The dialectic of fandom is something the spans a great deal of subjects. It envelops parts of psychology, sociology, philosophy, and even geography. The mixture of these can and will vary from person to person. Why are you a fan of the team that you root for? Do you even root for a team? If that team were to go the way of the dodo/Expo, would you pick another? Everyone has a different answer, a different thought process that would go into it.
The theme of the 2013 Astros — at least the theme that would surface if, say, an undergraduate were to study them like a text for an English class — would be that of renewal, of starting over. The Astros got as clean of a slate as a baseball team can get. They were not given this. They had to do the wiping themselves. That sounded grosser than I wanted it to. New ownership, new management, new uniforms — hell, even a new league — were all painted onto this team. Cream on this inside, clean on the outside. Was this part of the appeal? Certainly.
When this topic would come up in conversation — conversation I never initiated, yet always found me (I blame my hat)– the most common trope revolved around this general phrase:
“Oh, man. That must be depressing.”
I would smirk and nod in nothing but an obvious ploy to avoid discussing my passions with relative strangers, but there wasn’t much conviction there. Because to say that you are depressed by a baseball team is being disingenuous. One may be saddened, one may be discouraged, but baseball fandom does not cause depression.
Depression, the real kind — the lying on your back on the floor while staring at the ceiling and deciding which kind of death would be least cumbersome to loved ones — doesn’t manifest itself as sadness or mournfulness. It’s numbness. It’s not being overwhelmed with any certain feelings, just the opposite in fact. It is the absence of any feeling. It’s looking into one’s present and one’s future and seeing nothing. Nothing that will turn a situation around, nothing that makes existence worth the pain and the malaise of the everyday. It’s not that there is no hope, it’s that the mere word doesn’t have a definition. This is what people with depression deal with. They don’t get triggered by baseball teams, because they know the successes or failures of a baseball team will have nothing to do with what lies ahead. Baseball teams cannot lighten the darkness, so why would they be able to shroud it any?
Because of this, the Astros cannot be depressing.
Depression causes a feeling of being stuck. It drops the psyche in a vat of non-Newtonian fluid — the harder it struggles, the more rigid and insurmountable the situation becomes. Whatever the solution to the problem is — the career change, the return of a loved one, the sudden payment of financial or emotional debts — is not reachable. This is the problem. There’s not a way to start fresh. There’s no clean slate to inherit.
I opened the MLB app on my phone yesterday to check what time the Astros game was. Up to this point, I was still unsure about how this — I don’t want to say experiment, since that brings a coldness to it — thing had played out. Surely, I had learned a lot about the organization and enjoyed my time conversing with other Houston fans. I had cheered and yelled along with the tribulations of the team. But I was unsure if I was indeed a fan. I wasn’t even sure what that meant, to be honest.
And then, on the Astros page in the MLB app, I saw the headline. George Springer was getting called up. One of the most visible faces of the Great Houston Do-Over, one of the talents that was expected to take this team from laughable to respectable had gotten the call. I clenched my fist. A wave came up from my gut and curled the sides of my mouth. How could a team be depressing, when the end of the tunnel was close enough to touch?
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