Neal Shaffer: “No expectations, just baseball” - O’s fans’ mantra for 2012

Those of you who follow me at my regular baseball home, The Loss Column, have seen me discuss this at some length. I don’t want to repeat myself too much, but I’ve also never really offered up a dedicated explanation of my thinking. The uniqueness of this forum seems a good place to do that.

To wit: I have worked out a way - possibly not the best way, but a way nonetheless - to enjoy the Orioles in 2012 despite their dim prospects for success.

No expectations, just baseball.

What do I mean by that? Let’s first, briefly, turn back.

Fourteen (likely 15) years of losing is a hell of a streak. The Pirates currently stand (sit?) at a record 19 losing seasons; the previous record was held by the Phillies at 16. Which means that these Orioles are on the third-worst run in the history of this great game. That’s a lot of weight for a fan to carry. It demands a response.

Some choose anger, as we’ve seen here and there around town. Some choose apathy, which is an easy but understandable way out. Some choose - as I often have - hope and optimism, which is rewarding in spurts but ultimately wearying.

Each of these is completely valid. Each is also unsatisfying. Anger and apathy are no way to live, and unrewarded optimism can only carry one so far. To remain an Orioles fan today, something else is needed.

The forces at play here are the forces that drive our love of sport at its core. It’s all a series of projections as we watch athletes perform extra-human feats and try to capture just a little bit of what they feel. We rise when they rise and fall when they fall, and in that sense, sport is no different than literature or film or politics. We like to back winners.

As fundamental as this relationship is, I suggest a simple but possibly provocative idea: It’s flawed. Especially when it comes to sport.

When our team wins we don’t really win. What we do, rather, is enjoy corollary benefits. We get the fun of watching the game and the pleasure of talking about it with friends and coworkers. We get the process of wondering and guessing about what might happen next. We get the thrill of anticipation. We take, in other words, pleasure in the process.

To do this is a choice. Given that, it’s entirely possible, if admittedly quite difficult, to make the same choice even when the team in question is not very good. We only have to reconfigure our expectations. Rather than pin our hopes on results, we need to look elsewhere. We need to remember the process and the moments and enjoy them for what they are, divorced from what they could or might be. We must untether ourselves.

Where, after all, is it written that the win-loss record has to take away from the pure pleasure of watching a game? Where is it written that we have to say “Sure, but ...” when Jake Arrieta turns in a nice performance or Adam Jones goes 3-for-4 with a home run and a strong play with the glove?

These things don’t disappear in losing seasons. They’re diminished, perhaps, but they’re still there.

Baseball, more so than any other sport, is a long string of moments. Those moments are waiting for us, win or lose, good team or bad, to the extent that we choose to enjoy them. And we can always choose to enjoy them. Watching a winning team will always be more fun, but that doesn’t mean watching a losing team has to be no fun at all.

No expectations, just baseball.

Your mileage on this may vary. Like I said - it’s a way and not necessarily the way. But give it a try and I think you’ll find it beats the alternative.

Neal Shaffer regularly blogs about the Orioles at The Loss Column, and his work appears here as part of’s initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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