Earlier this year, I had a Twitter back-and-forth with a baseball writer. The writer in question had written something along the lines of, "Matt Harvey is a great story, but young pitchers get hurt, you know." I found this an unnecessarily dark lens through which to view a sport.
My response was that, yes, young pitchers get hurt. So do young hitters, and old pitchers, and everybody else. And even those who stay healthy for their entire careers eventually age out of the game. If your take on watching brilliant young talent is to laugh at those who are dazzled and purr Don't get too attached, I'm not sure what joy you can derive out of life.
The writer counter-countered that A) young pitchers get hurt more than most, and B) life is kind of a downer sometimes, if you hadn't noticed. The first point I conceded as statistical fact, but surprised myself by contesting the second. I am the furthest thing from an optimist, and yet somehow I found myself defending the "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" approach, at least when it came to baseball. Even as I wrote these words, I wondered if I truly believed them.
And then, Harvey did get hurt. He made noise about pitching his way through the injury. Some of us who'd seen him pitch his way through other trouble believed he might be able to do it. But on Friday, he yielded to the inevitable and officially announced he would go under the knife for Tommy John surgery.
The Harvey news reminded me of that writer and our "conversation." (I can't think of a better word, but Twitter exchanges are as much conversation as belches are sermons.) In the face of such devastating news, must I concede his second point, that baseball is nothing more than a vale of tears?
No amount of rationalizing will blunt the sting of Harvey's injury. It hurts to know we won't see him, absolute bare minimum, until spring training 2015. It hurts to contemplate there is a non-zero chance he doesn't return to his pre-injury form. It hurts to consider that Mets ownership may use this injury as its latest smokescreen for explaining why they won't spend this offseason, ensuring another mediocre on-field product in 2014. It hurts to realize that to most people, this news is nothing more than an excuse to scribble puerile LOLMETS posts.
If all of this causes you to declare woe is us, that's natural, but I can't bring myself to do it. I cannot join the parade of people who equate fandom with pain.
Over the last 30 years or so, our notion of fandom has been transformed completely. Once, fandom was most often expressed as a celebration of triumph or civic pride. Now it is mostly an exercise in public masochism. In order to be a True Fan, regardless of who you root for, you must broadcast how much you have suffered, prove how much pain Your Beloved Team has caused you.
My theory about why this has happened: Sports media expanded exponentially over this period, and the immediacy of that 24/7 sports media world is geared almost entirely toward the venting of frustration. Be it ESPN, blogs, or Twitter, when people are given the power to respond immediately to news, those immediate reactions tend toward some variation on rage and disappointment. (Pot calling kettle black alert.)
I realize there's no way to put this toothpaste back in the tube, and I also realize the irony of taking to the web to vent my frustration with other people's venting of frustrations. Still, I find this aspect of modern sports fandom narcissistic to a nauseating degree. There is something gross about the guy who uses his favorite team's success like a cudgel (27 RINGZ!), but there's something even grosser about the guy who "proves" his spiritual superiority by showing you an album of his bruises.
I've written this before, but it bears repeating: Long-suffering is not an adjective that should be applied to fans of a team. There is too much actual suffering in this world to demean the word in such a way. A team should not cause you actual suffering. If it does, fill that void in your life with a different hobby.
This is doubly true for Mets fans. In other cities, you might be bound to root for a certain team thanks to geography. Here in New York, there are choices, and you have made a choice, consciously or not, to root for this team. No matter how old you are, Harvey's injury isn't the first setback the Mets have had in your life. Why do you continue to make this choice?
I prefer to think we do this because of an inheritance handed down to us by the original Mets fans. These were people who were abandoned by the Dodgers and Giants, then were treated to some of the worst teams to ever stumble out onto a major league field. They showed up in droves anyway, loud and raucous, hooting and hollering and cheering on squads that commanded love simply for existing.
Those Mets fans expressed themselves as few fans had before. They brought huge, colorful signs to the ballpark, so that even people out of earshot could enjoy their wit. These signs invariably displayed the sardonic realization that the Mets were pretty awful, but what the hell, we'll yell for them anyway. As long as we had a team again, there was technically a hope that things would improve. In the meantime, we will find our joy where we can.
One sign seen at the Polo Grounds said, simply, ENDURE. Whether it's 1962 and Marv Throneberry or 2013 and Matt Harvey, this sentiment will serve you far better than showing off your scars.