Beer League softball is a funny convergence of people. You’ve got your young hotshots, aged 20-30, with their backwards hats, knee-high socks and basketball shorts, out to show the world that they could have played beyond the junior varsity team if their coach had only seen the talents inside of them. You’ve got your middle-aged men, decked out in baseball pants and a beer gut, stiffly maneuvering out in the field and around the basepaths in an effort to remind everybody of why they were an all-city team selection in 1985. Almost every team, however, has one guy that, frankly, isn’t any good. His age varies, although he seems to always be a younger guy. His clothes don’t define him – often, he can be spotted before play begins as the guy with tennis shoes instead of cleats, and a glove that was either purchased at a yard sale years prior, or wal-mart the morning of the game. His only experience playing the game is in the backyard with his friends growing up, and the warmups just prior to this game. His friend talked him in to playing, and its his first time on a ‘real’ team. He’s usually quiet, not having the experience to discuss the game’s intricacies or the confidence to talk any trash. He starts the game on the bench, only coming into the game in the late innings to pick up an at-bat and an inning or so in the field. Sometimes, in a close, competitive game, he doesn’t see any action at all.
Beer league softball is supposed to be fun. Its a way to get out, get some exercise, and enjoy yourself and your teammates. In our leagues here in town, its also a family-friendly atmosphere, and many guys bring their wives/girlfriends and kids along to the games. Each team, typically, has a small cheering section for each game.
Late last season, one of the better teams in the league played against one of the not-so-great teams. My team was set to meet the good team in the tournament the next week, and our game on this night was immediately following this one, so I got there early to watch this team in action. In a nice gesture, one of Good Team’s better players benched himself to start the game so that their not-so-good player (we’ll call him Aaron Miles for the remainder of this post) could not only start the game, but play for its entirety. The outcome of the game was never in doubt, but Miles did not perform well. He struck out his first at-bat, and grounded weakly to the pitcher in his second. He played RF on defense, and misplayed several balls his towards him. He one he was able to stop was a fairly shallow hit, and he three-hop/rolled the ball in to the second baseman. His team was very supportive of him and his efforts.
The cheering section, however, was not. His third at-bat, in the 3rd inning, resulted in another weak groundout — and jeers and boos from the stands. From HIS side of the stands. His posture and body language completely changed as he walked back to the dugout and pulled himself from the game. I saw him headed out to his car, his jersey replaced with a tshirt, not long after that.
He is human, and because of that, prone to mistakes. He is young and inexperienced, and because of that, prone to mistakes. He is vulnerable to the boos and jeers, and his confidence takes a huge, irreparable hit because of them. His joy in playing the game was taken from him, and his ‘fans’, because they took things too seriously, lost their joy, as well. Expectations for this young man should have been low, based on what everybody already knew about his skillset, his abilities, and his experience level. But he was booed out of the park anyway.
So, why, do we as Cubs fans, boo this bullpen? Expectations for the group were low. Everybody KNEW they were young, and inexperienced. Everybody KNEW they would struggle. Everybody KNEW their performances would cost the team some runs. Nothing they have done up to this point has been a surprise to anybody. So, why allow ourselves to ruin our enjoyment of this game by being vile?
I understand they all make as much money in one year as I’ll ever see in my lifetime. I realize they are professionals, and they have a job to do. But, I also know they are human, and that NOBODY on that team wants to do poorly. Everytime Soriano strikes out on a breaking ball in the dirt or misses a routine fly ball…do you think its because he wants to? Everytime Samardzija walks the bases loaded or Caridad gives up a HR, is it because its always been his dream to cost his employer success?
Nope. Its because they’re just like the rest of us, and prone to not being perfect, just like you and I.
Soriano sucks in the field. Our bullpen is young and inexperienced. Both things we knew leading in to the season. Expectations should have been low. So, why compound the problem, destroy confidence, and ruin our own enjoyment by booing? What does it solve? Who does it help? Do you feel better when you do it?
Mutter under your breath or to the person in the bleachers next to you. Post negative comments on twitter. But publically, loudly, support YOUR Chicago Cubs. OUR Chicago Cubs. Get behind the team, and its players, with optimism, and respect. Most of us have been fans of the team for a very long time, and invested many long summers into suffering along with them. The least we can do is make the suffering they feel only come from choking away another playoff run, instead of venom spewed from the stands.
We are fans –we need to act like it.