Last week we discussed tantrums at the Cincinnati Zoo carousel and, perhaps more pertinently, the ability to fast-forward Ballpark Gems commercials.  But, in yet another display of highly skilled authoring, the line that I thought would generate the most comment wasn’t discussed at all: “It’s also arguable that the definition of a fan is the one who sticks around and shows support no matter where the win-loss record falls.”

We are discussing those poor saps in Major League and their two-man wave, a wave so sad that it doesn’t even spread to the other two members of their diehard group. Those guys showed up. They showed up despite the depressing and eternal view from the basement. They showed up in April and in August. They showed up beyond all reason.

Being Right

I suppose it’s easy here to turn this into a minor treatise of self-identity, unconditional love, and loyalty to one’s tribe (literally.) These men are, no matter what else one might think of their mental state, True Fans. Their reward is the upward swing of the plot; when the team begins winning, they gain all sorts of new friends in the stands, and what they tenaciously insisted all along for decades came to pass– this is a team worth rooting for. They may bask forever in the glory of Being Right.

We all know at least one of these tragic figures. They exist in a world spun of hopium, blindly funneled disposable income, and a curiously inordinate amount of free time. Maybe hanging in there for a few decades is worth it. Maybe the cavalcade of memories formed through spending hour after hour with their pals and seeing such hard-mined gems as a perfect game pitched in the middle of a rain-delayed night.

There’s something to be said for these fans. Their joys are many, even as their pains are more. They’re present for the occasional man on base and even the rarely maintained lead. They see what the rest of us don’t, which is hope in every pitch. Maybe, for an era in which there are more mobile phones in the world than people, we need a little more of that.

Product or Pastime?

But are they True Fans, or enablers? Are these the few who keep the owner stingy and the front office marking time until they can escape to another team or an ill-earned retirement?

I guess it depends on whether you view baseball as a product or a pastime. It is cringe, as the kids say, to think of baseball as a product– this is an unseemly opinion to have about baseball, the game that’s older than 20 states. But in the end, a product it is, even when the players are volunteers, even when admission is free.

This is more a function of the nature of sports itself. A good game that somebody eventually has to win is one thing; a nine-man volcano sacrifice is another. Nobody wants to plan their summer social activities around near-daily ritual humiliation. This applies whether said product consists of grown men or your kid: Do you enjoy watching your child get pulverized into the poorly mown outfield every Saturday afternoon, no matter how many “You Tried” stickers the coach distributes? You do not.

Food and Water

Because even when emphasis in youth sports is properly shifted to skill development and steady improvement, kids know when they lose, and you know they know when they lose. While not as brutal as a seven-year-old getting screamed at for dropping a pop fly, a record of 0 for grades one through five is brutal nonetheless. We are human beings. Hope is oxygen.  A flash of optimism is both food and water.

Most of us hope for the best but watch warily for the worst. There’s no shame in looking up the ERA of the starting pitcher for exactly one game in March and waiting until the weather is tolerable and the other team is even worse before spinning the turnstile. We’re customers. We are dearly bought, paid for by previous generations of fans, but we are.

The 1%

When we come in hot on Opening Day, hang around with decreasing interest until the All Star break, and check back every month or so until the inevitable math overtakes us, we are not consciously supporting a commercial enterprise. We are honoring grandparents with a radio on the back porch, babies in tiny branded caps, and the greenest, most perfect grass we ever saw.

Our love is 99% conditional. But for that 1%, we will endure the two-man wave.

24 Responses

  1. Rednat

    Good stuff MBE. as usual. I feel mlb has been a bad “product” for most of this century. It really had not recovered from the steroid era. Offense is way down. Not a a ton of great position players in the league right now. I feel the reds striggles reflect perfectly the struvgle of the league. Plemty of pitching just not enough position players to go around.
    I think the reds fortunes are really at the mercy of the league. Some rule changes have been made with the shift ban and bigger bases but i think a lot more changes are needed to get the offense going again.

  2. LDS

    Baseball is and always has been a product. America’s pastime was clever marketing. The Reds and their decades of mediocrity are still supported fanatically by those that are just sure that this will be the year that things change. It never does. Quit buying a lousy product and eventually the losses will pile up and force the Castellini family out of the business – though I doubt the entire small market canard. If things were as bad as alleged, Big Bob would have sold years ago. So, like you implied MBE, box scores, stat lines, and standings, coupled with eternal optimism is about all we have left. Sadly, “the inevitable math overtakes us” all.

  3. Oldtimer

    I never thought of MLB as a product. Always a pastime. But that is probably not so for many of today’s Reds fans. The best Reds teams of the 21st Century are 2010, 2012, and 2013. But many of today’s Reds fans did not like Walt Jocketty or Dusty Baker.

    Jocketty built the Oakland A’s farm system in 1980s that produced players who made three straight WS appearances in 1988-89-90. He rebuilt the Cardinals in the best NL Central team of the 21st Century. He built or tweaked the 2010-12-13 Reds into 90 W teams.

    Baker is the best Reds manager of the 21st Century. It was dumb to replace him with Bryan Price. REALLY dumb. It was also dumb to replace Price with David Bell.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I cannot reconcile myself to Dusty. Far too many nights sitting at the kitchen table while screaming “HE’S DONE TAKE HIM OOOOOUUUUUUUT.”

      • Oldtimer

        Dusty will be HOF manager someday. I won’t. Bryan Price won’t. David Bell won’t.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        Me either! But there seemed an endless string of games that were lost due to letting a pitcher in too long. I didn’t follow the rest of his career, but perhaps he corrected this after leaving the Reds.

      • Oldtimer

        He had a managerial career before and after the Reds. He led several different teams to division titles.

        He led Houston to WS title a couple years ago.

  4. Mark Moore

    Oh, MBE … “a nine-man volcano sacrifice is another” … the ultimate “Joe vs. the Volcano” which, I believe, introduced us to the pairing of Hanks and Ryan as a modern coming of Tracey and Hepburn.

    Last night was a treat to watch, even with whatever that first AB Diaz threw in the 9th was (semi-intentional, lack of focus, aberration, etc.) I’m not ready to break out champagne or light torches just yet … conditional love pretty much covers it.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      With last night’s victory, they have earned a delayed watch. I’ve been pre-Cleteing otherwise. Continued improvement will result in near- real time viewing.

  5. Chad A Donnell

    Undoubtedly, the NFL stands as a premier sports league globally. It boasts a salary cap, extensive in-market and out-of-market TV coverage, and most importantly, revenue sharing. In contrast, baseball presents challenges for small market teams; a smart move for these teams would be to unite and establish their own league. The threat of this mass exodus may force the large market owners and the MLBPA to negotiate in the best interest of the game itself. The Reds and others are playing against a stacked deck. Last but not least,,,,,the electronic strike zone would help the offense and take crooked/poor umps out of play. The minute you allowed legal sports betting is when this should have happened.

  6. Mike W

    Chad AD and Mary Beth E. Good stuff from both of you. Apparently NFL is most gambled on sport. Certainly soccer is biggest sport worldwide. Regardless, I’m talking baseball.
    Winning a game with 2 singles and a double while the other team commits 2 errors is simply luck! Those numbers would not result in a win for us in 24 out of 25 games!
    Bell needs to be gone, and our guys need a players’ only meeting and get out there and put the bat on the ball and get some real (dominating) W’s!

    • Oldtimer

      The Reds don’t have dominating (healthy) talent. At best, they have .500 talent.

      The Reds won not because of luck but rather superb pitching. You won’t get that every game but when your pitchers throw a shutout, you win almost every game.

      • Mike W

        Oldtimer, I agree Abbott’s pitching was key, as was Cruz’s and Diaz’s so so effort.
        All I was trying to say, was when a team gets 1 double and 2 singles over 9 innings, I’ll bet they lose 95+% of the time, and I’ll bet you agree?
        If your odds of winning are 5% or less, I call winning luck. Heck, you and I would have 10x’s better odds of winning in Vegas! :+)
        Let’s get 5 runs tonight and give Martinez a better than even chance of winning!
        (And speaking of winning, when I go to Vegas I always put $100 on Red on the first roulette table I pass. Happy to say I haven’t loss yet! And yes, I’d call that luck, too!)

      • Oldtimer

        Cruz and Diaz were hardly so-so last night.

        Every time the Reds pitchers throw a shutout, the Reds win. 100% of the time.

  7. Hanginwithem

    For me, I recall a civic pride that was attached to my team. The Reds transcended everything (even 7th grade classes after lunch, when the teachers would roll the TVs into the classroom to watch the 1970 World Series).
    Also, much of the emotion and the connection to the players has disappeared along with arguments with umpires, hard slides and hard-nosed hustle. Those are the things that we rooted for more so than wins and losses and the things that kept you connected to a team, win or lose.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      There’s a good point about civic pride. The same loss of “these are our guys, who grew up in OUR TOWN” has hit global soccer as well.

  8. Mike W

    How is Mike Ford our DH hitting 5th?
    Is he truly the best DH we have available in our entire organization?!
    No one else in AA or AAA worth trying?
    OMG.

  9. jmb

    Used to be that the “Indians” were the lovable losers. Now it’s the Reds. Oh, how the franchise has fallen. Though, being that so many of the players are in their second year, anyone could see this coming…that is, if they didn’t listen to the media hype.