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.