The worst is probably over
"Wait until next year" applies just as much to the Diamondbacks as another flailing franchise, since we are, as we should be, looking toward 2015 and beyond. The good news is, now we've imploded below .500, next year is unlikely to be worse. We are on pace to go 65-97, and there's a "Plexiglass effect" which means teams - at both ends of the standings - tend generally to regress toward .500. Since 2010, here are the teams to have posted win totals in the sixties, along with what they did the following year:
- 2010. D-backs (+29), Orioles (+3), Indians (+11), Royals (+4), Mariners (+6), Nationals (+11)
- 2011: Orioles (+24), Twins (+3), Mariners (+8)
- 2012: Red Sox (+28), Cubs (+6), Indians (+24), Rockies (+10), Marlins (-7), Twins (0)
- 2013 [with 2014 paces]: Cubs (+5), White Sox (+10), Marlins (+18), Twins (+3),
That's 19 teams in total to have a win total around where the Diamondbacks will be. One of those got worse the next season; another stayed the same; but 17 improved by between three and 29 games, with the overall average the next season a little more than +10 games. Yeah, that's not exactly going to put us in contention, but the current hole wasn't dug overnight, and we're not going to climb out of it overnight. The 2010 D-backs notwithstanding, I will take claims of contention next year as a sales pitch, and I really hope the new GM doesn't come with that attitude. Be up-front, honest and pragmatic: if we do contend, then it can be a nice surprise for everyone involved.
Duty Now for the Future
Putting it mildly, I don't have a lot of time for bandwagon fans. I'm with Bill Simmons, "If sports were a prison and sports fans made up all the prisoners, the Bandwagon Jumpers would be like the child molesters." Yes, I understand that it's a lot harder to be an ardent support of a team which flat-out stink; certainly, there have been games this year that it has been more a chore than a pleasure to follow. But just as it's the hard times where you find out who your friends are, it's seasons like this where we find out who really bleeds Sedona Red.
Fans who stick with the team through the worst of times get a special joy when the good times come around again, as they always do [offer not valid for Cubs fans]. By this, I should mention, I don't mean you have to exhibit some kind of Pollyanna-esque refusal to acknowledge the severe and not easily solved problems with the current team. Voicing our frustration - even booing players that aren't performing as they should - is a part of fandom, and actually shows how much you care about the team. As Oscar Wilde said, "It is better to be talked about, than not talked about", and "fan" is short for "fanatic," after all. We pretty much over-react to everything: it's what we do.
The youth movement
This is probably the one thing that keeps me watching more than anything else: seeing the development of the young players who will likely be part of the rebuilding process and next upswing. There's a unique joy to be had watching the likes of David Peralta, Jake Lamb and Chris Owings, because they are players you have followed [if you've been reading John's minor-league updates!] since before they were in the majors. Not that prospects have any choice in where they play, but home-grown players are always more fun to watch than someone who is here purely because of the size of the pay-check they were offered.
Peralta is a particularly good example, representing one of the best stories to come out of the franchise in years. A failed pitcher, who reinvented himself as an outfielder, then played in independent ball, before getting signed by Arizona at the bottom of the farm system. From there, he climbed up the rungs, got a chance, and seized it with both hands. Screw Yasiel Puig's life being sold to Hollywood, someone needs to make The David Peralta Story. Except, it would probably be deemed too improbable for the movies. I'd also file Daniel Hudson's recovery in the same category: a story you can still enjoy and admire tremendously, even as Tankapalooza 2014 unfolds.
A trouble shared
It may surprise you to learn I am not quite old enough to remember what the WW2 Blitz was like in London, but I can only imagine six months of concentrated Luftwaffe bombing probably did something similar to the psyche that this wretched season has done across D-backs fandom. Yes, there have been casualties, but those who survive have coped, with a mix of sarcasm, denial and hope for the future, which have made these past few months a great deal more bearable than they would otherwise have been. I recall plowing a very lonely furrow on my proto-SnakePit site in 2004, and it sucked.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that the social aspects of the Snake Pit, are a good part of why I haven't given up entirely. The team and its performance are the water-cooler round which we all hang, and if you're not aware of the storyline from the latest episode, then you can't be one of the cool kids. Being able to share the torment of the 2014 campaign with other victims offers a support group, a coping mechanism, as well as a reminder that there are always more important things than grown men using a stick and trying to hit a ball thrown at them by other grown men wearing different colors. Such as chocolate, for instance.
Because it's better than the alternatives
The Diamondbacks have just 59 wins over the five and a half months since April 1. However, no matter what happens, this is still a lot more wins than the team will have over the five and a half months beginning October 1. Bad baseball - even one of the worst seasons in franchise history - is still an awful lot better than no baseball at all. I shudder each time I remember that we are increasingly approaching the part of the year where the sports landscape is taken over by the NFL (yuck), NBA (double yuck) and something called the NHL, which I don't recognize and am inclined to believe is entirely fictitious.
In less than three weeks, there will be no Diamondbacks games left for 2014, and we will be reduced, in the words of Rogers Hornsby, to staring out the window and waiting for spring. Sure, there'll still be the playoffs leading to the World Series, and the Arizona Fall League of course. But there's something unique about major-league baseball, which occupies a fragment of every day for half the year - even if that fragment is no more than the momentary realization of, "Damn, looks like we lost again": Its removal will leave a gap, and even as I enter my 15th off-season since moving to Arizona, it doesn't get any easier.
So, I would strongly recommend that we all enjoy the remaining 16 games while they're here, regardless of the outcome. Because we'll certainly miss them when they are gone...