When I was a young boy, I had a poster in my bedroom that showed cartoon caricatures of the stars of the Cincinnati Reds poised upon a large tractor (a Big Red Machine, as it were) and was labeled with the declarative caption "Team of the 70s". I took the statement as an unquestioned given, without wondering if there were other franchises who could lay claim to the same title. Given that it was already into the 1980s before I remember looking at the poster, I didn't even question if the ten-year crown was a title that had any meaning other than as promotional braggadocio, spread over a rather arbitrary stretch of time.
Perhaps there was foresight and wisdom contained in the poster. The franchise didn't appear in the postseason a single time between 1980 and 1989, so maybe it was good to strike a slogan while the iron was hot. And it was good marketing, in that when the Reds won their only championship in my sentient lifetime, I remember thinking that it was the first season of the decade of the 1990s and maybe my team was going to dominate another decade, one that neatly coincided with my journey to young adulthood.
The following year, a popular rock band originating from Ireland released an album that marked a dramatic shift from their prior efforts: U2's Achtung Baby was a critical and commercial success and when they went on tour in support of this record, a friend and I tried (unsuccessfully) to get tickets. The opening band for that concert was the Pixies, a band that I had previously never heard of nor had much concern for. In fact, it wasn't until well after they broke up that I had listened to and fallen in love with the group, such that 25 years later I can't remember the last time I deliberately listened to U2, while the Pixies continue to be one of my favorite listens.
I attended high school during the emergence of grunge/alternative music, and that was fine. The new wave of popular music offered a welcome break, I suppose, from the grips of classic rock and hair bands that would have otherwise dominated me and my friends' CD collections. I played the drums, hung out with people who loved music, listened to the radio constantly, and yet didn't hear of the Pixies or Jeff Buckley or Talk Talk or the California punk scene or any number of wonderful musicians who were outside the scope of those pre-Internet days until I was out of my hometown. I could lament the time spent listening to Live instead of Rancid, but honestly...what would be the point?
In life, there are things we know and things we don't know, and neither of those are inherently bad.
2016 was, for me, a depressing year for reasons that have nothing to do with election results or celebrity deaths. Nor for reasons that have anything to do with baseball. There are sometimes things we know that we wish we didn't, or wish we did and simultaneously knew how to process and cope with better. And, perhaps paradoxically, 2016 was full of personal reasons to celebrate all the same.
Indeed in baseball, there are sometimes things we know that we wish we didn't. We more or less know how the Reds will do this year. There is nothing I can reasonably predict about this season that would surprise you. The pitching will probably be mostly bad, full of youth and volatility. The hitting will probably be mediocre, ranging from amazing (Votto) to not-amazing (everyone else). Billy Hamilton will do some jaw-dropping things, as will
Brandon Phillips someone else. There will be injuries and bullpen failures and poor managerial decisions mixed in with the occasional success. There may even be some unexpected wins in April which leads to us scoreboard watching (very) prematurely.
The question, for us all-too-knowledgeable types, is what do we do now? Do we give up on the team because they're a near lock for 70-something wins? Do we tear our hair and rend our garments when an unstocked bullpen blows a save? Do we pretend like we're savoring the journey, treating a loss as OK because some projectable youngster showed some plate discipline before ultimately grounding out? Or do we plead ignorance and assume that this team has as good a chance as any other in the league?
More than likely, you and I don't even ask the questions. We're hooked and gripped by this team, sometimes for reasons beyond our comprehension. The tautological beauty of baseball is that we watch because we watch. And more than anything, perhaps, we're grateful for having something in our lives that offers a fresh start every 12 months. Pitchers and catchers report today; Happy New Year, y'all.