We live in a cynical, know-it all, data based, scientific, materialist world. Everyone is an expert, nobody is a sheep. Talking heads seem to get paid by the word, 24/7 cable seems to get paid by the talking head. Santa Claus is nothing but a tooth fairy, Cinderella lost both her slippers. It’s a dreary business. It’s as if spring never gets to spring and summer doesn’t get to bloom. It’s all fall and shorter days, with a nuclear winter hanging inside every cloud.
Phooey on that. Every single analysis of the 2017 Padres that I’ve read this year – be it national media, local pundit or raving Padre fanatic – believes the Padres will skid themselves into last place this year. The question is not if, but by how much. The big discussion amongst hardcore Padre fans is whether to root for the team to be the worst team in all of baseball to secure the #1 pick in the draft, or root for them to be more competitive and finish closer to .500, while at the same time not garnering the #1 or #2 pick. Like I say, phooey. Phooey, phooey, phooey.
The last thing I am in spring – spring! – is realistic, much less negative. Who’s negative in the spring? You fall in love in the spring, you don’t break up. (Well, sometimes you break up, but only so you can get back out there and fall in love again.) Without spring, Van Morrison wouldn’t have written Astral Weeks. (You centennials should dial that one up.) If Jesus had been realistic in the spring, he wouldn’t have gone for it and been able to raise himself up like the zombie Son of Man he became. Spring is when the Zodiac starts, when the whole shebang begins, when life itself came into existence. Oh yea, it’s when the baseball season starts too.
I’m not a Mad Hatter. I know this team’s limitations better than anyone. I’ve been a fan since 1970. I lived through the 70’s, a decade possibly unrivaled in baseball history in terms of ineptitude. In 1972, I thought Bill Almon and Mike Champion would be the double play combination of the Padres for a decade and one day lead us to championship glory. (Stop! Quit googling Bill Almon and Mike Champion! Trust me! They stunk! And they didn’t lead us to championship glory!) In 1974, I thought Mike Ivie would be an All-Star catcher. He ended up not being able to throw the ball back to the pitcher. I’ve seen the worst from top to bottom. Been there, done that. I’ve internalized it. It’s part of my very nature. Go Padres!
That’s the whole point. I believe anyway. I’m completely unrealistic in my belief system. How can you not be in a world like this? “Keep the faith” isn’t just a meaningless slogan spouted from Leitner’s lips, it’s a way of life, a way of being. And before the season has even started, in the spring no less, you don’t give up, you don’t lose your faith. You embrace it. You exaggerate it. You flaunt it. You revel in it.
Sure, we can watch every game this year and think to ourselves, “Hmmmm, I wonder if Margot can do that more consistently in 2019 when it’ll mean something”; or, “If Jankowski still has the legs in 2021 he’ll really help our World Series push.” Bullshit. Sure, we can all play that game. After all, we’re human, all-too-human. It’s natural to think like that, to dream of the future gloriously promised to us while ignoring the present. Fine, do that. But don’t let it consume you. If you do, that means the game will be playing you. We live in a world with enough nuclear power to destroy the planet 50 times over. There may be no season in 2021. There may be no SEASONS in 2021. How’s that for an optimistic thought in the spring? The game of life is lived in the here and now, and don’t think Andy Green doesn’t know it. He will be pulling every single string he can to get the most out of this crew, to get the W, as if his very life depended on it. And his spiritual life will be dependent on it, as will that of his team.
You don’t believe me when I say there’s hope for the season? Ironically enough, let’s turn to the ultimate scientific materialists of baseball, those bastions of unfounded optimism in the spring (yes, I’m being sarcastic), the writers and thinkers at Fangraphs. In their statistical projections, they give us a .1% chance at making the playoffs. Not 1%, point one percent. One in a thousand. Basically, statistically irrelevant.
However, they wrote a curious article the other day. You can find it here. In it they describe how the Padres can, based on simple statistical projections, claw their way into the playoffs. They put the onus on 9 players, “the bullpen”, and on a 11th category simply called “luck”. They describe how those 9 players and “the bullpen”, using the commonly-used sabermetric category of WAR, must perform to get us into the last wild card spot. Lo and behold, without too much effort, the writer of the piece, head Fangraphs honcho, Jeff Sullivan, gets us there. Basically, each player would have to live up to an optimistic projection for his year. Nothing outrageous, no sleight of hand. Just baseball players playing to their potential. Jankowski must steal some bags and play great defense. Margot has to cause mayhem. Hedges must do his Hedges thing. Perdomo needs to pick up where he left off in the second half of last year and build upon it. Sullivan doesn’t even mention Chacin or Cahill, which I think is a big mistake. These two may be ready for big rebound years for us. He also doesn’t mention Andy Green, who could be the difference in a game or two (I have a lot of faith in Andy Green). Even Bethancourt’s dexterity might win us an extra game or three because of late inning maneuvering, but Sullivan doesn’t mention him either. The ultimate Fangraphs’ talking head gets us into the playoffs, and doesn’t even have to sweat to do it, nor does he consider all of our assets.
Realism has its place, but being unrealistic has an even better one. If you can’t dream of unrealistic things, especially before a baseball season, you basically can’t dream. Join the walking dead, you watch enough of them on tv. We possibly may be playing the best team in baseball the first four games of the season, on the road no less, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we were 0 and 4 by Friday. It would prove nothing, however. The season is long. By mid-May, if we’re 20 games out, my article can be used to light aromatic candles in the living room. Heck, we might be 10 games out by the third week of April. Who knows? But it’s not May yet. It’s not even April. It’s March. March is the time for madness. March is the time of new beginnings. The spring equinox was just last week. We’re about to set sail on a long journey. Nobody knows where that journey will lead.
I eat faith for breakfast and yodel with it just before I go to bed. (My girlfriend laughs at me when I do this.) I for one haven’t given up on this season and won’t give up on it until the proper time (or possibly July 4, whichever comes first.) (I jest.) I’ll give up on the season when I’m good and ready. If we end up with the #1 pick, I’ll be happy about it in November, not now. In the meantime, in honor of March, I’m going to crank up some Astral Weeks and be born again like Van in the mystical countryside. In honor of March, on Monday morning I’m going to rise like that good ole’ zombie Son of Man and proclaim to anyone who will listen: “Phooey! Ain’t it great to be a Padre fan in 2017!” I’ll take my lumps later. Damn the experts. Damn the naysayers. Too much negativity is a curse, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Long live the unrealistic spring. Long live the Mad Hatter.