You’ve seen this scene hundreds of times. A basketball player drives into the lane and gets fouled. Everyone on the court mills about, taking their time to get into position as the shooter steps to the free throw line. He takes a couple of dribbles or slaps the ball with his hands or exhibits some other absolutely necessary idiosyncrasy before attempting to put some points on the board. As all this happens, it falls upon the commentary team to fill in the blanks for the viewers at home:
“…his second trip to the line this game. He’s shooting 85% on the season and he’s made 12 straight free throws…”
The shot goes up.
The ball bounces weakly against the ground, the score unchanged. The broadcaster’s jinx strikes again.
Forget the fact that nobody on the court can hear what the broadcaster is saying. You ask most sports fans and they’ll tell you that no matter how successful an athlete has been recently; one presumptuous statement from the announcer will immediately cause that player to falter. It’s ridiculous. The universe doesn’t work that way. Broadcasters make these kinds of proclamations all the time and they go unnoticed until the result we see on the screen is so contrary to what we’ve just been told that a “jinx” is the only logical conclusion. The truth is that when a great athlete makes an unexpected error it is the exception that proves the rule and that’s why those moments stick in our minds. Not because of any intangible influence.
I don’t believe in jinxes.
Saturday, April 21st marked the 4th Toronto Blue Jays game I’ve attended this season. They’ve lost all 4 of them.
I’ve seen them lose in almost every possible way. I’ve seen them lose trailing the entire game. I’ve seen them lose in extra innings. I’ve seen them get absolutely slaughtered too. I was at the 13-0 game a few weeks ago, the kind of traumatic experience that turns darkly hilarious after a few innings. It brought to mind a scene from Community:
On that day, the Blue Jays were Pierce trying to escape the womb.
The only thing I haven’t seen is the Jays blowing a big lead and I’m not looking to get that one crossed off the list. I just want to see them win.
It’s gotten to the point where I just hate everything I see on the long walk back to my car. I hate the other poor fans who suffered along with me. I hate the staff. I hate the theatres and restaurants around the Rogers Centre. I hate Canada’s Walk of Fame. I hate Roy Thomson Hall. I hate all of these things because looking at them reminds me of the terrible Jays performances I’ve paid for and sat through this season. I need them to win so I can love these things again.
Baseball is a game of so many variables that to agonize over every undisciplined swing and fielding mistake is futile. If the team is good, the positives will outweigh the negatives in the long run. I know this to be true and yet, when I’m watching the game live, these failures wound me deeply. I take it personally. Against the Yankees, Rajai Davis repeatedly found himself in high leverage situations and three times he created an out hacking at the first pitch. It was borderline pathological. We booed him lustily. We didn’t care that the only reason he was playing was because Jose Reyes is injured. When you’re on the field, you should act like you belong there.
I’ve had seasons where I’ve only gone to a couple of games and I guarantee you the home team won at least one of them. To have gone to four games this early in a season that is carrying such great expectations and to witness four losses is almost unfathomable. Not that the team is tearing the house down otherwise. They’ve lost 12 of their first 20 games and I just happened to be at 4 of those losses.
The scary thing is that there’s no encouraging way to process this information. Either my mere presence is causing the Blue Jays to underperform (unlikely) or this team is not as good as we predicted they would be (increasingly likely). I choose to believe that they’re going through a bad stretch, like any team does during a season. I choose to believe a lot of things about Toronto sports teams to help me get through the year.
Even taking into account the Reyes injury, it’s difficult to convey the depths to which this offence has plummeted. As of April 23, the Jays are 28th in batting average, 26th in on base percentage and 18th in slugging. They are hitting a farcical .202 with runners in scoring position. They are tied for the 2nd worst run differential in all of baseball. We’re reaching a point where the doctor is going to stop delivering and just start laughing.
The team is only 4 games under .500 in a year where the AL East division is going to be a bloodbath, but I don’t know how much longer I can massage my fandom. Conventional wisdom tells us that Baltimore and New York will regress, Tampa Bay and Toronto will round into shape and Boston…who knows how far that team can go with the inspiration of a wounded city? Still, if the Jays are 7 games out of first in the middle of May? 9 games out by the end of June? Toronto management did everything in their power to create a contender, but even in our sabermetrics obsessed era baseball games are not won by projections. Sports will always be decided by an amalgamation of talent, skill, motivation and luck. For any fan, the latter factor can provide either frustration or exhilaration; even more so when you feel like you’re somehow affecting the home team’s fortunes.
The flex pack I purchased has me committed to at least 11 more games this year and I plan to go to every one of them.
I don’t believe in jinxes.