We Were There: The joy of the rebuild

Aaron Murray joins us for the first time to write about the joy of a rebuild. He submitted this post via the “Contribute Here” page above. Want to write for us? Do the same as Aaron!

We’re hours away from the start of the baseball season and I want you to spare some thoughts for the forgotten few in the family of baseball aficionados: fans of the rebuilders. Ours is not the world of whole The Ringer podcast episodes dedicated to weighing up our roster for weaknesses, nor would it be wise for us to levy even a nominal sum on our team winning it all in early November. But let one thing be clear: we’re not to be pitied. No, those among us who are fans of rebuilding teams actually have it better than you’d believe and I’m here to tell you of where we find our joy.

The thrill of the rebuild starts with the teardown. We’ll have watched year after year of bad baseball and yearned for a change of course. We may love a few gems left on the roster, but imagine what we can get for them. Then the trigger is pulled, the stars are dealt for premium young talent and hope is on the horizon. At this time our clubs are the centre of the baseball universe with the big fish finally paying attention. Our F5 key is loosened from overuse, we’re vastly overestimating what our 34-year-old left fielder is worth and we haven’t even thought about the misery of a true tank job, but we’re content because a change is going to come.

Once we’ve sold up shop we have the groundsman playing short stop and the mascot on first base, but there are no complaints. No complaints because what we fear most as sports fans is being let down, an eventuality that is close to impossible when your team is rebuilding. Your club will have a dearth of talent at the major league level, but you’ll find the most talented youth in the world down on the farm and no result is a bad one. If your star prospect is hitting below the Mendoza line in front of two dozen people in a rural outpost (hi there, Blake Rutherford) then they are merely learning their craft, honing their skillset and getting important reps. And then, when The Next Big Thing is called up we assure ourselves that a walk in their first at bat is a harbinger of a hall of fame career – for evidence, we have the video of Yoan Moncada’s first at bat and the rapturous applause from the Sox faithful.

Back in the big leagues, there is no conceivable result that can disappoint. A historically bad season will bring about a top draft pick and more Next Best Things. A surprisingly successful season and we’re convinced we have the players in place to pad out the roster when the prospects arrive. There are no star pitchers whose loss of control has us calling for the firing of the entire coaching staff, but we have plenty of the loveable journeyman type who are, we’ll tell you often, fantastic for dressing room morale.

And then there’s the satisfaction of being there when it all began. Baseball fans outside the US have a natural detachment from our teams and our fellow supporters. We’re like that American guy you know whose knowledge of football is a fraction of what they believe it to be, exemplified by the use of awkward language and truisms. That is until we become invested in the rebuild. When it all comes good, and don’t even try to suggest that it won’t, we know that we’ve put in the hard yards by dedicating valuable space on our phones to the MiLB app. We were rude on a night out by ignoring friends just to check how our club’s 24th best prospect pitched following his promotion from Double A. To echo James Murphy on LCD Soundsystem’s ode to his own hipsterdom – “we were there”.

There is, dare I say it, the distinct possibility that all does not come to pass and that the time in the wilderness does not end with glory, but we haven’t seen it yet in this era of all-or-nothing. The Astros and, unfortunately for us Sox fans, the Cubs have shown that a rebuild leads to a World Series so it always end like this, right? Maybe not, but countenancing that would be too painful so as the new season begins remember that you contenders aren’t the only people filled with hope, it’s just that ours is delayed for a date TBA, but when it happens we’ll be shouting loud – “we were there”.

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