My baseball fandom has never been about wins and losses. I remember living and dying with every pitch down the stretch in 2008 or during the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011; however, those are obviously isolated incidents. The Milwaukee Brewers have only made the postseason twice in 33 years. If I regularly needed meaningful, heart-wrenching games to hold my interest, I’m not certain that I would be a baseball fan. Or I’d be a fan of another team. In some ways, I wonder if that’s why many fans overreact to winning and losing stretches in small pockets of the season — some fans desperately need each and every game to mean something vital. They need that feeling.
Baseball, to me, is about the cognitive stimulation. It’s not about numbers or watching the game in a sabermetric fashion — if that’s even a thing — but rather thinking through a game. I try to think with the pitcher, guessing the pitch and the location prior to the rock-and-fire. I flip it around and put myself in the hitter’s head, processing the situation, the count, the opposing pitcher’s tendencies. It’s about the give and take of the game of baseball, the way the game truly challenges us to try and understand it. Sure, beautiful moments happen in every game. A titanic home run, a gorgeous back-handed play at third base, a breathtaking back-door slider on a 3-2 count for a punch out, a back-handed flip to the shortstop to start a scintillating double play. Those moments are truthfully short and disparate, but they mean more because I’m cognitively invested in the game, for a lack of a better phrase.
I understand the need for feeling and passion in sport, though. It’s why I’ve gravitated toward soccer (#YNWA) in recent years and why my wife and I love college basketball. Both sports are two hours of an emotional roller coaster, a white-knuckled ride that has an unbelievable payoff when the “right team” emerges victorious. Every damn week. It’s glorious.
Sports elicit raw emotion in a way most of us don’t get in everyday life. Traveling an hour to get to a 9-5 job that has questionable meaning outside of a paycheck or spending entire weekends in the library ahead of a Monday final in college becomes monotonous in short order. One of the few times when we really feel is when we watch sports.
But baseball is different in some ways. It’s slower and allows for ample room to breathe and think critically. It invites us to participate in a way that most sports do not. Again, as mentioned earlier, it appeals fundamentally to the cognitive and aesthetic parts of our brains in a symbiotic fashion — not that other sports cannot engage the mind, but that baseball invites it more naturally because of its structure.
Because that’s the root of my interest in baseball, my fandom doesn’t wane during a rebuilding stretch. The game doesn’t lose its attractiveness when the number of losses far outweighs the victories. I’m still enamored with the process, the individual battles between pitcher and hitter, between the pitcher and the runner at first. I have a preferred outcome to those duels — one that has the Brewers winning — but baseball isn’t about that end result for me.
I readily admit that not everyone has a similar kind of interest in baseball. It’s more about feeling and the euphoria associated with winning and pennant chases. Those fans naturally lose interest in down years, but they shouldn’t be shamed for this. How they derive their enjoyment is merely different. Perhaps this is the primary cause of declines in attendance when teams are losing. Without the emotional payoff available, investing time and energy is simply not worth it.
And that’s okay. One way of watching and enjoying baseball is not better than the other. Proverbial dick-measuring contests regarding who is a “true fan” and who is merely a bandwagoner are worse than pointless. They miss the point completely and risk driving fans away from a beautiful and challenging game.
In short, the upcoming rebuild in Milwaukee will still attract those fans who derive pleasure from something more than wins and losses. I’m one of those fans. Many of the folks who read this site are that type of fan. That’s why a rebuild doesn’t frustrate or scare me. But I do recognize the other side of the coin and those who say Brewers baseball is dead or unimportant until they’re ready to compete once more, and I’m not interested in making value judgments about them. They’ll be back. We should embrace them when they return, too.