Well, here it is, folks. I'm calling it right now -- these are your 2012 Boston Red Sox, for better and for worse.
They're not Minnesota Twins horrible, or Chicago Cubs horrible -- both those teams are in the basement in their divisions with a 15-30 record as May melts into June. The Sox had a chance last night to finally hit that elusive .511 mark, and remain a tantalizing 6.5 games out of first place.
That's the word that'll sum it up when all is said and done -- tantalizing. This won't be the last time they go on a roll like they did coming into last night's game, winners of 10 of their last 13 and hovering right on the precipice of a winning record, and it wasn't the first time, either. In fact, last night was the Red Sox' fifth chance to taste the rarified air above .500 this season, and the fifth time they failed to get it done.
I'd say by now this qualifies as a pattern.
So on they'll go, not good, certainly not great, but just not-terrible enough to give us a little bit of hope, until, say, our top pitcher loses his mind at a stingy umpire and gives up a grand slam, and then another homer on top of it, and the winning record slides back out of reach.
Can we accept it? In other cities, this not-terribleness might still be enough for a very nice season at the ballpark, promising the chance to bask in the occasional brilliance. Can we enjoy indivually-wrapped happiness, like the fact that Dustin Pedroia still exists and still plays for Boston?
Or is that just not our style?
Reading blogs over the last week or so, you can feel this tug of war within the fan base, between those who say Boston fans' competitiveness makes us who we are, to those who are contented with lots of little things to enjoy.
Me, I tend to fall mostly in the latter camp. I have come to believe that two World Series can and should change the tenor of our rooting, even if it doesn't diminish the devotion we feel toward the team. Some people, the same people at the park cheering for every fly ball that doesn't even make the warning track and booing pitchers off the mound, may feel like they have to be intense at all times to be "passionate". Maybe it's just me growing older, but I don't feel that way anymore.
I'd love to see the Red Sox go on another World Series run, and I eagerly look forward to the next time they do (and, in fact, believe there will be a next time, not just within my lifetime but in the near future -- that, to me, is what passion is and always has been about). There's nothing like the intensity of playoff baseball, nothing like reaching for the Pepto as your team fights through it, nothing like keeping the trusty portable defibrillator unit on standby as the nights grow chillier and the games ever more meaningful.
But there's also something to be said for seasons where you get a chance to watch kids like Will Middlebrooks come up and play in May. Where you watch Scott Podsednik rock the high socks in the outfield. Where you get the chance to observe Alfredo Aceves' peculiar kind of brilliance. Where you are diverted by the occasional brawl. Where you watch the middle infield turn webgem double plays, and Papi hit home runs, and await the nights when Beckett and Lester are on and dealing, and you smell the popcorn and peanuts at the park, and sit back and enjoy your Fenway Frank, and that's it.
Where the game on the field and on the screen maybe even fades a little, so that it's more about who you're with as you watch, and why you watch with them -- whether it's your immediate companions, or the entire ballpark and city around you, the whole experience of the cultural phenomenon that is the Red Sox. That all goes on, win or lose.
Every fan base needs a fallow season or two, is the way I'm looking at it now. It prunes out the front-runners, keeps us a little more humble than we might otherwise be, and forces us to focus on what's truly important.
That is, if we let it.