Your team has been eliminated. Now what do you do?

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This is not just a question I’m asking myself this morning, it’s a question all sports fans ask themselves at some point. When your team is knocked out of the playoffs, do you search for a new, temporary rooting interest? Do you simply watch objectively for pure entertainment? Do you disengage completely?

I am capable of watching baseball for pure entertainment. I do it most
of the regular season in fact. I’ve never picked a side in a Yankees-Red
Sox game, for example, and never will. I root for good baseball in
those games. I rarely get it, but I still root for it.

Royals-Angels?
Orioles-Jays? Brewers-Astros? I’m able to mine the tiniest bit of
minutiae from almost anything baseball-related, but for any one game —
especially a game with low stakes — it’s usually a bit too much for me
to pick a side. This used to happen to me in the playoffs too, but since
I’ve been writing about baseball it’s been hard for me to go the
Switzerland route for a seven game series. Eventually I start pulling
for someone. But who do you root for?

I’ve done the carpetbagger fan thing before.  In some ways it’s the most natural thing there is. Your team has been sent home, but you’re still watching the games. Events on the field spark something deep and primal within you, and you find yourself rooting for one of the teams that are still alive. Maybe you like Brian Wilson’s beard. Maybe you really want to see Cliff Lee or Evan Longoria stick it to the Yankees. Maybe you don’t want the North Korean World Cup team to be sent to slave labor camps upon their return home.  The point is, you latch onto something on the spur of the moment and ride it for a while.

Or you can go the calculated route. I’m less prone to doing this — I tend to decide who I’m rooting for after I turn the game on — but I’m seriously considering it for the NLCS at the moment. What makes me more angry: the fact that the Giants eliminated the Braves or the fact that the Phillies beat them out for the division title and embarrassed them in two September series? At the same time, what appeals to me more: the fact that Tim Lincecum, my favorite non-Brave is pitching for the Giants or that Charlie Manuel, my favorite non-Bobby Cox manager is in charge of the Phillies?  I haven’t quite figured this out yet.

The last option — total disengagement — is impossible for me because I’m paid to write about baseball, but it’s something some people do. “My team’s gone? Screw it: I’m spending my October evenings catching up on my knitting or else I’m going to go crazy with rage!”  I can’t relate personally to this sort of thing — see last night’s rough-and-tumble Bobby Cox thread for some reasons why — but I sort of understand it.  But only sort of.  If you’re one of those people who is a big enough baseball fan to read this blog but one who nonetheless won’t be watching the rest of the playoffs, please, enlighten the rest of us as to your thought process. Do you simply not care anymore once your rooting interest is gone, or is it too painful to watch the game being played without them?

Anyway. The Rays and Rangers play tonight. I think I’m going to root for the Rangers. My distaste for Jeff Francoeur is outweighed by my admiration of Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson and a handful of other Rangers (and really, if I get loopy enough I could probably took myself into rooting for Frenchie in some ironic way).  The NLCS starts, I dunno, eight weeks from now, and I’m probably going to pull for the Giants. This could change, though — I don’t like Brian Wilson’s beard, after all.  The Yankees are right out no matter who they’re facing. They have been since 1996. They’ll be fine without me, I assume.

No matter how it shakes out, though, I’m rooting for three exciting seven-game series. Followed immediately by the Earth passing through a worm hole and magically transporting us to mid February when pitchers and catchers report.

Go, whoever!

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉