It starts in the pit of your stomach. Not again, you think, as you nervously roll up a sheet of paper again, or take a sip of the beer that's gone warm from your neglect. Traces of memories from years of watching, and being disappointed, by sports are the edges of your mind. These memories aren't full or actively replayed, they're afterimages that burn and remain at the periphery. You feel it when the first opposing batter reaches first base safely, and it grows with each subsequent run.
Then it starts even before first pitch. You look at the match-up and think, that guy is going to kill us, or, this guy is pulling our team down, and then maybe, what else is on TV? Things get blown out of proportion, .500 ball feels like .300. It doesn't make you a bad fan to feel this way, I'm sure most of us have been there.
If you've felt that anxiety, that tightening in the face of certain doom, then you're not alone. It intuitively makes sense. A loss feels worse when you have a lot more to lose. When you're a bad team, another loss doesn't matter much, and neither does a win. But when you're expecting wins and get losses instead, it's going to cause internal conflict.
It's also rooted in the Diamondbacks success last year more than any particular deficiency of this year. You can explain away 2011 all you want, or accept that there was always a possibility we would be disappointed this year, but we can't escape the shifted expectations. The D-backs have played about .500 ball so far, by both real and pythag records. That's not so bad, and would have been welcomed after the 2009 or 2010 seasons.
But we're not following the 2010 anymore, we're chasing 2011. The expectation, whether we want it or not, is to at least match last season. And if we're really being honest, then the expectation really isn't to match last year but exceed. What Coyotes fan wasn't disappointed last year after getting dumped in the first round? Sure, it's better to be in the playoffs than not at all, but when you've reached one level then you want the next. It's demonstrated in nearly everything involving human affairs: we always want more.
There's bad and good news from where we stand right now. The bad news, as shoewizard pointed out in a recent comments thread, is that in about a week the "Change on Last Year" tracker is going to start looking really bad. That's when the D-backs started to win consistently, and if this year's squad can't figure it out they're going to get left in the dust.
The good news is that there still is plenty of games to play. Last year's team was pretty streaky, but it's too early to say this year's team will be any more or less streaky. It isn't September with only a month to turn it around. Of course, the flip side to this is that we don't know yet if the 2012 is particularly streaky.
I can't provide any advice to handle the expectations. I'm just trying to take it one day at a time. Somedays it works, but somedays it's hard. What do you do, regardless of the sport?