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When the team you love is terrible

An all-too-familiar problem for Royals fans

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Kansas City Royals William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Why are you a Royals fan? As someone who hasn’t lived in Kansas City since I was four years old, it’s a questions I’ve been asked many times. I guess the answer for me is that rooting for the Royals was part of clinging to my Kansas City roots when we first moved to Texas, that they won the World Series when I was eight, and I am a loyal person. (I still root for Hunter Dozier; what can I say?)

We all at some point have some good memories connected to men wearing the blue and white. We “root for laundry,” as they say, and most of our positive memories are tied up in men who no longer wear the laundry that has hold of our hearts. Still, if you are on this website reading about the Royals today during this season, you are most likely still attached.

Baseball is an entertainment product. We watch the games for fun. Part of that fun, for most of us, is having a vested rooting interest. But it steals much of the fun and adds much sadness, frustration, or anger when the team with whom you’ve sided is continually pummeled or, at least, simply loses again and again.

We turn on each game and enter each season with some sort of hope that this game or this year will go well—however we define that. When it does not go well, I’ve noticed that fans react in ways that closely mirror the classic “five stages of grief.” Like in grief, these “stages” don’t necessarily happen one at a time or in sequence, but they are likely to all be present.

In some ways, it makes sense; we are grieving our hopes for the team. It sucks to be grieving in mid-April, but here we are. Do you recognize yourself here?

Irrational Optimism (Denial)

Everyone will improve

You are always looking for the bright side or positive signs. A win will buoy your hope for the next game; a series win signals the team will now start playing like you had hoped or expected. Every hit is a sign the batter is breaking out of his slump. Every good start, and the pitcher has “turned the corner.” You grasp at selected end-points in game logs: “If you start in this two-hit game, and you go to now, that’s an 11-game stretch where he’s hit OK.” The Statcast data that show good things (“They’re hitting the ball hard!”) are meaningful, but you choose to ignore the rest.

You can envision each player becoming the best version of himself; the young players will improve, and the veterans will round back into form. Every minor leaguer putting up good numbers—or even showing improvement—is a future big-league contributor. The future is bright. It has to be... at least better than this, right? Right?

Bitter Cynicism (Anger)

What a bunch of morons

This is where you lash out at the ones that have made you feel bad over and over again, as if the losing was not something you are observing but something inflicted on you. Somehow their failure has become personal. Certain underperforming players’ mere existence can trigger you. From the goofy, slack-jawed way he peers in at the catcher to the stupid way he stares and his bat and exhales before stepping into the box, these guys just piss you off.

You’ve become jaded and cynical to everything management does; they are, after all, a bunch of backward-thinking blowhards who literally never make a good decision. Your first reaction to each lineup is to roll your eyes. You cringe at every trade—we’ve obviously been fleeced here—and grumble at every meager signing. When management mentions “character,” you seethe, knowing that all the franchise’s problems can be traced back to a two-hour anti-porn seminar six or seven years ago. Each time the owner speaks to the media, you fume because literally all he cares about is his downtown stadium. No one cares about winning like you do.

Somehow the personal failures of people you do not know cause such personal offense that you must vent that frustration publicly—from an old-fashioned “boo!” at the stadium to a radio call-in tirade or an online rant. You’re mad, you can’t take it anymore, and the world has to know it.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Armchair Management (Bargaining)

What we need to do is...”

You want things to get better. For your emotional well-being, you need things to get better. So your mind tries to fix the problem. What if we mixed up the lineup? Let’s DFA that deadweight contract. Here’s the guy we need to sign this offseason. Obviously, this guy needs to be assigned to a position and stick with it.

You have no power to make a single transaction or influence any decision. You know that the GM is not reading your Tweets or comments on this site. But you offer your solutions anyway. You’ve wasted too much hot water in the shower thinking about them to never let them out to anyone, right?

Foggy Fatalism (Depression)

“Why do I do this to myself?”

The losses are piling up. You hoped for better in the spring, when it seemed possible that the non-roster invitee had rediscovered his stroke and was a shrewd pick-up, that the top prospects were ready to step into playing as All-Stars and the other young guys were going to be solid contributors in their roles. Now all seems bleak. No reliever can hold a lead or even a thin deficit. No starter can get out of the first without putting the team in a hole. No hitter can hit with runners on, and every line drive is just going to carry to the outfielder’s glove. How could they ever win? The other teams are just better, and better by a lot.

The losses begin to weigh on your soul, so you flinch to check the score on your phone or turn the game on. “How bad will it be?” is your thought as you click on the app or turn the channel. You find yourself to be in a gloomy mood, even in other areas in your life. It’s all silly, of course, to let this team affect you in this way. But that truth just adds to the weight: “Why do I let them do this to me? Why do I care?”

Healthy Distancing (Acceptance)

“Maybe next year”

Acceptance takes two forms, really. The first is that you say, “Hey, this team stinks, but I like watching these guys play.” You just like baseball, so you enjoy the wins for what they are and take the losses in stride. If they lose more often than they win, so what? You can analyze performance and have opinions, but you do it dispassionately, as you assume everyone is giving an honest effort, from the top management to the players and coaches.

The second is to become what some might call a “fair-weather” or “band wagon” fan. You are going to check out until the next time the team is in contention at the trade deadline. Until then, you’ve got better things to do and other forms of entertainment to enjoy that don’t depress you, make you angry, or occupy your brain space trying to fix problems that aren’t yours to fix.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

There are reasons to hold on. There’s a much deeper sense of satisfaction when the good times come, if you’ve been through all the ups and downs with the team. There’s nothing like seeing that “laundry” that has been so frustrating over the years finally under the October lights again.

It’s not going to happen this year, Royals fans. It hurts to say that so definitively before the calendar turns to May, but as probable as it was before the season that things wouldn’t come together to contend this year, it’s a certainty now. And it seems that even the hope for a definitive step forward could be futile.

So we find ourselves grieving again. Which of these reflect your mood the most these days?