When do you stop hoping?
I’ll suggest that it’s when your willing suspension of disbelief falls down.
We’ve all got our tipping point. Maybe it’s when your team is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention*. Maybe it’s when you find yourself thinking “If they can just win four–or five, or seven, or ten–games in a row, they’ll be right back in the race.” Or maybe it’s when you realize that you expect them to lose, and you’re overwhelmingly delighted when they surprise you with a win.
* If that’s you, no matter who you’re rooting for, you’ve got a couple of weeks of hope left. Even woeful Philadelphia has an elimination number (combination of their losses and victories by the second wild card team–currently the Giants) of 38, so, double-headers aside, they can’t possibly be eliminated for at least nineteen calendar days.
Inevitably, fans of two-thirds of the teams are going to reach their own personal thresholds of disbelief between now and October 4.
When you read that sentence, did you find yourself thinking “October? That’s two months away–plenty of time!”? If so, consider yourself lucky: you haven’t reached your threshold.
But if you have stepped across the threshold and seen your disbelief smash on the tile floor of failure, what do you do now? You can give up on this season, but you can’t just turn off the TV, delete your baseball bookmarks, and go into hibernation until Spring; baseball doesn’t work that way–fans don’t work that way. So you find something else to hope for.
In the short term, you can hope for respectability. Maybe they won’t make the playoffs, but they still might crack .500. Some of you will even be rewarded–last year four AL teams and one NL team finished the year over .500 but didn’t make the playoffs. But a good chunk of you will eventually trip over your fallen disbelief there too.
Sure, there’s always next year, but that’s passive hope; next year will be there when the calendar rolls over. Until then, you need something to actively root for, a reason to watch the games, to follow the blogs, to stay awake.
So you start looking for the player who’s going to make all the difference for the team next year. Not via trade or free agency: it’s too early to predict who your GM will be going after–heck, in a few cases it’s too early to predict who your GM will be! You look for the guy who’s already in your team’s system, the one who’s going to fill that last hole in the lineup.
Every team has them. Outfielders who get a September call-up and hit over .300. Back end starters who try a new arm motion or grip and suddenly look like Nolan Ryan in August and September. The reclamation project who might, just might, have finally figured out which end of the bat to hold–and when not to swing it.
Pick one. Heck, pick a couple, why not? Obsess over their every at-bat. Cheer when they get their first hit, and first RBI, make their first diving catch, or strike out the side. Project their stats across a full season. Buy jerseys with their names and numbers.
Maybe they’ll work out, maybe they won’t. You’ll find out next year. But that’s then. Right now, they’re hope.