By Leigh Cowart
Loving a trash baseball team is like catching sight of a rare bird. It seems inconvenient and unlikely, but one morning, crouched low to the ground of a dried-out swamp, with a dog-eared guidebook growing tacky under your palm, you see it. Suddenly, all of the pointless toil endured to glimpse this random by-product of natural selection seems somehow meaningful. Your breath catches, dopamine floods the system, and the excitement of seeing some nasty-ass bird surges through the circuitry of your wet electrics like lightning through a fully erect rod. It's the same feeling one gets when an undeservedly beloved and outright horrible baseball team gets their first hit in the bottom of the 9th down 7-0.
However, not everyone is born with the skills to love a trash team. Sometimes, those who find themselves fans of a newly basement-dwelling team can struggle with preserving the loving bond of their fandom. For them, I have written this helpful guide to self-destruction...
1. Give Up
There is nothing more smothering to the soul than hope. Your team is bad. The entire sport is meaningless. Nothing matters. Let the wins be empty and the losses de rigeur. This is the true meaning of baseball: There is no meaning.
2. Get Dumb With Math
Giving up frees you to care about the wonderful stupidities that make baseball baseball. Observe the adult, gleefully crunching the numbers of their favorite adult Little League club, and promise me that you will sink even deeper into the sophomoric abyss of math validation. Beard statistics. Percentage of players who open-mouth chew on the field. Count the steps the pitcher takes when fidgeting. Take scrupulous notes. Throw them away. Better yet, light them on fire.
3. Go Weird
Develop and nurture illogical reactions to players on your team. Have strong feelings about socks? Great, throw a "Socks Up" tent revival. Does the backup catcher look like a terrified, steroidal deer? Perfect, call him "Roadkill" and live-tweet his at-bats in the style of David Attenborough. Fantasize about fat baseball players returning to the field from the warm cocoons of their retirement. Write hardcore BDSM slash fic. Make a model of your crappy stadium with popsicle sticks and hot glue. The world is your trashy baseball oyster.
4. Have A Lot Of Snacks
Your relationship with a tragically awful baseball team is a perfect excuse to get really specific about eating your feelings. What kind of dip should I make for when King Ball Four takes the mound and invariably walks a handful of players before giving up a homer? (Hot artichoke, extra mayo.) What can I chew on while the boys go three-up, three-down for hours on end? (Unsalted pretzels, a bonded leather belt strap.) What taste could ever make this fun again? (Milkshake mixed with tears.)
5. Manage Your Expectations
Listen, I know that everyone was very excited about that baby lefty relief pitcher, but if he was half as good as everyone was hoping, he'd be playing elsewhere for a team less moribund than yours. It's mid-June. Be honest with yourself. Realize that every time the bullpen comes alive in the 3rd inning, it's because another starter is defecating on the mound and things are not going to end well. Best-case scenario, you'll get to see some position player pitching. And the worst? Well, it's not everyday that baseball treats us to a walk-off hit-by-pitch.
Remember being a single voice in a squirming line of kindergarteners? Remember rushing to the front, standing tall and square in your eagerness, hoping that today is the day that teacher will notice your behavior? Remember when her eyes landed on you, the way her voice sang off the cinderblock walls, how her face warmed when she called your name as today's "good example"? Remember how you'd been plotting this for days, determined to rise above your sub-par napping station by snagging the day's honors and thus, the right to first pick at sleepy time? Remember how you stole into the warm alcove beneath the vacant teacher's assistant desk? How the carpet felt soft against your cheek? The lingering floral perfume of Miss Dana? The way sleep finally crept behind your eyes, how everything felt warm and okay like a summer afternoon in June?
OK, now hold on tight to that feeling. Because the worst closer in baseball is walking to the mound to pitch for your team.
7. Never Give Up
Never giving up is antithetical to giving up, but just as necessary. Yes, it's true that nothing in baseball means anything, but somehow, we still manage to care about it deeply, suffusing it with texture and meaning and narrative. For baseball to matter, those who truly love it have a sacred duty to continue loving it, even if they're Rays fans. After all, it is our caring about the game that makes it the entertaining mass delusion we so inexplicably cherish. And for that, I'm proud of us trash team lovers. Baseball just wouldn't be the same without its trash teams and those willing to pick through them in search of something beautiful.
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Leigh Cowart is a freelance journalist covering science, sex and sports. Her writing has appeared in The Verge, Deadspin, Vice, The Toast, The Classical and NSFWCORP, among others. Her favorite baseball player growing up was Greg Maddux; she is now a devoted fan of the Tampa Bay Rays. No one else knows what happened either, and really, we just try not to talk about it. Follow her on Twitter @voraciousbrain.