If you don’t feel like reading the whole post ahead, I’ll give you the morale of the story up front: You can be any kind of fan you want. Me, I decided long ago to be the kind of fan I’ll go ahead and call a "162-gamer."
Let me explain.
After another in a long line of excruciating 5-game series in which the A’s were sent packing, the anger, numbness, and deep disappointment set in. This year, as we all pretty much agree, the series was lost in game 4. Back when I paid closer attention to the Giants, the 2002 World Series had a similar turning point - Giants fans acknowledge that game 6 was where the series was lost, and despite cheery optimism, they kind of knew it was over before John Lackey even took the mound for game 7.
For us this year, mistakes were made in a game we should have won. Melvin made some questionable calls, players failed to come through in the clutch, and then bam - we had to face Verlander again. Despite the higher confidence level this year, and vaguely hopeful mumblings of Verlander having lost a little something, I don’t think there was an A’s fan out there who wasn’t afraid of what we all knew Verlander was going to do to us. And he did. Right on cue.
What happens after a series like this happened right away: Anger. Irritation. Hyperbole. Tears. Yelling. Projectile-throwing. Disbelief. Shock. Having to go to the bathroom. Frantic Facebookery. The various stages of grief. Maybe a tub of ice cream or two. Personally, I let the dog sleep on our bed even though she’s not usually allowed to.
For me, though, it comes down to this: why am I a baseball fan, if it so often results in this kind of heartbreak? And more specifically, why am I a fan of the A’s?
It’s pretty simple, really. I grew up in Berkeley and live there now; my Dad grew up in Berkeley before me, became a Giants fan when they moved out, then became an A’s fan when they did the same a few years later. He raised me to love baseball, so I did. I’ve shifted in a slow but steady A’s-ward direction ever since (great timing, right?), but the point is, I became as an A’s fan because of geographical reasons. That’s kind of the way it works. I hate the Yankees and the Angels but I will never, ever begrudge a fan for growing up loving the team they see on tv, listen to on the radio, and go watch play. It’s the way it works.
I feel tremendously lucky to be a fan of THIS particular team, though. I thank the gods I don’t believe in that I get to be an A’s fan, and that I have for my whole life. It’s so damn fun to be the underdog; it’s fun to have a long and storied history; it’s fun to love a team so much, so hard, so completely. But even more specifically, what a joy it’s been to be a fan of the A’s these past two years. Funny, thoughtful, humble, hard-working guys who love their fans, aren’t prima donnas, and inspire a love from their fans that not a lot of players do. Every ounce of pain we felt from their playoff exits, they felt a pound. An amazing GM who continues be build creative, unusual teams. A manager who somehow platooned as many positions as he could without damaging egos.
Which is a long way of saying: you can be the type of fan who declares a 96-win season meaningless because of a first-round exit. You can be the type of fan who buys into the narrative that Beane can build winners but can’t build a championship. You can be the type of fan who calls our players chokers, who does the baseball version of threatening to move to Canada if we lose, who operates on a "World Series or bust" philosophy. And that’s fine, because everyone chooses their style of fandom, the way they react to losses (and wins), and the message they send to their fellow fans.
But I just can’t be that type of fan. The abrupt, harsh sting of this loss makes it easy to forget, for a short time, why I love this game so goddamned much. We play every day for MONTHS. Every single day, save the occasional (and really irritating!) off-day, there is a game. The season is a grind, a marathon, a journey, a lifetime, and I love every second of it.
Some writer on Fangraphs once mused if Mariners fans would trade their historic 116-win season for a WS title, and though the answer seems obvious to some, I think it points out the different ways people approach fandom. I’m bitter and sad as all hell that we lost - again - but that doesn’t change my love for this team one iota. It doesn’t change how amazing this year was, how awesome last year was, and how fabulous next year’s going to be.
AN is a great place, with a lot of different kinds of fans. I’m ok with all of them, I really am. I just prefer - to use the hoariest definition I can imagine - to focus on the journey. That might seem a hollow, forced way to deal with disappointment, but it’s just the truth. If the destination is a Title one day, I’ll be ecstatic. Until then, though, we can "expect" victory until the cows come home. I’m going to leave expectations aside and enjoy the goddamned ride.