Of all the things in the world I don't understand; self-pitying sports fans rank as most perplexing. Fans that brag about their long-suffering history, that wear their dedication to their club as a badge of honor. Being a sports fan is about the easiest single thing any person can do, it requires next to no effort and turning off the TV quickly spares any "suffering" experience.
That said, this won't be an "easy" year to be a Blue Jays fan. This team, pointed in the right direction as it might be, is going to lose a lot of games. The benchmark for "suffering" among sports fans is pretty low, "drinking beer watching grown men play sports unsuccessfully" doesn't really sound like suffering to me, it sounds like heaven and a fair representation of manifest destiny. Worse than watching the Jays lose many games in 2010 might actually be watching them play many games in 2010.
This team, with all the hope and expectation that accompanies a youth movement and about-face in direction, still stands to field replacement-level players at close to 5 positions. Any positive contributions from third base, shortstop, catcher, centerfield, right field, and 40% of the starting rotation count as nothing more than pleasant surprises. This team still projects as one of the worst defensive teams in baseball and still takes direction from a manager considered well past his best before date. The kids are coming, the future is bright(er), but for now we're left with a lot of ugliness.
Sometimes you need to get a little ugly, to appreciate the beauty of the view from the top. Sometimes you have to really hit bottom to realize how good you had it before and how good it feels to be at the top again.
I said being a sports fan is easy and requires no real investment, but that's only half-true. Anyone seeking out opinions and analysis from a rank amateur like myself is not a normal person; any more than the person who spends hundreds of hours pouring over spreadsheets in an attempt to express their love and affection for this team, this game, this life. Fans like us don't have the choice to walk away, we've made baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays a part of who we are. The losses sting and the wins set us soaring, flicking a switch and abandoning a losing or uninspiring baseball team simply isn't an option.
We'll "suffer" through a rebuilding season, a season with placeholders all over the diamond as we await the next wave of young talent to rise. We believe whatever we have to, we make excuses and ridiculous comparisons and find the bright side of whatever we can to allow the ray of hope a way in.
We'll watch and cheer and boo and shake our heads and wonder if there wasn't a better way to spend a Friday night in downtown Toronto. We'll wait with baited breath for all the can't-miss kids and Cuban imports to one day take the field in front of full houses of appreciative fans; knowing most of the kids will miss and most of those full houses weren't here to see it begin. The celebratory toasts and quiet moments of contented reflection feel that much better when you've been to the bottom and lived to tell the tale.
We might not hit bottom in 2010, but we'll have a nice view of it from our seat in 500 level. Under the direction of Alex Anthopoulos, we might not see the top of the mountain but again, we'll eventually have a nice view of it from that same seat. This is the best part of the roller coaster anyway: the slow, ticking ascent with the whole world about to rush by our faces. There's only one thing left to do: buckle up.