The Reds were swept by the Cubs yesterday, and I started wondering why fans should bother following a team that will undoubtedly struggle. What follows is how I came to terms with, and got excited about, the 2016 Cincinnati Reds Season.
The excitement from the first week of Reds baseball is slowly fading away. When Addison Russell hit his 8th inning home run on Monday, after 7 no-hit innings from Brandon Finnegan, it did more than win the game for the Cubs. It dumped a cold bucket of water on the Cincinnati fan base. Following the 5-1 start to the season we all said publicly, "This probably won't last," but something deep inside of us wanted to believe that this season could be a surprise. With one swing Russell reminded us how the script of this season was supposed to go.
The drubbing Cincinnati took from Chicago on Wednesday night solidified that feeling. Last night's 8-1 loss removed any doubt. This is going to be a long season. There have been some nice surprises, I see you Eugenio Suarez (well offensively at least), but the issues with this team have become clear. It's hard to have much confidence in the bullpen, the starters probably pitched a little over their heads last week, and several members of the offense are going to struggle with aches and pains all season long. Add to that the fact that Joey Votto is struggling out of the gate, and it's easy to remember why some of us were so pessimistic. For many, this will now feel like a long, slow, march to the inevitable Jay Bruce trade.
Once it becomes clear that the Reds aren't going to contend for a playoff spot a number of fans will check out. They'll go on about their summers promising to come back when the team is good again. However, this is one of the biggest mistakes they could make. For a few moments I want to tell you why this is one of the best possible seasons to be a Reds' fan. We should enjoy and savor every second of 2016.
Most of life is spent waiting for the next exciting thing to happen. We look forward to getting a drivers license, we anticipate graduating from high school, we dream about getting out of college, we're excited by the prospects of our first job, and then we long for the slower pace of retirement. All along the way we're waiting for the thing that will finally make us happy, and slowly we begin to realize something.
Few things that we wait for in this life are as good as we thought they would be.
The excitement you felt when someone handed you your first set of car keys is long gone once you've been stuck in traffic on your morning commute for the umpteenth time. The spring in your step that you had on your way to your first "real job" is slowly crushed under the weight of needless paperwork, unnecessary meetings, and the predictable routine of Monday through Friday.
You see a lot of times in life the waiting/anticipation is the best part. We need something to look forward to because we always want to believe that life can get better. Life can be really hard. The worries of the world can feel like a giant weight on our shoulders. When we don't feel that weight we're often left with indifference as to what our lives have become. The hopes and dreams we had in our youth slowly fade as we settle in to what our lives will inevitably look like. However, there's one thing that can keep us going in the midst of all of that. We need something to hope in. We need to believe that things can better.
Right now as a Reds fan, there's a lot of room for things to get better.
Of course I'd love for Cincinnati to win a World Series this season, but I'm going to enjoy every second of their climb back into contention. Why? Because after the champagne has dried, winning doesn't satisfy us like we thought it would. I grew up in Lexington, KY and had no choice but to become a die hard UK Basketball fan. It's been great. How could you not enjoy rooting for one of the most dominant teams in a given sport?
But here's the reality. I don't take much joy from watching Kentucky play basketball. Don't get me wrong it's great when they win, but typically basketball season leaves me disappointed if they don't win a title and relieved if they do. Expectations have a way of choking the pleasure out of simply watching your team, and dreaming about where they're going. When you're expected to win, it's hard to take joy in anything other than a title. However, when a title seems distant you can take joy in the smallest of baby steps, kind of like an unexpected 5-1 start.
The euphoria you feel the first few days or weeks your team wins a title is great. Slowly though reality begins to set in. The egos that were set aside for the greater good of the team are now tempted to "get theirs." One by one the players you fell in love with leave as the team can't afford to keep the band together. The new season dawns with the weight of, "unless we win it all this year is a disappointment." We all want to root for winner, but once we've hit the mountain top it can be a disheartening ride back to the bottom.
Do you want to know why this is the best season to be a Reds fan? All we have right now is hope. All we have is an idea of what the future could be. We can dream that Jose Peraza is going to turn in to an All-Star second basemen. We can watch Cody Reed, and think about him becoming a dominant ace on the pitching staff. We can look down the road and get excited about the prospect of what these...well, prospects could be in a handful of years. The future can be whatever we want it to be, and in reality it probably won't be as good as what we hope right now. Still, it's that thought of what could be that will keep me tuning in all season long.
On the road to contention we get the opportunity to dream about the Reds raising the Commissioner's Trophy, and what the team will look like when it happens. The weight of expectations isn't too great, and so we can revel in winning an unexpected series in July. We can appreciate a standout performance this season without a disappointing win/loss record diminishing the fun. We can watch in hope that next season...next season will be even better.
I can't wait until the Reds win the World Series again, and I'm going to enjoy every second on the way there.