“It’s the house’s money. You’re just out there for one at bat, and you’re doing the best you can. You’re either the hero or you got nothing to lose, and that’s how I try to look at it.”
One thing I’m asked by non-sports fans is how I can be so enthusiastically invested in the successes of failures of people I’ve never met. To be fair it’s a totally valid question, one that gets at the absurdity of how an interest in sports has the capacity to take up so much of your life. How can we, the sports obsessed, be so devoted to the daily minutia of total strangers, their stories and their journeys, their losses and triumphs? How can we give up so much of our time, attention, and care to an ever-changing roster of men we don’t even know? How can we invest in them, day in and day out, especially with all of the inherent heartbreak that goes along with that?
I’ve gone over this question a lot during the seven seasons since I returned to devoted baseball fandom, and though there are lots of options, the only answer that makes sense to me personally is this; it feels good, and is good for you, to care about people you don’t know. It may sound basic, silly, or even juvenile, but to give strangers the benefit of the doubt, to cheer for them when they’re up, and to believe in them when they are down, is one of the healthiest and nicest and purest feelings around. It’s wonderfully human.
Which brings me to former Blue Jay Adam Lind. You could say that after my 2011 return to the game, Lind was the first baseball-related “stranger I really cared about,” an unassuming Indiana-born first baseman with a prior silver slugger distinction who I—for whatever inexplicable reason—fell in total baseball love with that first year I was back in the stands consistently. During those early years I would buy all my tickets in his section (115,) and every time Lindy hit one over the fence I would giddily believe the magic was just for me. I’ve often said that a favourite player anchors you to this game, and he was, in those less than furtive team years, what made my love for baseball really stick.
Even though I didn’t know him, even though his performance ebbed and flowed and faded from the incredible time he drove in six runs on Opening Day, even as people dismissed him and even mocked him and he was eventually traded, there was always a part of me that wanted so badly for him to do well.
Since my fan affection for Lind initially developed, he’s bounced around from team to team; after being traded for Marco Estrada to the Brewers in 2014 (much to my total jersey-tossed-across-the-room tear jerking heartbreak,) he had a stint with the Mariners before landing with the Nationals in February of this year. And because 34-year-old Lind was, for a time, “my favourite player,” (and heck, maybe even still is) I’ve gone on to follow his personal successes in the background of my own team’s postseason hopes and dreams.
Over the years lots of players have come and then gone from the Blue Jays, lots of whom I could currently be rooting for with a passion, and many of which have good chance of going all the way. (Cough, Edwin, cough.) But for whatever reason my interest in Lind’s narrative has stuck through light mockery, derision, and total incomprehension. Maybe out of a sense of habit and maybe out of a sense of loyalty to that first anchor, I’ve set up phone alerts to track his home runs and RBIs, and tuned into his scrums and replays with a wistful, nostalgic feeling that belied team any traditional allegiances.
There were certainly moments over the years he’s been gone where I have found myself cheering for the Brewers and the Mariners, so it was inevitable that, in 2017, I’d end up all the way in on a Washington Nationals World Series win. During Lind’s first at bat with the team (pinch hitting, of course) he hit a 2-run home run, and from there has evolved into a celebrated and dependable guy off the bench. In fact it actually buoys me that the fan base there seems to love him—dare I say in a way we never could.
Last weekend, when the Nationals were the first team in 2017 to clinch their division, Adam Lind not only got to drench himself in champagne and celebrate his first ever trip to the postseason, but after over a decade in major league baseball, he was relieved of the distinction of being the player with the most games without that glorious visit. For me personally, seeing him with that big goofy grin on his face was a nice way to salve some of the pain associated with the Jays no longer having a chance at October. After a pretty difficult season, Lind has generously given me something outside this team to care about—a familiar old stranger who really has a shot this time around. (I may even venture to say that my years of inexplicable loyalty feel completely validated.)
Now that it’s abundantly clear that our Jays aren’t going to be anywhere near the postseason, it’s time to invest in one of the many October narratives that will help stave off the darkness and keep you enjoying baseball until the bitter end. Do you want a team who amusingly plays spoiler? An underdog? A legend? An unlikely contender? Or do you, like me, want to root for the guy who never got to be here before, the guy who in a bout of bad timing narrowly missed the Jays’ postseason runs, the guy we once called ours, and who would be such a genuine joy to see take it all.