It’s Not The Losing That Hurts, It’s The Hope

The Jays win a couple and everybody gets frantic

Blue Jays 4, (Devil) Rays 1

Blue Jays 3, (Devil) Rays 1

First series win, first two-game win-‘streak’ and…well… Eight and seventeen may not be a great record but it sounds better than six and seventeen…

Right?

You’d think that all this good news would make people happy, but you’d be wrong. The callers to Wilner’s show (on Saturday at least) were as angry and fretful as ever, while out there in the Twitterverse #BlueJays fans went into a veritable frenzy, vying with one another to see who could be the most outraged, pessimistic and/or wittily dismissive of the team’s hopes for this season.

You would think that a couple of wins might calm things down a bit, but that really doesn’t seem to be the case. On the contrary, it all seems to be so much more strident than even after the double-header sweep by the Cardinals.

In one sense, what I was seeing all weekend from the fans and press was pretty much of a piece with what I’ve seen all season long: Rogers-mandated optimism, loudmouthed fans’ hypothalamic ravings, and Twitter’s one-forty character sneers. But at the same time there was a particular edge to it all, particularly after the Jays’ second win, which is perhaps odd if you consider that the win improved their situation: why is it, you may ask, that things grew just that much more tense after the Jays accomplished back-to-back wins for the first time this season, bringing them–for the first time since the first week of April–to within a (long) spitting distance of playing .500 baseball?

It could be, perhaps, that Aaron Sanchez returned to the rotation only to have his finger explode in a bloody spray before departing for another stint on the disabled list.

Or the news that while Tulo and Donaldson continue to improve, neither one of them is particularly close to returning.

Maybe it was Pillar’s zero for eight this weekend, or Travis’s zero for four on Sunday after not playing at all on Saturday; or maybe it was the fact that the bulk of the scoring in the two games was accomplished by Smoak, Carrera and Martin, none of whom can with any realistic appraisal of the team be accounted amongst the reliable options for long-term run support? Or was it that Bautista, for all that he had a good weekend, still hasn’t shown any of the power that he used to possess and which seems (perhaps) to have deserted him this year?

It could and probably is some combination of all these things: the wins are nice but they seemed so darned precarious; there are signs that things could be getting better but there are signs that they could actually get worse.

But, really, it’s been like that since the beginning of the season, there’s nothing new in all that. So what’s changed? What’s happening to the fanbase?

It’s called hope. And hope can be a terrible thing.

Hoping for a good thing to happen is pretty benign, but when you find that you actually have hope that the thing will happen, that’s when it gets a lot more tricky. Wishing for the Jays to be better is a pretty comfortable state to be in, but with two wins in a row…hope, unbidden, unlooked for and weirdly unwelcome rears its head. “Maybe, just maybe” hope whispers, “They can actually pull this off. Maybe, just maybe, they can start to turn things around and get back to .500 by the All Star Break and then, who knows…?”

Articles appear, outlining how teams in worse shape than the Jays, have made the playoffs; Mike Wilner feels buoyant enough to call one of his callers “dumb” for even suggesting that the Blue Jays have dug too deep a hole to climb out of. In contrast, of course, are the callers themselves who insist on railing against Gibby, the players, the front office and the whole of the Blue Jays enterprise for being terrible. And then there’s Twitter:

So what’s going on here? Why such a divided and even dysfunctional response to what should have been a good weekend for Jays’ fans?

It’s the dangerous allure of hope. Because with hope comes the increased fear of disappointment. With the hope that the Jays might actually be good, there arises the possibility that they might fall flat. Some people respond to the renewal of hope by throwing themselves into it, by embracing the titillating airs of possible redemption, change and renewal to the fullest; others resist the happy pull of hope, fearful of letting themselves be drawn in, lest their disappointment be made all the more bitter if the hope should prove empty.

As is so often the case, I find that Shakespeare sums it up best. Near the end of Richard III as the enemies of the evil humpbacked Richard are closing in to finish him off, the nobles are jubilant at the thought of their inevitable success, telling Henry of Richmond (soon to be King Henry VII) that everything is going their way, never worry, Richard is sure to fall. To which Henry, ever the cautious pragmatist, replies:

True hope is swift and flies with swallow’s wings,
Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings.

In other words: “Hope can really get your hopes up, so don’t let’s get too far ahead of ourselves quite yet.”

Of course, the irony here is that Henry does become king; the hopes of his followers are realised when, against the odds and in defiance of all probability, he actually wins the battle and is made king. So are we to take his warning against hope at face value? Are we to be cautious in the face of hope? Or are we to take faith that hope is self-renewing and validating? That hope can itself move history the way we want it to go, to be an actual force in determining the eventual outcome?

It’s a darn good question. Shakespeare posed it four hundred years ago, and Jays’ fans are going to be wrestling with it, I suspect, for some time to come. But just remember what Pistol, another of Shakespeare’s characters, said in the much funnier play The Merry Wives of Windsor:

Hope is a curtal dog in some affairs.

“Curtal” is a fun word, incidentally; it means ‘having a cropped tail’ usually, but here I think we can take it more to mean that the dog in question (hope) is something smaller or lesser than even the most common dog: a yapping, dirty annoying cur more than anything else.

Which is the real concern for Jays’ fans these days. What kind of hope is it that we see now? The hope that can lift the lowest and least regarded of the realm to the crown? Or the incessant yapping of a dirty dog dreaming of the meaty bone it’s never going to get?

Hold on, because the only way to find out is to see this thing through.

And keep hoping.

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