During the past week, D.S.C. fulfilled his baseball game quota for the season. Last Sunday, I went to Citi Field to see the Mets vs. the Giants (Stadium-review: good amenities, no personality). Yesterday, I saw my Cubbies play the Pirates (Stadium-review: Nirvana, duh). Both games lasted four hours and felt like eight. Strangely, however, I had fun at both, even as they reaffirmed that I’m off the baseball train until they find a way to tighten things up.
But, this column isn’t about driving The Dilemma crazy by pointing out how baseball is a dying remnant of another age. It’s about the question of fan responsibility; specifically, their responsibility as far as booing is concerned. I’ll explain.
The first game featured Oliver Perez pitching for the Mets. Even as I was entering the stadium, I heard fans grumble about his salary and how much he sucked. It’s not that they’re wrong… Perez lasted 3.1 innings and gave up 4 runs, 3 earned, with 7 walks. He was a total disaster. But, from an outside observer’s perspective, the Mets fans had some culpability. From the first hit, in the second inning, the boos cascaded down. Every time he did anything except throw a strike, the boos were amplified. It was obvious that Perez was on the edge of losing any semblance of control, but the game was still tied at 0. To me it seemed emblematic of one of the big problems of New York fandom… the itchy trigger finger on trashing players. Even if Perez sucks, even if you hate that he’s on the team, there’s no reason to make a bad situation worse by booing him at the drop of a hat.
Yesterday, the Cubs and the Pirates were tied at 6 going into the 8th inning. Out of the bullpen trotted Carlos Zambrano. Now, I’ve made clear in the past how painful it is to see the ghost of Zambrano at this point, especially when I know he’s making $18 million this year. But, when he trotted onto the field, I clapped along with most other Cubs fans. We’re stuck with him, so why not try to make the best of it? Why kick him while he’s down?
How does he repay my kindness? Hit batter, single, homer, double, single. Game over. When was I booing? A little after the homer, a little more after the double, full-throated after the single. When the fans behind the dugout stood and cheered for him as he went back to the dugout after only surrendering three runs, I was disgusted.
I don’t know where the line is between destroying a player’s confidence and rewarding a player for a bad performance. I just know it lies somewhere between what I experienced at the two games this week.