STRADER: My colleague, McGilligan brought up Aaron Hill this week, and it brought a question to my mind.
I love April. It is arguably the best time of year for a sports fan. The Masters, baseball’s beginnings, hockey’s end, college basketball’s national championship, it all happens in April.
And this April had one of those moments that reminds us why we engage in this ultimate soap opera. Bubba Watson won the Masters. The everyman victory. Isn’t it one of the greatest moments in sports? The guy hasn’t looked at his swing on video. He hasn’t taken umpteen thousand hours of lessons. He doesn’t employ a swing coach. He goes up to the tee, he swings, and we as fans all get to think he prays a little bit too – even if we’re not spiritual, we all say a little, “please God…” after we hit that stupid ball.
And now, with McGilligan speaking about Aaron Hill, I’m reminded of one thing I’ve noticed we’re losing, something that used to be one of my favourite things in sports, and with my track record of homerism, may be a difficult thing to defend.
But I will try…
Why don’t we support hometown athletes anymore?
(And here’s where the homer cries start….back…back…back…Strader’s hugging the players again…) But really, I’m not. I’m talking about a moment that I miss. And I kind of want those moments back…
You know when you have a bad team. Numbers aren’t always needed to prove it. Last in the standings is definitely a precedent, but how many Minnesota Wild fans do you think looooooovvvvvvveeeedd that team in the Lemaire years.
Winning is awesome. Couple playoff victories are wicked. But man, those were boring games with really, only one electrifying player to watch.
So, your team sucks, but you love your guy (let’s go Gaborik here) and even though he has never lead the league, you talk about how he’s as good as anyone, he’s just inhibited by your system, the coaching, the style, choose your buzzword.
A player gets injured, falls apart, and we are quick to jump all over him.
I watched Joffrey Lupul get booed at the Jays game, and I, like many in the media have confessed, did have a moment of pause.
Why is this guy getting booed?
Lupul was injured when his team was still in the playoff race, and he was in the top five in scoring. He basically didn’t participate in the debacle, and he gets the same share of the blame.
Fair enough, whatever. But what happened to watching a guy come back?
Hill is my baseball example, because his freefall coincided with one of the greatest moments of fan support I’ve ever seen, and something I wish would have happened with my team, and him.
Hill didn’t get support. He got killed in the media, by the fans, by us all, wondering what had happened to the little guy with the big stick. It didn’t take 36 and 108 for us to fall in love with Hill. We all saw flashes of what he could do early in his career, and we always believed that with the stellar defense would come an offensive force. He delivered, on a few occasions, and we loved him. It took one year for that to fall apart.
No support for the guy who suffered a concussion and came back. Just, “What is up with this .205 average?”
Again, that’s fine. I do believe that if you get paid the dough, you get to live the dream of playing in the show, you get to deal with it. Let’s face it, even if you’re just some plug who fills a bench role for a year and never plays again, when you’re a 50-year old at men’s night with the boys, you’re still the subject of whispers, pointed fingers, and guys bragging that they know you. You’re the guy who made the show. You’re a hero.
So if you get trashed while you play, enjoy it, you’re still coming out a member of a certain elite.
But what I miss is giving our guys a chance to comeback. What I miss is loving the hometown hero, and watching the comeback.
That greatest moment I’ve ever seen? Well, here’s where I have to give it to my mortal enemies.
I hate the Red Sox. And it’s ‘cause they’re good, and I’m jealous. I’m a Jays fan, so they’re the enemy, but I’m also a baseball fan, so I love Pedroia, I wince when Youklis comes up in a big situation, Gonzalez is unreal, just unreal…
But I hate the team. That’s the joy of sports.
In 2010, they had one of theirs fall off.
Big Papi, the playoff hero, Mr. Clutch, the most dangerous man in the game, looked like a junior player….
He couldn’t hit the ball out. It came with talk of steroids, and the admission that he and Manny might have dipped the pen in the “I’m gonna break some records” ink that ruined an entire generation for us who are fans of the game, not just the highlights – people do love dingers….
But when you watched a Red Sox game, Papi didn’t get booed. There weren’t groans when he came to bat.
There were chants. Insane, loud, stadium rocking chants.
I can’t remember the exact dates, but I turned on a Red Sox game in middle or late May. It was going on two months without a dinger for Big Papi. The steroid talk was out there. Were we watching one of the greats fall the media kept asking?
And the cathedral kept shaking.
I was lucky enough to watch the first one go out. It was unreal. The joy on his face, on the fans faces, the energy was palpable even if you were sitting in your living room hundreds of miles from Fenway.
There it was. They had believed, and their hero had returned.
Papi went on to 28 and 99 that season. It wasn’t one of his best. But he hasn’t seriously declined. He remains a Boston god.
If we lose those moments, do we lose having something tangible that’s ours?
If Jose Bautista continues to struggle and is hitting .209 by the all star break this season, is it time to boo him?
I don’t think it’s wrong. You pay the freight, they reap the benefits, booing is your right.
All I’m saying, is I like cheering more. And if one of my hometown heroes starts to struggle, I’m going to cheer his name and give him a chance at redemption, no matter how many times I get called a homer. I’m going to wish for the comeback.
Especially if he’s been here for years…