Tao of Stieb: Winning don’t come easy

The Toronto Blue Jays had a 70-minute team meeting to make sure the team has the right mindset for the rest of the season.
April 29, 2013, 3:00 PM

So, how’s your dream season treating you? Are we having fun yet?

Over the first four weeks of the season, I’ve found myself stifling the impulse — sometimes successfully — to lecture fans like a scolding auntie. “Don’t throw paper airplanes!” “Stop booing your own players!” “Cheer in anticipation, not just in reaction!” “It’s early!”

Nag, nag, nag.

Mostly, though, I’ve tried to resist the urge to harangue fans for the manner in which they express themselves, because really, who am I to say how you should cheer on your team? Or maybe more to the point, who am I to tell you how you should express your outrage at how the season has unfolded thus far?

At the same time, it seems as if the Jays’ floundering start to the schedule has made a vocal portion of the fan base go positively loony. Observing what happens when outlandish preseason expectations collide violently with a poor start is the stuff of which Funniest Home Videos are made.

Still, if you count yourself among the patient or rational at this point, it’s getting harder to maintain a position that we’ll soon return to something resembling normalcy. In fact, if my Twitter interactions are any way to gauge the conversation — they’re probably not, but play along — then anyone who shows something less than outright rage towards the team gets assailed as a simpleton and an apologist.

And look: I get it. This has been one of the most disheartening starts to a season in recent memory, which is only magnified by that initial excitement. There’s 20 years of pent up enthusiasm waiting to be unleashed, but over the first month, we’ve been treated to some underwhelming pitching, awful fielding and offence that is seemingly incapable of sustaining a rally more than once per week.

Yes, it’s been some nasty-looking baseball in the early-going. But one of the things that some fans forget about baseball over the long winter is that the game is replete with negative outcomes. It’s really the nature of the sport that success is often a function of just not failing.

This certainly runs counter to the way in which we discuss sports, especially in Canada. Our winter pastime is so overrun with conventional wisdom that many of us fall into the trap of addressing sports in absolute terms. “You gotta,” as they say.

“You gotta catch that.” “You gotta hit with runners in scoring position.” “You gotta take your bat off your shoulders.” “You gotta beat those teams.”

But the fact is that baseball — perhaps more than any other sport — resists those absolutist tropes. Good players make bad plays. Bad players have good at bats. Bad teams beat good teams. Bad pitchers strike out good hitters. Good teams have bad weeks, and bad months, and even bad seasons.

Take, for instance, the 1986 Blue Jays. Coming off their first playoff appearance and a 99-win season, the almost identical team won 13 fewer games. They scored marginally more runs, but almost every starting pitcher had a down year the following year. Same set of people, with presumably the same skills as the year before, but lesser results. It happens.

What we’ve seen thus far shouldn’t be taken to represent what the rest of the season will look like. Though this team has far underperformed over the first weeks, there is so much more baseball to play yet, as tiresome as it is to hear that said repeatedly. I get tired of saying it.

And we shouldn’t forget that winning is a painful process in baseball. Few teams ever truly run away with a division, or clinch a playoff berth with ease. Even for the best teams, it’s always a long and agonizing season, filled with bad series and bad breaks and injuries and ump shows and dunderheaded managerial decisions.

To be a baseball fan, you have to embrace the agony.

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