Every Game A Season: or, how I learned to live with losing.

by Robin Marie

San Francisco Giants v San Diego Padres

“Some will win, some will lose – some were born to sing the blues.

Oh the movie never ends –  it goes on and on and on and on.”

 So our last two posts here have been somewhat serious in tone, so I thought to take a break from getting angry at CNN anchors and libertarian bloggers and instead write another post on the relatively lighthearted topic of baseball.

This, however, actually presents a bit of a challenge – for as most who pay attention to baseball probably know, right now is not the grooviest time to be a Giants fan. In short, we’ve been sucking it – inexplicably, consistently, and heartbreakingly sucking it. (Exactly how many times in the past two months have we had bases loaded with not a single run to show for it? Someone out there, I’m sure, knows the precise number.) So here we are, at the bottom of the NL West, while the Dodgers do their Dodgers thing and anyone who wants to believe a team can’t buy a championship is feeling a bit disconcerted. My only comfort is that the Oakland Athletics, which is my number two team that I most enthusiastically love despite their number twoness, are doing pretty well. (And of course, accompanying the increased attention I’ve been giving to the A’s has been the development of corresponding crushes; and Eric Sogard, outperforming by leaps and bounds all of his teammates, has won the prize of my heart – I mean really, I simply cannot resist those glasses. ((And when he takes them off to clean the dust! – I swoon. #Nerdpower!))

Yet it seems a bit silly and spoiled to be complaining in the first place – the Giants have won two out of the last three World Series, so we can afford to suck for a little while much more so than most teams. (Or at least, the fan base can handle the psychological torture more, especially since we specialize in that.) However, I was amongst those poor, sad, ignorant souls who do not watch baseball for the first of those championships, so to me, it feels more like we’ve won just one. And, moreover, the whole experience of becoming a Giants fan last year, in particular, has made this sucking thing a little tricky.

For when I was learning to love baseball – and learning to love loving baseball, really, was what that was about – we were winning. All the time. Indeed, last season we had an incredible run. We even kept winning after we thought we wouldn’t be able to win nearly so much – after Melky left, that is. I remember the series against the Dodgers that followed fast on the heels of his ignoble departure; I remember Timmy pitching very well (even more thrilling then due to its rarity than it is now) and us winning the series with a sweep. And then came the postseason, and as we headed to Cincinnati down two games, I had very much given up. And yet, we prevailed. And then again. And again.

You get the idea. Every time it seemed like we should not be winning, we won. And this was the kind of blissful, naïve broth in which my baseball fandom developed. Indeed, it was like being safely tucked away in a baseball womb, provided with every nutrient and soothing sound I needed to let me know that all was always going to be well in my baseball universe. This season, in contrast, has been like the violent, traumatic experience of birth – after a long trip that only gets worse when you think it will get better, here I have tumbled, bloodied and horrified, into the realm of Real Life in the Real World.

This has presented me with a series of practical problems. And at first, I did not know what to do. It is hard to watch us lose. It’s been hard all season, from that six game losing streak back in the first month of the season to watching us lose to teams under 500 so often that finally, we were under 500 ourselves. I got upset during games, and then my mood was spoiled. And then, as I paced around the house trying to find some way to not watch another small disaster unfold, I would stop and think to myself, how absurd is it that a baseball game has actually helped spoil my mood today? That’s not acceptable. That seems a little too ridiculous.

But, on the other hand, the only immediately obvious solution to this – to stop watching a substantial number of games and kind of give up on the season – also seemed unacceptable. My desire to enjoy baseball, it turns out, is bigger than my desire to watch the Giants win – I want, first and foremost, to just enjoy baseball, itself, and I couldn’t bring myself to let a baseball season go by without soaking it for what it is worth – especially since I remember how unpleasant the off-season was.

So I have had to develop a few minor strategies to deal with this conundrum, and I feel like I am making considerable progress. First, I’ve been paying more attention to the Athletics, as I mentioned. I am not switching allegiances – I will always be first and foremost a Giats fan, and no part of me enjoyed watching the Giants lose the Battle of the Bay Series 3-1 – but, I see no harm in coming to know and love another local team with a style, and a spirit, that I really appreciate. Eran and I have been to two A’s games this season, and at both I had such a wonderful time – A’s fans are so full of that kind of devotional, community-oriented loyalty that I wrote about in my last post on baseball, and I love watching the hard core folks waving the flags out in the outfield, and rolling my fists enthusiastically while we wait for Balfour to take the mound. (That is a good workout!, by the way – my arms were exhausted after I Balfour-raged for a good 5 minutes at the last game we went to, and they were still sore the next morning.) So taking some solace in the A’s has most definitely helped salvage some of my baseball season.

Along similar lines, I have also been paying much more attention to the rest of baseball this season – which I suppose isn’t saying much, since I paid absolutely no attention to what was going on in any of the other divisions last year, seeing as I was still just learning about baseball and becoming attached to the Giants. But this year, I check the standings every day – and there are usually 3-4 games per day which, although I may not listen to or track carefully, I am interested in the outcome of. I have teams I am hoping will do well other than the Giants and the A’s (such as the Pirates) and I have teams I’m hoping in the end will fall (such as the Cardinals). So my baseball universe is much broader than it was before, and offers many more options for engagement than it previously did.

Lowering expectations, moreover, has also helped. At first, sucking felt so awful and awkward for me that I wasn’t sure how to grope with my fandom in light of the losing – I will admit that there were some days that I couldn’t bring myself to wear a Giants shirt when normally I would have, because the possibility of running into another Giants fan on the street and sharing a sad, despondent “Oh my God I know, last night was so awful” look was too demoralizing a thought. (Or, even worse, running into a Dodgers fan – UGH.) But after it became clear that effectively, the season is over for us, I was more able to settle into an acceptance that this, for better or for worse, is our 2013 Giants season. And once you accept the inevitability of failure, you realize that you can endure this and remain a devoted fan. It’s like a parent who has a notion that her child is going to be a brilliant neurosurgeon one day slowly coming to realize that this will never be, and at first, struggling with the fact that it looks he will be more happy, and more successful, as a high school teacher. Eventually, however, she will come around and think you know what?, I love my high-school-teaching child, and I support him, no matter what. So lately, I’ve been wearing my Giants gear much more often, and rather than letting our suckiness drag me down, I’ve been using it as an opportunity to train myself to be more resilient and relentlessly loyal – to learn, basically, how to be a better fan.

However, perhaps nothing gave me greater insight on how to deal with a losing season than Timmy’s no-hitter. For me, that game started out how most games where Timmy pitches start out – with me thinking, “Maybe tonight is the night….” Only this time, it was the night – this time, I really did see Timmy pitch a no-hitter.

I won’t belabor you with ornate details of how I responded. (Just the basics.) I scolded Eran for saying – with a really inappropriate amount of confidence – that Timmy wouldn’t make it through the seventh. Around the eighth I started feeling light headed. By the time the thing actually happened, I think I had already experienced the height of the thrill through the rush of hope experienced in the previous hour, and I was left to kind of just go through the motions of an emotional process that my brain, exhausted from the suspense, passively directed me to participate in. And so I went outside and screamed the news to the world, I made a Timmy-Is-One-Badass-Motherfucker-and-People-Said-He-Lost-It-but-Does-That-Look-Like-He-Lost-It-To-You?!? speech, and, of course, I cried.

My most favorite ritual of celebration, however, has been sitting at my laptop and watching the final out; Timmy’s almost half-bored, half-exhausted observation of the ball falling down; his understated, “oh well that’s good,” fist pump when the ball is caught; and then Buster’s sudden, from-behind bear hug that lifts Timmy up and puts a huge smile on his face, as though it jarred him suddenly into realizing, “oh ya, this is really awesome. Wooo!” The look of humility on Timmy’s face before that moment makes me think of how many people never thought this would happen – how so much talk for the past year has been about how Timmy is done not merely as an elite pitcher, but even as a pretty good one. For me, as a fan who had no idea who Timmy was when he was winning Cy Youngs and starting two games in the World Series, this was like getting to go back to an era I had missed – I was no longer merely the devoted second wife of the damaged and weakened widower, but the supportive muse (so all fans like to think) of a present-day winner. I got to see Timmy be good in a way he’s never been good before. I got to see him succeed and be blissful in that success. And I got to see one hell of a pitching performance.

And while I was watching all of this unfold, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that we were behind in the standings. I wasn’t thinking about bases loaded with no runs, or the embarrassment of being beaten by sub-500 teams, or regretting Pagan’s injury and missing his fiery affect. I didn’t have space for these things, for I was caught up in the potential of seeing something exceptional – and then when I did, I was so, so happy. And although it would have been nice if that had been the beginning of a brand new season for us, the fact that it clearly wasn’t does not change the moment I had. As Frank would put it – they can’t  take that away from me.

And this experience – this cycle of hope, suspense, and the rush of victory – does not require a winning season. You can feel it in a single game, in a single inning. And that’s why we watch baseball – indeed, that’s why we watch all sports, in general. Because even a single hit – or in Timmy’s case, a single, final out – can feel like a triumph; can give you a reason to do a little dance in the living room or in the stands. And as Eran pointed out to me weeks ago – when I was really struggling with us sucking – even if those moments are few and far between, in a sense, it doesn’t matter: it will just start all over again next season, and you can ride the whole rollercoaster again, and again, and again, and again.

So this is how I’ve reconciled myself to this whole losing thing; and this weekend, my insights seemed confirmed when Eran and I went to see the Giants play the Orioles during our weekend in San Francisco to celebrate our mutual birthdays (they fall close together). Fortunately, we went to the only game in that series we won – the Saturday game – and it was such a beautiful day, and such a beautiful ball game. I got to see a Scutaro blooper, held my breath as I waited to see if Pence’s pivotal hit fell fair, and watched Romo warm up at a closer range than I’ve ever seen him before. And while I reveled in Giants baseball surrounded by other Giants fans, I didn’t really care that we are in last place in the standings with no hope whatsoever of a postseason – I was watching the players I love play the game I love. And when you can experience simply that, and you realize that something small but magical can happen at any moment, at any game, during any season – well, then you realize that in every ball game, there just might be an entire season.

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