“It gets late early.” –Drew Fairservice, Birds All Day
Last night, while the Jays were losing another game to the Cardinals, I randomly met a woman who was at Tuesday’s match up in St. Louis.
I’m sure by now you all know exactly the game I’m talking about. Russell Martin played third base. Marcus Stroman pinch-hit a double (his first major league hit!) to spark a game-winning sequence of events in the eleventh. And perhaps most importantly, Chris Coghlan lifted off, flew over catcher Yadier Molina, and head first into our eager baseball-loving hearts. I still get emotional thinking about the infielder’s beautifully earnest post game interview with Sportsnet; one where he talked about, among other things, the meandering road that eventually got him onto the Jays’ roster.
“Man, it just makes you realize that life’s so much bigger than you, and things happen for reasons that are out of your control,” he said. “So I really just try to stay present and just—whatever I can do that day. And then you end up here, and this is where I’m supposed to be.”
I asked that poor woman last night to tell me, in detail, about every moment of that glorious game. I wanted every crowd reaction, and every emotion she and those around her felt in the thick of it all. And when she was done, I wanted her to tell me all of it all over again. “You witnessed magic,” I think I managed to say, before we shared a hearty baseball-related hug.
In the light of day, I now realize exactly what I was doing. This stranger had seen, first hand, some of the best baseball has to offer, and in this gaping pit of loss after loss, I needed her to remind me of it. Sure, that amazing game happened only a few days earlier, but a rain day off and no-win double-header later, it already seemed so very far away. That night in St. Louis had a lot of absurdist hope and a whole lot of fun stitched into it, and the more she recalled it in front of me the easier it was to prove that potential existed in our future.
Let’s face it—many of us now beleaguered Jays fans desperately needed that Tuesday night game. (If you need a masochistic reminder, though you probably don’t: 6-16, .273.) Part of the reason we keep replaying Coghlan’s incredible feat over and over again—beyond the fact that it was the best thing ever—is because we need to keep hope alive. We need the proof that regardless of how this pretty-dire-up-to-this-point season eventually shakes out, we’ll still at the very least get some semblance of magic to cheer for. Lucky for us, it often seems like at the very moment you’re about to throw in the towel and give it all up, baseball serves up something unbelievable—a bat flip, a walk off, a well executed out, and even a gymnastics-style head first tumble into home—designed precisely to draw you back into its myriad charms.
I think a major part of the frustration we’re facing right now is that this team is not actually “bad.” Yes, there has been some bad luck, bad timing, and bad moments that blew up the prospect of a win. But even with our best dealing with injury, we’ve seen some less lauded players rise to the occasion. More often than not we’ll come out of a loss lamenting the fact that it had the full potential to be a win. I’m actually tempted to say that total, absolute, undeniable terribleness might even be easier to take, or certainly easier to resign oneself to. (I wish I had some genuine advice to offer to those who are feeling a bit demoralized by all this, but I admit I’m grappling for some to even give myself.)
After everything that has happened in this first early and now-ending month of baseball, I certainly don’t blame anyone for embracing the prospect of grand-scale failure before it’s even happened. We all deal with disappointment in our own unique ways, and for some it’s simply easier to expect the worst (and hope for the best.) Even though I myself am noted for my signature baseball optimism, I can feel myself withdrawing from those lofty postseason dreams as each loss gets added to a now pretty long column. But I do believe the most pressing point of fandom is enjoyment—we’re here, year after year, because, win or lose, we want to find some happiness on the field. We’re here because we love this team and/or this game. And if we discovered a way to love it all through lots of barren, disappointing years in our past, we will surely shake off this pressing sports misery and find our way back to that feeling again.
While we’re all feeling dejected and generally terrible, it’s worth noting that Coghlan had some additional wisdom to share in that Sportsnet post game interview. He articulated a sentiment we should keep in mind as we deal with our unexpected place at the bottom of the heap: “Listen, it’s been rough—there ain’t no doubt about it. Everybody’s written us off already, saying we got no shot. I’m just really proud of the boys. We ain’t stopped fighting at any of them. All the games…We still are in every game.”
No matter how we as fans choose to approach the rest of this season, whatever mindset inevitably gets us through, we too should try to be open and “be in” every game. There are certainly lots of them left to go, and I’m more than sure the ever-surprising beast that is baseball will help us find a way.