By Adam Dodge
According to Webster’s dictionary a fan is “an enthusiastic devotee usually as a spectator.” In the context of sports, Webster may consider adding to this definition the following: “one who endures much more pain than joy.”
As Angel fans, at the conclusion of all but one season in the team’s 46 year history we have experienced disappointment. In some years that disappointment could be defined as bitter, and in a few—as an agonizing, gut-wrenching pain that like a cancer has clung to our bodies and souls. And for which there is only one remedy – a World Series title.
The piercing sting we felt as the bullpen imploded in yesterday’s 8th inning, chasing away any hope we had of a late inning comeback, and any thought of a would be miracle series win, is not exclusive to Angel fans.
A few weeks from now, when one of the five remaining playoff teams records the final out of the 2007 season, the final group of 29 fan bases will have had their dreams crushed. That they will have gotten closer to the prize than their counterparts will be no consolation. In fact, it will make the wounds all the more tender.
And so will go another baseball season -- triumph and joyfulness for few, disenchantment and suffering for most.
Consider that the most successful franchise in the history of professional sports has won 26 championships in it’s 106 year history. That means New York Yankee fans have experienced painful dissatisfaction at the conclusion of 80 baseball seasons.
Fenway Park played host to generations of fans that lived and died, without ever knowing the sweet taste of a World Series celebration.
And somewhere, a Chicago Cubs fan has just passed on – his life void of October joy.
To love baseball is to endure pain.
For many Angel fans, no one person is responsible for causing more pain than Dave Henderson, who’s two out, two strike, two run homer in the ninth inning of game five of the 1986 American League Championship Series propelled the Boston Red Sox to the first of three consecutive victories and an American League pennant.
When the smoke had cleared and reality had set in, that crushing blow had left each Angel fan with the overwhelming sense that they had just been beaten, raped, robbed and nursed back to health just so they could be physically tortured and emotionally abused once again.
For many, the improbable run of the 2002 club to a World Series title healed not only the gushing wound caused by Henderson, but also those of a slightly less extent sustained in 1979, 1982 and 1995.
What were left were scars – once painful abrasions, which had become merely reminders of broken dreams past.
In 2004 David Ortiz and the Boston Red Sox brought our cancer out of remission. Not even the healing powers of the afterglow of the championship celebrated just two years prior could mask our reborn grief.
When on Sunday the Red Sox completed the sweep of the Angels and our 2007 hopes, 2002 couldn’t seem further out of reach, and our threshold for pain has nearly reached its limit.
But to love baseball is to embrace hope.
In just more than four months, pitchers and catchers will report to Tempe, Arizona for spring training. With the dawn of a new baseball season will come rebirth to the team and its fans. In the meantime, we are left to wonder and hope.
We are left to wonder if things may have played out differently had Garret Anderson not been afflicted with pink eye, Vladimir Guerrero been completely healthy and Gary Matthews Jr., able to play. Could Juan Rivera have built on his 2006 season with an even better showing in 2007 had he not broken his leg in winter ball? Was he in fact the big bat the Angels so desperately needed behind Guerrero?
We wonder if the 2007 roster is capable of winning a World Championship in 2008.
But, perhaps the more significant question Arte Moreno and Bill Stoneman should ask themselves is: “Is the 2007 roster capable of beating the Boston Red Sox in 2008?” To answer that question would require nothing to be done in the coming off-season and a little luck to ensure these two teams meet again come next October. So the better question: Is that a question the Angels should even entertain?
Moreno and Stoneman should be able to see, as the fans see. This team must be improved to legitimately hope to contend for a World Series title.
Some would expect that the logical follow-up to that statement would be a list of proposals for free agent signings and trades. And while a potential signing of Alex Rodriquez, should he opt out of his current contract, would greatly improve the offensive production of the Angels, it’s not a necessary one. Neither would be trading for Miguel Cabrera or Adam Dunn.
The Angels already have the talent to be a premier offensive club in this league. But, that talent must perform as such. The Angels can no longer wait for their players to develop at the Major League level. The young players must play to their capabilities in 2008 should the Angels make no major moves.
Casey Kotchman will get no reprieve should he match this season’s performance a year from now. He must meet the expectations set for him – those of a .300 hitter with 25-30 homerun power. To do that, he’ll have to stay in the line-up. Likewise, Howie Kendrick must remain healthy and perform like the .340 hitter he showed himself to be in the minor leagues. And, Kendry Morales will have to show himself worthy of the hefty signing bonus he received upon defecting from Cuba.
Should Moreno and the front office choose to bring back the 2007 roster without making a major move, anything less than realized potential from the Angel youngsters will bring with it a tidal wave of criticism from the harshest skeptic and the most short-sided homer alike.
To hope is universal. What we hope for is not.
For many, to mask the pain of another failed attempt at a second World Series, the hope lies with the “hot stove”. Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones and Mike Lowell will be free agents. Alex Rodriguez may be. Miguel Cabrera, Johan Santana and Adam Dunn (to name a few) may be available on the trade market. As long as each of these players remains available, somewhere a fan will draw up a mock trade and post it on a message board in hopes of engaging in a discussion as to how “sick” the team will be if said player is acquired.
Others’ hopes lay in the core already assembled by Bill Stoneman. They’ll hope that the experiences of the season which has just past will benefit, even propel young players into 2008. There’s something to be said about winning with a predominately home grown team, and seeing something through from beginning to end. The possibility, no matter how unlikely, that prospects like Brandon Wood and Nick Adenhart will emerge as phenoms ahead of schedule, or that Dallas McPherson will miraculously return to the 2004 form, which earned him Minor League player of the year, is often enough to carry heavy hearts from one season to the next.
In the end, as fans we’re left with little to say. What we desire to be done is often not. We’re helpless spectators who’s only option is to hope that the moves that are made and those that are not produce the results we so desperately wish for.
And though the likelihood is that next season will end much the same way this season’s did, without satisfaction and with a “spoonful of bitter” (after all, it’s difficult to win three post-season series in a row no matter how deep a team is), we will carry with us the hope that maybe, just maybe it won’t.