The attitudes of some fan bases truly irritate me. Perhaps the Yankee fan base is mellowing in the face of two seasons battling actual mediocrity, but historically the typical view has been that the Yankees are entitled to win games, it's an injustice and a disgrace if they don't, and that the role the rest of the teams are supposed to play is to lose to the Yankees. 29 Washington Generals franchises playing straight man to the Bronx Bombers, I guess. Two World Series years in a row seemed to bring out a similar attitude in Texas Rangers country.
Winning can do that to a fan base. What I love about the A's fan base is that we have always -- by necessity -- embraced the underdog role. In 2012 we were the tortoise who only caught the hare at the finish line. 2012 was magical: No one thought the A's would be any good, especially us. We had no idea and it became a magical ride. Nothing typifies A's fans like the spontaneous chants of "Let's Go, Oakland!" after the final out of an ALDS game 5 the A's lost.
The A's might not have been tortoises in 2013 but they were still David to the AL West's Goliaths, with the Angels making their play by adding more "star power" (Josh Hamilton) to their "star power" (Albert Pujols and Mike Trout) while prognosticators everywhere were relegating the "flukey A's" to predicted 3rd place finishes. The fan base was optimistic, faithful, and passionate and the A's took the AL West for a second year in a row.
In 2014, the A's have spent most of the season with the best record in baseball. Their stock has risen so much that Vegas has them as having as good a chance to win the World Series as any team, and they are getting unprecedented recognition from the All-Star team, ESPN and other national media outlets -- they are a good team and everyone knows it.
Except us. Winning, and the expectation of more winning, has a troubling effect on a fan base. Suddenly it's not ok (even though it is utterly normal) for the A's to play a bad game. Suddenly it's not ok (even though it is completely inevitable) for the A's to lose to a bad team. Suddenly it's outlandish (even though it happens all the time) for a bad opposing player to have a great game. Suddenly losing is a disgrace and winning should be a given.
A season just doesn't work that way. It's a great season if a team loses 62 games and that barometer is quite different from other walks of life. If I lost my wallet 62 times I wouldn't consider it to be a great year. Nor if I got dumped 62 times. So in baseball, losing takes on a different meaning: It's disappointing, for sure, because each game is one you have a chance to win and it's always disappointing to learn that today's game is not one of the ones you actually won.
But one of the things that I think makes baseball so terrific is that no win is ever really assured. Bad teams beat good teams more than once every blue moon, and on any given day a struggling pitcher is liable to beat a top pitcher and bad hitters might come up big while accomplished hitters around him flail all night.
The spread between the best teams and the worst teams, the best pitchers and the worst pitchers, the best hitters and the worst hitters? Not as wide as you might think. And no team ever goes into a game entitled to win that game, nor does any team go into a season with a playoff spot, or World Series trophy, handed to them in advance.
A's fans are truly blessed. Our current team wins more often than any other, and has done so since the start of the 2012 season. That includes all the tough losses in which games were blown, opportunities were lost, wins slipped away or were stolen away by bad calls, bad bounces, bad decisions, or just bad luck. It happens.
My hope is to find that harmonious balance where the team plays like a favorite and yet I am still able to root for them like they were an underdog -- which to me means appreciating every win, accepting losses, even the aggravating ones, as being both normal and inevitable, and being passionate without succumbing to the very sense entitlement I have observed, with disdain, in the fan bases of other successful teams.
If I knew going into a season that the A's would win the World Series, then the journey would be devoid of excitement. If I knew going into a game that "the A's would beat the Astros because they should," then I wouldn't bother to watch because there would be no urgency or drama. The very real threat of losing is what makes winning sweet. And baseball is sweet because there is always the very real threat of losing.
Because no team, not even the best team in baseball, is "supposed" to win games. Each game is its own story, written in real time. There is no "should" because there is no script. The story hasn't been written yet and that's why it's so compelling to watch. I can't wait to see how it unfolds, and I feel blessed to have so much reason to care.