The Braves are not going to win 69 games. They’ll be fortunate to make it to 60. Everybody with any sense of reality was expecting this to be a bad season. And yet, the club from Atlanta has managed to disappoint even the most pessimistic of outlooks. Yes, it’s a rebuilding year. And sure, the farm system is full of youngsters who could turn out to be talented adults one day. Anybody who is paying the smallest amount of attention knows what’s up. But it’s hard to accept nonetheless. It’s hard not to feel animosity or a sense of betrayal that the team is basically fielding a AAA roster night in and night out. And it’s hard to accept that said roster is what’s finally going to get the manager fired. It’s hard to be fed obviously prepared lines of marketing from the voices of the franchise on TV and on the radio and even on Twitter. The new ballpark is coming and it’s gonna fix everything for the fans, haven’t you heard?. Or at least, those moneyed fans will have family-friendly food and a hotel and more places to buy tomahawks while the team continues its bed-shitting parade on a new field. That’s the smokescreen on the horizon. But for now, if Braves fans want to watch their favorite baseball team, they have to deal with a club that won’t even win 69 games. A club which in all likelihood will lose more than 100 games.
That sort of talk from a blogger about a sports team probably sounds performative and melodramatic. It probably is to some extent, because that’s just how I write. But it also comes from a place of seeing things laid bare. There is nothing to be excited about in regards to this organization right now. In the immediate present all that fans can look to are not-so-subtle minor league stats during games and a couple of home runs from Freeman now and again. Otherwise it’s a whole bunch of losing and corporate head-shaking. There’s also the very valid arguments about racist chants and white flight to focus on anew every day. Or maybe the cynical pressure on the underpaid kids in AAA because of the hope they can have careers fans will be happy to spend time and money enjoying. It feels a little bleak. Maybe because Braves fans are used to having it better than this. But I don’t know how true that is. It has been a really long time since the Braves were truly playoff contenders. And it’s been even longer since Skip and Pete were in the booth making every game fun. And longer still since the days of sell out crowds. No, it seems like maybe this season is the morbid culmination of a long trajectory that few wanted to acknowledge.
So, what philosophical wall does all this over serious moaning finally crash into? I guess it ends at the question of whether or not one can enjoy this season at all. I’ve been a part of a lot of losing sports seasons. I was, after all, a fan of the Charlotte Bobcats when they were going after a certain special record. And we had a blast. When I was in 8th grade, my junior high basketball team went 2-17. We lost one game 95 to 5. That season there were 5 nights where we felt like we had any chance of winning a game. The rest were losses before we got dressed. And yet, we had a good time. We got along and bonded over the losing (Except for the one kid who made up a hit-list with my name, understandably, at the top). So, can the same principles be applied to the 2016 Braves? I guess that is entirely up to you, dear reader. The question is more of a choice.
Despite all the possum bile the organization is guilty of, the product they put out remains just a game. There is a way to focus solely on that. To put all the garbage aside and learn to enjoy the simplicity of baseball for baseball’s sake. There is a choice look past the machinations that led to this year and take in a game with your buddies. I guarantee you that it’s possible and is not wrong to do. On the other hand, maybe it’s time to take a step back. Ask yourself why you ever enjoyed this team to begin with. If it’s because they used to win a lot, then go pull for a team that will win. There is no real moral value in being principled about rooting for a sports team. In the same vein your fandom isn’t going to solve the social ills surrounding sports and money. The choice to enjoy the no good, very bad year or to move on is yours to make. And it’s really not that big a deal.
As for me, I’m going to lean back on what I’ve written about before many times on this site. I’m sticking with the team this season because it’s where my friends are. I’ve built a lot of relationships because the Braves play baseball. And I think those friendships go well beyond that now. I don’t need the game to be exciting or good all the time. I won’t watch as many games this year and I definitely won’t be writing much about the Braves, if at all, after this post. But I will continue to enjoy the camaraderie that comes with being a sports fan. I’m going to drink beer, tweet at my pals, and watch the Braves blow game after game with the volume on mute and the assholes blocked. And I think I’ll have fun. It’s my choice.