Watching our favorite teams lose in the postseason can make us do silly things. Some of us weep. Others set fire to our own cities. And still others write indulgent, self-pitying blog posts. Regardless of how we mourn, on some level we expect the players wearing the nonreplica versions of the uniforms to mirror our own emotions — to sob and moan or, at the very least, clobber a defenseless water cooler until it bleeds bright-orange rivers of sugar water. What we don’t want in those highly charged moments are the very things we claim to admire in professional athletes the other 364 days of the year: professionalism and perspective.
Just ask Shane Victorino. The hyperactive Phillies center fielder joined Twitter earlier in the fall and was soon chattering merrily about mixed martial arts and dropping more “Bros” than an Entourage marathon. All was well: The Phillies were thundering toward the playoffs with the best record in baseball, and Victorino was one extended jag about “chompasauruses” from exactly living up (or down) to the enthusiastic man-child personality longtime “Phans” had dreamed up for him. In the days leading up the fateful Game 5 against the Cardinals, Victorino was his usual, guileless self — raving about Raul Ibañez’s swings in batting practice and shouting out “Chef Yung” at his favorite local eatery. After the brutal loss, Victorino was contrite, calling it “tough/frustrating” but hoping to wake up the next day and “understand the greater things in life.”
But as the optimistic outfielder went about his offseason — enjoying his kids and global cuisine, making jokes about Tony Romo, shouting out an up-and-coming “Christian reggae” artist (!) — the fan base wasn’t ready to move on with him. The quick implosion of World Series dreams was devastating to a city conditioned for failure yet recently deceived into expecting success. And so, to some, Victorino’s tweets seemed somehow inappropriate. As he joshed with Vance Worley about vintage kicks, compared travel plans with Brandon Phillips, or big-upped Tommy Bahama for donating polo shirts to his charity golf game (OK, that one is a pretty unforgivable), an unbrotherly fury swelled in the same streets Bruce Springsteen once serenaded. How dare Victorino consort with rival players! Or eat sushi! Or continue to watch organized sports! Phillies nation demanded blood or, at the very least, sacrifice. Cliff Lee, for example, would never be having so much fun. (This video perfectly sums up what most denizens of Ashburn Alley expected of the vanquished players. It also wouldn’t surprise me if it were true.) A beef was simmering, one not even the estimable Chef Yung could tenderize.
It got so bad last week that Victorino had to take a break from his semi-official duties tweeting about the World Series for MLB.com to formally apologize to the entire city of Philadelphia. It was another example of Twitter messily melting the barriers that have sustained our relationship with athletes for decades; think of poor Arian Foster infuriating a legion of fantasy football loons when he publicly put concern for his real-life body ahead of their quest for made-up points. But this baseball business was worse — if only for practical reasons. Let’s be clear: We don’t really want Shane Victorino to be as crazy as we are. Just like we wouldn’t want Jimmy Rollins to be racked with self-doubt and self-loathing, or Cole Hamels to scream obscenities and punch the clubhouse wall with reckless machismo after every bad play. (OK, maybe we do want that.)
Baseball players are a funny breed: They have to fail well more than 50 percent of the time just to be considered a success. They play 162 games — and sometimes more — over the course of six grueling months. They experience unbelievable highs and unspeakable lows. They have to play in Miami. No matter what, major leaguers have to be able to shut out the noise and negativity that surrounds them daily (Marlins players don’t have to worry about the noise) and focus instead on a crazy, internal confidence that past performance does not guarantee future results.
Take Albert Pujols over the weekend. Do you think the slugger was able to rebound from an 0-4 performance and a national debate over clubhouse access with one of the best offensive games in history because he spent the night listening to talk radio and berating himself? No! He did it because he’s a 45-year-old man with illegal horse blood coursing through his veins! He did it because he is a baseball player, and the only thing that matters to him is the present.
When Shane Victorino comes to the plate with a game on the line, all Phillies fans should be grateful the Flying Hawaiian’s mind will be untroubled by last season’s failure or the rising price of Wawa hoagies or the relative merits of Greek austerity measures. We want him to change the engrained hopelessness of Philadelphia sports fandom, not embody it. If listening to terrible Christian reggae can keep him hitting triples after doing things like this, then all we should do is shrug our shoulders and say “mahalo.” We may not want our favorite players to be Ed Hardy-wearing, perpetually positive goofballs. But we just might need them to be.