Let me begin this search within for my Miami Marlins fandom with a quick aside, in quote form.
Last season, in the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks, I was the intellectual but eager fan of the Heat surrounded by a myriad of Heat haters. The haters were a combination of Chicago Bulls fans and folks who did not like the Decision and decided to hate on Lebron James forever. When the Heat lost the series, I sat back, applauded the effort by the Mavericks, and reasoned my way through the series loss.
- The Heat and Mavericks each won a blowout in which one team outplayed the other badly.
- The Mavs won a game on 60 percent or so shooting from three-point range.
- The Mavs won two close games while the Heat won one.
This is how I reasoned, or more specifically rationalized, that the Heat lost an otherwise tight series and did not have the ball bounce their way. Others reasoned that the Heat were not mentally strong enough and gave up. The truth was most likely somewhere in between those viewpoints.
Why do I bring up this tale of another team related only by location? Well, the Marlins have really struggled in the month of June, and those team-wide struggles have taken a toll on the fragile Fish fanbase. This past weekend, the ironically named reader Miami Marlins 2012 was the most pessimistic of our bunch of regulars on the game thread. During Saturday's epic 4-3 win, Miami Marlins 2012 had this to say about the attitude of the Fish Stripes readership and authors.
This comment and the responses that both author FishNFInz and I gave got me thinking about the ways fans deal with their teams' hardships. We all know being a Marlins fan is as rough as it gets, between the constant harassment of empty seats and empty fan bases, the lack of clear support from the ownership group, the at-times confounding baseball moves, and the general ups and downs of any baseball team.
I came to realize that there are three views one tends to have when it comes to their favorite team: optimism, acceptance, and rationalization. Each of these views comes with its good and bad, and each of these views has its own forms of dealing with hardship and success. And I think today, it midst of the team's struggles, is as good a time as any to explore these views.Optimism: The Bright Light At the End of the Tunnel
The optimist view is perhaps the simplest sports fan viewpoint, and it is the one that suffers the least from hardship. We have all met an optimist fan, someone who kept an upbeat attitude despite everything falling apart around them. That is the fan that comes to every ball game, raises his or her hands high and cheers his or her out for every batted ball and every pitch, because every one of these is a potential for great success. Failure does not phase them, because each failure just means "the team is due" or "they'll turn it around any minute." This aspect makes being around them easier to handle than being around the other viewpoints, but it also makes them wrong a lot more often than they are right.
I do not know any Marlins fans personally that are true optimists, but I do imagine that the man with all of the signs who sits five rows to the left of home plate is that ideal optimist. He is there every game, and he has a positive sign to hold up for every player. Even with Chris Coghlan being demoted and not starting, he still had a Chris Coghlan sign for when Coghlan did something right.
When faced with hardship, the optimist ignores it, because in the optimist fan's mind, he is already in the bright future coming soon. The strikeout that just occurred with a runner on third is just a prelude for the home run that is sure to follow. No matter when that home run or save is coming, the optimist has seen it and cannot be bothered with the present and its ugly face. When everything went right for the Marlins in May, the optimist was ecstatic and felt assured of his fanhood. Now that the June swoon has hit its midpoint, the optimist sees it as a blip in the radar and a prelude to a spectacular July.
Acceptance: Ebb and Flow
The fan that views the team with acceptance constantly changes his or her mind about the club. When all goes well, the team is unbeatable in the eyes of the acceptor. But when the team is struggling, even just for a tad, the acceptor turns his or her viewpoint, changing from its biggest fan to its biggest critic. I imagine most fans hover around this viewpoint in varying degrees, just based on interactions with most fans of any team.
Whereas the optimist lives in a bright future, the acceptor is most closely tied to the present. When the Marlins romped through May, fans of acceptance also felt like they could do no wrong. The second the team went 1-8 on their recent home stand, the acceptor was ready to bury the club for the season. Why? Because for the acceptor, the future is the present, and the team and its players are as good as they are showing right now. These are the same fans that think a player like Donovan Solano hitting well in 34 PA means that he is certain to be a good major leaguer despite years of evidence to the contrary. Fans like these seem to think that a player's true talent can change with an 0-for-8 slump or a 15-for-20 streak.
When faced with hardship, the acceptor faces it head on, because the hardship becomes the reality and the future for the fan. After May, acceptor fans were ready to claim the World Series trophy for the Marlins; it seemed like the team would win 20 games every month. With this latest June swoon, acceptors have decided the team just is not good enough, the offense is horrific, and there is no recovering from this mess of a season. In that respect, they never experience denial, because whatever is in front of their face is the truth.
Rationalization: Reasoning and Excuses
The rationalization viewpoint takes a middle ground. It is somewhere in between the present and the future, but lies closer to the optimist in thinking forward rather than now. For the rationalizing fan, the truth is never what just happened, nor is the future a certain positive. The rationalizer lies in limbo, using the knowledge of today to explain what may happen in the future. In that respect, it is the most difficult type of viewpoint because it has the least certainty. The fan of acceptance knows the team is as good or bad as it is right now. The fan of optimism knows the team will be great someday. The fan of rationalization knows that nothing in the future is certain.
We find most sabermetrics fans in this camp, myself included. It is not surprising, as we all started off looking for better ways to predict the future and found better data about the past. We never make guesses about the future in April, because April provides the smallest amount of information that is needed for that prediction. This is the same group of fans and bloggers whose favorite word in that month is "small sample size." Either we write too much of it or we don't come up with enough content. But at any point, we are trying our best to use the information of today to find out about a future that is never as bright or as dim as the acceptor or optimist would make it seem.
But therein lies the problem as well. When faced with hardship, the rationalizer also goes into a refined form of denial. Do not confuse it with anything other than denial, however, because rationalizing fans are just as much of a fan of their team as the other two viewpoints. I was in denial in saying that the Heat lost a series that was all that close; they were outplayed at the end of last season. I was in denial in saying that Lebron was making decent basketball plays in last year's finals because he wasn't. But I was looking towards the future rather than analyzing the present, and I chalked a good deal of the problem to bad luck.
That carries on today with the Marlins. I can tell you that John Buck has been extremely unlucky and that he can bounce back from this slump. I can tell you Logan Morrison can do the same. But the more hardship and failure they see, the more difficult that opinion will be to make. And perhaps when I look back, I will see a missing piece of data that turned out to be the right piece of information, but because at heart I too was a stubborn fan who wanted to view success or failure in the future for my prediction, I missed the present for the future. In that way, I could be in denial if I held onto my opinion.
I've tried to avoid this as much as possible. I have relented on bashing Emilio Bonifacio, something I did daily in 2009. I was wrong on Javier Vazquez when I said he was done six starts into the season. I may be wrong on Buck and Morrison this year. Such is the way of uncertainty, but the key to the rationalizing fan is that you do not dwell and hold onto your thoughts but rather continue to shape and mold them with new information.
Which is the Best?
There is no best way to view sports! You can view whichever way you'd like, as it is just a means of catharsis for us fans. Whatever area of the spectrum you land on is your call to make and your right to pursue. But when you watch the Marlins play tomorrow night, keep your mind on how your viewpoint deals with the difficulty of the Fish's recent June struggles and ask yourself whether you are denying the truth of the future or accepting too much of the present as fact.