Rooting for a baseball team is a bit like being married. You swear from the onset you’re in it for the long run, then one day you look up and say, “Hey, this isn’t the team I remember!”
Over the winter, while you’ve busied yourself with life and other urgent matters, your team has been maturing, purging what you thought were endearing qualities, and growing longer beards until everyone on the roster looks like Jayson Werth.
My Washington Nationals lost their first game this year. More than a little disappointing. Then they eked out a win Wednesday and lost yesterday. They’re struggling, and I find myself wanting to leave the room rather than watch them unravel.
Who is this pitcher? Where are The Goggles? Who’s this guy on first? LaRoche would never have missed that throw!
If, like me, you’re thinking about walking away, don’t.
You see, I was married before, to the NY Yankees in the late 1970s. It was a great time to be a Yankee fan, particularly since I lived in BoSox country and babysat for a man who didn’t care that it was illegal to gamble with one’s 16-year-old sitter’s pay check. Every time our two teams faced off, we went double or nothing and I brought home a serious bonus. I was in a good place, and my team couldn’t lose. Then, in the summer of 1979, my hero, Yankee catcher Thurman Munson, was killed in a plane crash. I was so devastated that I walked away from the game and didn’t look back.
In a way, I was angry that the team could so easily move forward without Munson. I’m sure his replacement was a capable player, but I couldn’t see anyone else behind the plate. I know they finished 4th or 5th in the league standings that year, but I was no longer interested. Or so I thought. Over the next 30 years, whenever the Yankees fared well, I’d mumble a trite and whiny, “I used to be a Yankee fan.” I wanted to feel that excitement again, but it was gone. In a moment of pain, I’d given up my rights to any future celebrations with that team.
Then I met the Nationals. For two years I’ve cautiously invested time, getting to know the players, their strengths, and their character traits. I learned to wait for Denard Span to spin the bat 11 times before he settles in to hit. I learned that when Geo starts to mumble, he’s about to crumble and he’ll soon be taken out. I learned that a healthy Zimmerman can play anywhere, and there’s no such thing as too many good players. I dared to love again, and by mid-season last year I was back on a baseball high.
Now I’m not sure about anything. Half my favorite players have been traded and the others are starting the year injured. There are so many new faces on the field, I feel like I’m the stranger here. Plus, I’ve become too busy over the winter to sacrifice that kind of attention again.
Perhaps they’ll be fine without me.
However, I’ve learned from watching my husband that I cannot give up. He was a football fan when I met him, and he saw the Broncos through some dismal seasons over the years. At one point in the late 80s, I could barely watch games with him because it hurt my heart to see him become despondent. Yet, every week he’d be at it again. Hopeful. Dressed in blue and orange. Bronco flag waving proudly in front of our home.
When the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowl championships in 1998 and 1999, my husband’s joy was uncontainable. And why shouldn’t it be? His loyalty paid off, and the victory was all the sweeter because of the steep climb he’d made alongside his beloved team.
So, I will announce to all the world, I am a Washington Nationals fan. The season ahead looks tough, but it’s just a season. I will find those things about my team that haven’t changed, like their work ethic, their genuine encouragement and concern for one another, and their love of the game. We can build on that. They might let me down, but I’m not leaving.
I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that supporting an untested team is not nearly as meaningful as sharing their victory through struggle. No marriage is without struggle, but the rewards of facing trials together, finding common ground, and building toward a better season are bountiful and strengthening, and well worth the effort invested.
Geo is pitching tonight against the Phillies. The Phillies, for Pete’s sake. He can take ‘em. And I’ll be watching, cheering, and hoping against hope that he not start mumbling. Even if he does, I’ll then pin my hopes on the next pitcher, the next play, the next game, even the next season if need be…whatever it takes to make it through. And the victory will be sweet.
Yep, I’m married for the long haul, because I believe in my team. Oh, and I think I’m a Nationals fan for the long haul as well.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. — Romans 12:9-12