The more people that I met and spend time with, the more similarities I tend to notice in general human interactions and behaviors. One of the most common actions I see people engage in is trying to gain control over things that they actuality have zero influence over. There is something comforting in taking personal responsibility to try and change an outcome that you are passively forced to experience. This can be little things like holding your breathe when you walk past a graveyard, jumping onto your bed once you turn the light out to ensure the monster under the bed doesn’t grab your foot, or larger things like always wearing a lucky outfit when you have a big meeting.
I am not a historian by any stretch of the imagination, but you don’t need to be an expert to see countless examples in history of people acting in ways to influence parts of their surrounding that ultimately they have no control over. The Mayan’s sacrificed young women in the pursuit of rain. Native American’s performed rain dances when they were in need of nourishment. Today many people pray to a higher power to protect or provide blessing over their loved ones. The ancient Mongolian Tribes led by Genghis Khan were advocates and supporters of a wide range of religions, subscribing to the philosophy that if one of them was right they wanted to have their bases covered, just in case there truly is only one right way to the afterlife, and the gatekeeper allows in nomadic tribes that raped pillaged and murdered millions.
While there is definitely a difference between superstition and faith or belief, there is an undeniable similarity in trying to influence actions in the future that you have no certainty or clarity that the actions will lead to success. I don’t write this in an attempt to belittle or mock any of those actions. Instead, I wanted to draw attention to the fact that regardless of the period in time, or the culture involved, there is some overriding optimism in the human spirit that suggests if we suffer now and make a gesture of good faith it can help us influence something in the future in our favor.
I am not a religious or faith based person. But I am wickedly superstitious, and today I have to tell you that I feel personally responsible for ending the Blue Jays 11 game win streak. I’m sorry.
To understand how I single handedly derailed the Blue Jays, it is important to delve into the mind of a superstitious sports fan. For most of my life, I have been performing one large science experiment while watching sporting events to determine the optimal set of activities and conditions I can create that will maximize the likelihood of my team winning the game. I started as a youth. I remember peddling as hard as I could on my Great Aunty Nina’s stationary bicycle in the spare bedroom of her apartment while watching a Team Canada hockey game on an old wood boxed television. My Aunty Nina passed away in 1994, so I couldn’t have been more than 8 years old when doing this, but I had a conviction that I could influence the players on the ice. Later this evolved to the more traditional activities like wiggling my fingers at players shooting foul shouts, although I didn’t find that technique to be quiet as successful.
While the majority of my superstitious are confined to the NFL season (disclosing these superstitions in their entirety would significantly reduce their effectiveness going forward so I will not get any more detailed here for fear of the consequences), there are some general rules that I have found to work more times than not, and that are keys to successfully navigating the choppy waters of influencing a sporting event 1000’s of miles away. Some of the more basic rules that govern sport watching:
Rule 1.0 - Don’t watch a meaningful sporting event with even a single member of the opposite fan base - There are really no exceptions to this rule apart from being at the sporting event or watching it in a public place because you can’t access it privately. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about your best friend, sibling, parents, spouse or a stranger. Inevitably you both will end up upset at the other person and someone might end up hospitalized.
Rule 2.0 - Never support a fantasy player going up against your team - This is the surest way to hate yourself for eternity, and ensure that your team loses thanks to your fantasy player. In fact, I am going to make an ammendment to rule #2 right now....
Rule 2.1 - Never play fantasy sports - Rule 2.0 is the number one reason why I don’t play a single fantasy sport. While I can agree that having a league with your friends can be a great way to stay in touch with people across the country and is a great excuse to get together, I simply can’t bring myself to wish something bad happens to my favorite teams. Why assemble a fantasy team when you already have a great option on the diamond, ice or field? As usual, Vikings and Twins fans are immune to Rule 2.0 and Rule 2.1 as they have no compelling reason to ever actually cheer for their teams and fantasy sports gives them something to support after the first quarter of their team’s seasons. While I'm at it, I've got another fantasy related rule.
Rule 2.2 - Don’t watch sporting events with non-fans who play fantasy sports - Time to go down memory lane. It is November 2011 and I am watching the 9-0 Green Bay Packers play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on my couch, while my roommate who we will call Mario sits next to me (Mario’s name has not be altered to protect his identify, I encourage you to shame him for this activity). Part way through the second quarter the porous Packers defense gave up a 54 yard TD run to LeGarrette Blount, who broke off three or four terrible tackle attempts before rumbling into the end zone to tighten the game. While I was obviously horrified/angered by this play, Mario’s reaction of jumping up and screaming, “Yes! Yes! He is on my fantasy team!! Run!!” almost resulted in an instant eviction from Morley Manor. After an apology and a mutual understanding that it was best I watch the games alone in our living room on Sundays, things smoothed over a few weeks later.
Rule 3.0 - Only watch the event on a single television set - This one doesn’t count if you are out in a sports bar with multiple screens, but it is incredibly bad luck to switch tv’s in your house once the game has started. Similar to the old mantra “dance with the one who brought you”, you need to stick with the originally planned viewing experience.
Rule 4.0 - No late fans permitted - Friends who are permitted to watching the sporting event with you (in the rarity that this occurs) are not allowed into the premise if they miss the start of the game. Arriving after the game has started brings nothing but bad mojo. In the most rare of circumstances a late fan can be allowed to join if there is a clear need for new energy in the room, and if that person is as dedicated a fan as you are.
Rule 5.0 - Don’t gloat until things are over - Actually over. As in there is a giant F for FINAL next to the game in the box score. We have all at one point in time or another assumed that a game is won, only for a series of painful and terrible injustices to occur that result in our team losing.
Rule 6.0 Embrace Succsess - If someone you are watching the game with is coming up with creative ways to spur on the team and it seems to be working, everyone better start supporting! In this past this has included such activities as patting a friend on the stomach while someone else rubs an oven mitt on their head. It could mean stabilizers for a prolonged period of time. It might mean chugging a beer while spinning in a circle any time Javon Johnson gets a defensive touchdown.Don’t mess with a good thing. If it is working, keep doing it!
All of this brings me back to last Monday night and the big Blue Jays match up in New York against the Mets. This game wasn’t just against the Mets, but marked a head to head match up of R.A. Dickey and the young Mets star pitcher Noah Syndergaard who the Jays traded to the Mets as part of the Dickey package 3 years ago. It also marked an attempted 12th win in a row for the team. While Syndergaard pitched incredibly well, the Mets further bolstered his performance by turning to a bullpen that was comprised exclusively of pitchers who all could touch 96. With the game tight down the stretch, I made two critical mistakes.
Mistake #1 Violation of Rule 3.0 - One TV
I had been watching the entire game while sitting on my couch in the living room where I watch 95% of the baseball I view. My lovely girlfriend Bryanne decided that at 10pm she really wanted to watch a show that is a drama that documents the behind the screen look at the making of a tv show like the Bachelor. As if The Bachelor wasn’t bad enough…. This is a fake version of a fake show. Great. Bryanne complained (accurately and fairly) that she never watches the TV, that I do 90% of the TV viewing, and she really wants to watch this show. Against my better judgment, I agreed to finish watching the Jays game in our spare bedroom. We had won 11 games in a row; surely we had enough mojo built up to overcome an indiscretion like this, right?
Mistake #2 Violation of Rule 5.0 - No Gloating
Cut to the 9th inning. The Jays are down a run when Joey Bautista takes his second home run of the night out to the shortest part of the park to tie the game. I text my brother:
“Boom!” and “This team is magic”
Neither of those statements alone is too damning. But things got worse when the Jays took the lead in the 11th inning.
I texted my friend Dre:
“Bautista! Nothing can stop us now!!”
There it is. That is the very type of fan gloating that should never occur when your team employs a set up man as the closer. After Valencia mangled a sure double play that should have locked things up I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that something bad was going to happen and sure enough it did.
I am sorry for ruining our winning streak. I left Monday night humbled and reminded that it is still only June and we have a lot of baseball left to play. It is much too early to be breaking multiple superstitions late in tied games and assume we can over come those errors. Lesson learned.
Yet only 4 days later, I again found myself in a position where I was being a bad fan. I was at the Rogers Center with Bryanne on Friday night for a wildly entertaining game against the Orioles (Joey got plunked, Gibby got tossed faster than I’ve ever seen a manager get ejected, a drunk fan who was heckling the Orioles tried to evade the Police after trying to steal a beer from a vendor all by the end of the 2nd inning!). After getting into and out of a couple walk induced jams in the first and second inning, Marcus Estrada looked like his pitch count was going to run up quickly and we would be in a bullpen battle by the 5th inning. But then something very different happened. Estrada started mowing down the Orioles line up with efficiency if not ease. In fact, it wasn’t until the end of the 4th inning that I realized he was yet to give up a hit to the Orioles. Because there had been a decent number of base runners up to that point in the game I hadn’t realized that none of them had reached base by a hit.
Cut to the end of the 7th inning, and Estrada comes off the mound having thrown over 115 pitches in a 5-0 ball game still without giving up a hit! As we sit in the outfield discussing the game I casually say “there is no way he makes it out for the 8th inning, his arm is going to fall off”.
The old reverse jinx approach to the no hitter… While this isn’t the worst approach to take, even alluding to the fact that a no hitter was in the works was a mistake. Estrada gave up a bloop hit to start the 8th (that Reyes was very close to making a play on) and the no hitter was gone. I again had spoken out of turn to the determent of the team. The Blue Jays then tried their best to blow the game outright, before pulling through with the winning run dangerously close to crossing home plate.
What have I learned this week?
I guess what I am getting at is that I have realized I have a significant connection with the 2015 Blue Jays. My over confidence or brashness can result in the club falling apart late in games all because of what I say or don’t say, or what I text or think. Or what TV I watch the game on. It is either that, or the Blue Jays need to find a closer pronto. I’m pretty sure it is the former, not the latter.
Quick hitters from the week:
Although we blew Sunday’s game in a gruesome fashion (the bullpen of course) and we lost two tight games to the Mets, I actually felt really good at the play this week. The Blue Jays lost close games, and in the games that were won, the team cruised. The Blue Jays run differential of +80 is astonishing good for a team battling to a .500 record, and I think indicates that it will improve from here.
Baltimore should never send Chris Tillman to the mound against the Blue Jays again. At this point he must regularly be waking up at night in a cold sweat and have the next series against the Blue Jays haunting his every moment. In the 4 games he has started against the Jays this year he has made it 15 innings and given up 25 earned runs.
Darren O’Day was very selective in his decisions to pitch around Bautista all weekend. In fact, Baltimore repeatedly allowed Jose to reach base. While Edwin made them pay frequently, ultimately O’Day won the battle on Sunday afternoon that led to the Orioles win. We will call this round a wash.
Muni Kawasaki continues to be one of my favorite players. He has had clutch moments on the field, but his addition to this team brings a feeling of unity and fun that has been missing in years past. This team plays for each other and it is great fun. He also celebrates like no other!
I am out in Kelowna for the next two weeks which makes Jays game much more difficult to watch live. For example, the series finale with the Rays Wednesday morning airs at 9:10am pacific time while evening games start at 4:00pm. That being said, I will be watching Jays in 30 replays and catching games live when I can.