Your Favorite MLB Team Traded Away Your Favorite Players. Now What?
For baseball fans, the first week of August conjures a cornucopia of emotions each summer. Let’s say you’re a fan of the Texas Rangers. How are you feeling this week? The Rangers, one strike away (twice!) from a World Series win in 2011, are all-in and confidence is at an all-time high. Will they get that final strike this time? They just might. The acquisitions of Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy help, of course. Watching highly coveted prospects (Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, Dillon Tate, and others) blossom elsewhere may sting in a few years, but that’s the cost of contention and I’d guess most fans are okay with that. Now, as August begins and the Rangers hold a comfortable five-and-a-half game lead in the AL West, it’s World Series or bust in Arlington, Texas.
But what if you are an Oakland Athletics fan? Or a Cincinnati Reds fan? Or a fan of any team whose front office chose to rebuild rather than reload? August 1 likely marked the end of your 2016 contention hopes and as you watch a parade of minor leaguers and retreads fill the gaps left by departing stars, the emotional toll can be torturous. Oakland stars Rich Hill and Josh Reddick? They’re in Hollywood fighting for a division title. Longtime Reds slugger Jay Bruce? Roaming the outfield with Yoenis Cespedes in Queens. And here you are, where you’ve always been, cheering for your team and clinging to whatever optimism you can muster that it won’t be all bad all the time.
Call it foolish. Call it irrational. Call it what you want, but this game is full of surprises. Every year, teams win 90+ games and, every year, just as many lose 90+ games. But you never know for certain how it’ll play out, do you? In 2004, a middling Philadelphia Phillies team used the July trade deadline to deal Bobby Abreu, a superstar at that time, and found themselves battling for a Wild Card berth into the season’s final weeks (ultimately falling a few games shy of the postseason). The Athletics, dead in the water at eight games under .500 at the end of June 2012 and on-course for another dreaded deadline fire sale, went 72–38 the rest of the way — clinching a playoff berth on the season’s final day.
Selling off everything of value at the MLB Trade Deadline, essentially waving the white flag of surrender, is a drag. Fans endure because we know that if we hold on just a little longer — if we suffer through the frustrations of watching our favorite players sold off for spare parts — the payoff is worth it. So while the casual fans fall off the bandwagon, the diehards remain, stubborn as a pack of mules. If the crowds become sparse, so what, we’ll just yell louder. That’s our way. It’s in our nature.
Hang in there, fans. Sure, you may not recognize some of the names in your team’s lineup anymore. This is about the time of year that your brain may be telling you to avert your eyes, to focus on the upcoming football season. Or the Olympics. Or whatever — something, anything besides the train wreck unfolding in your favorite ballpark. Don’t listen to your brain. Listen instead to your heart, that thing in your chest that made you the irrational, passionate sports fan you’ve become, even when it doesn’t make any sense. Enjoy the sport you love, enjoy the company of others sticking it out with you in the grandstands. Enjoy the games not because your team is successful, but because it’s baseball and baseball is beautiful. Do this, and the Baseball Gods will reward you for your loyalty (someday).
As I was writing Diehards, I spoke with Dr. Daniel Wann, a leading expert on sports fan psychology, who shared with me a keen observation about why we keep showing up to support our teams when things go sideways so often. According to Wann, “There aren’t many things that we do that we go in thinking, ‘Oh yeah, after I consume this product I could be really sad. I could be really depressed for a week.’ Sport is different in that way.
“How are there still sports fans? Because sports fans — as effectively as any group out there — have developed amazingly successful ways of coping.”
Keep coping. It’ll get better. In time, it always does.