHP. Jose Barrero is the future SS, but can handle CF – great positional flexibility. Joey Votto still bangs. We’ve got the leading ROY candidate in India. I still believe Senzel, when healthy, will be good vs. LHP.
    From the pitching side – Castillo, Gray, Mahle all back. I’m guessing they pick up Miley’s option. In the bullpen, Sims, Cessa, Santillan, Warren, and Moreta make up a pretty solid back half. AG has a 3.42 ERA/2.67 FIP in his last 38 appearances.

    Overly optimistic? Probably. Will I remain that way? Yes, until they either clinch in 2022 or are mathematically eliminated in 2022.

  5. Paul

    Yes, winning is hard. But you know what isn’t hard? Trying to win. As long as I see evidence that a team, be it the front office or the manager/coach, are doing their best to win I can accept losing. But for far too long now the leadership of Cincinnati sports have shown they are apparently happy with mediocrity. How else can you explain the failure to fill obvious holes in the roster or continuing to start players hitting below the Mendoza line in August and September?

    That — not losing — is what makes me angry.

    • Matthew Habel

      I completely agree and understand how frustrating it is. What I came to realize over the course of this season is that being mad about something that is out of my control is not worth it. There are other parts of being a Reds (or sports in general) fan that are fun and enjoyable.

      • Paul

        You’re absolutely right, Matthew, and your article is a good one. Stepping away from sports for a bit is good medicine.

    • SultanofSwaff

      Agreed Paul, it’s the not giving your best part that is maddening. IMO the players on the field support ownership, not the other way around. It’s pretty messed up. That said, I enjoyed the season and will still be going to see the Reds play the ChiSox next week one last time. 5 months of no baseball is worse than one month of bad baseball.

  6. TR

    A real nice article. I’m an IU alum and cheered on every Indiana football game I could as a student ten years before they made their only Rose Bowl appearance in 1967. I saw the first half of last weeks game and thought no way IU would lose to UC, and then they lose to UC by two touchdowns. Another surprise along with the Red’s loss of the WC2 in September. Such is life.

    • Jim Walker

      As a Buckeyes fan, the UC/ IU game was a very conflicting game for me all summer.

      I’ve been aware of the UC program since Rick Minter then especially since Mark Dantonio and always wished it well. When Luke Fickell arrived and seemed to put down real roots, I began to follow UC even more closely.

      But on the other hand, from the Buckeyes point of view a highly ranked, perhaps undefeated, IU team seemed a very favorable prospect as a Buckeyes opponent down the line.

      However, when Cooney died at first (IU lost to Iowa) and Barrows did the same (OSU lost to Oregon), I knew the Bearcats were my team in that game.

  7. Bred

    I can’t say I am really a baseball fan anymore as the game I grew up on in the 60s and 70s is long gone, but the Reds are ingrained into my DNA forged through games at Crosley, Riverfront, and GABP.
    That means I have enjoyed years of tremendous joy and heart ache. This year,however, has been the worst. I feel especially bad for the players. I’ve worked in dysfunctional organizations, and I know how demoralizing it can be, but these young men never caved. They fought a valiant fight, but those who were to protect them left them to fail. The playoffs are gone. In truth they were out of reach since the payroll cuts decimated the pen, but I can’t quit on the players and will watch tonight because although the FO cut bait and ran to bank with fists full of money, I will not abandon India, Votto, Nick, Tuck, Farmer and the rest of the players because they gave there all and did not let me down with their effort.

  8. RedsFanInFL

    Roughly 10,000 fans in attendance each of the last 2 games. Fans are showing they can control and voice their displeasure by not showing up

    • Old Big Ed

      Not really. Baseball tickets are overwhelmingly bought way in in advance, with probably most of those as season ticket packages. Ownership didn’t know what games they had to sell, and fans couldn’t plan for what games to attend until well after the season started. The last two games were weeknight games during school, and there just weren’t many advance tickets bought. The walk-up was light, too, but there is rarely a big walk-up in September weekday games.

      As a result, the team didn’t sell nearly as many advanced tickets as it normally would have had, but for Covid. I have no doubt that ticket revenue is way off for the team, still, because of Covid. And that is true across the board in baseball.

      I don’t disagree that the collapse has discouraged a lot of fans, but they weren’t going to sell many tickets for these games even if they were still neck-and-neck with the Cardinals.

  9. Tom Reeves

    If Cincinnati professional sports have seemingly become futile over the last 30 years (and they have), I think we need to consider what the causes might be. If it were just the Reds or just the Bengals, I’d suggest those teams have organizational issues. But, it‘s all of our pro teams, two of which have been futile for 30 years. One is brand new but, thus far, futile.

    Maybe Cincinnati would be better off with one pro team to root for and I’d suggest that should remain the Reds. I’d prefer the Bengals leave town for, say, San Diego.

    • Bet on Red

      Quiet your heathen tongue, Tom lol

  10. Greg

    I agree with everything you said. My problem is that I am 62 and I experienced success with Reds and Bengals with my dad and brothers and uncles. Many are gone now and I would love to share those emotions, feelings with my children and grandchildren and it’s worse because of that

  11. Brian Rutherford

    Wonderful article. I had so much enjoyment from the great run they had this summer. I choose to remember that and not try to understand why things didn’t break their way late in the year. I am a much happier person when I stay out of judgement of others and appreciate people for who they are. I believe the guys did their best and it didn’t work out. That’s okay. It makes the years when they do win something all that more special and enjoyable.

  12. Greenfield Red

    Nicely written piece. I have noted that for all the reasons in it and others, I have given up on all Sports except Reds baseball. I’m sick of all the garbage that has crept its way into every facet of Sports.

    I have stuck with the Reds because they have been my most passionate Sports team my entire Sports life.

    However, that has grown thin… very thin too. It’s not worth my time and money to follow them. Botched situation after botched situation is maddening. I still can’t believe they gave away Chapman. And now going into this off season, every coach who should be retained is gone, and the coaches/managers who should be gone have been extended. The same will happen with the players. Anyone who is productive who can get out of here will. Anyone who is unproductive will be back clogging the lineup again next year.

    Very poorly run organization.

    Not. Worth. It.

    • Chris Holbert

      It would seem a player would need to be over the age 0f 30 and have 6 zeros on your contract to get significant playing time.

      • Greenfield Red

        A guy like India is stuck here for another 5 years. Assuming he remains productive, he will bolt just like NC is about to. Good free agents won’t come here without a contract that is so one-sided, they can leave at almost any time. Bad free agents will consider the Reds because nobody else is interested.

        I’m guessing the extension of Bell and his staff as well as the resignation of Boddy et al has to do with money. Bell works cheap. Boddy and the hitting guy were making big strides and wanted to be paid what they are worth. Bob and Co said no.

        It will be the same with players. The Reds won’t DFA money. Moose and Suarez will be here and will play. Same with Akiyama. Same with pitchers who haven’t produced, I wouldn’t count on Miley. They won’t pay him. Tucker, only if he takes less. The guys they brought in late season (Deshields and the other guy) will probably be Reds next year. Nobody else will pay them. The Reds will because they’re cheap. Heck, Deshields may give them a family discount.

        Ownership wants to be competitive so people will come and buy. It is not interested in winning the World Series, unless it somehow falls into it’s lap.

  13. Indy Red Man

    Like the castle in its corner
    In a medieval game
    I foresee terrible trouble
    And I stay here just the same

    • Indy Red Man

      I’m a fool to (watch Big Bobs) your dirty work
      Oh yeah

      I don’t wanna the same old dirty work
      No more

  14. Jim Walker

    Well said, Matt. I became a hockey fan over the last decade primarily because the BlueJackets showed up every October on FoxSports (now Bally) the week after the Reds most recent season of futility ended. I happened to drop in at the right time because the CBJ went on a run a 4 straight seasons and 5 of 6 making the playoffs

    But last season, 2020-21, was their year to have the window come crashing shut. However, they seem to have done what the Reds have never managed to do, get out the broom and sweep clean the remaining core of the squad which led them on the playoff runs. In doing so they have replaced them with a group that looks to at least hold the promise of a relatively quick return to the postseason and still be exciting (if no doubt at times frustrating) to watch in the process.

    Shouldn’t we be able to have that reasonable expectation for any team we follow?

  15. 2020ball

    Its easy for me to take a break since I follow two teams. Both were good this year so I’ve had a blast, even if one of them is going to fall short. It definitely helps me not get too down about either of them during the down years. Frustrating finish for the Reds this year no doubt though, hoping to see better moves from the FO this offseason because there is definitely talent on this team.

  16. Stubbs13

    I’m in the same boat being an IU, Colts, Pacers and Reds fan. Having been born in ‘95, I have only seen one of my favorite teams win a championship. I think I’ve finally accepted the fact that it’s not going to happen anytime soon. All those teams will always be fun to watch sure, but I’m not sure I will ever get my hopes up for them to be contenders really ever again.

  17. BUCK

    Suarez is playing, check; Givens is not a closer, check; Bell is a blunder waiting to happen, check: maybe next year, check…GO REDS!!

    • greenmtred

      Suarez drove in key runs. Check. Judging Givens by a bad game may lead to a faulty conclusion. Check.

  18. Greenfield Red

    Can anyone tell if there was a game going on at the time of the photo of the stadium that was used at the beginning of this piece? Just curious. I can’t tell one way or the other.