This is Matt Duffy and his buddy Skeeter. For many of you, this is just another cat on the internet. But for San Francisco Giants fans, this is a reminder that sports is a cruel, cruel business. Why? Because his owner is one of the fans’ favorite players. Unfortunately, today (August 1, 2016) Matt Duffy was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, which promptly blew up my Twitter feed!
Today was Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline. In layman’s terms, this was the last day that players could be traded from team to team easily. Players can still be traded after this date, but there are more restrictions. (These rules are really complicated, so don’t click here unless you really care about this sort of crap.) Baseball fan’s everywhere were anxious today, waiting to see if their teams improved their chances by making a trade or 2.
But in order to get something, you got to give something. And today, the Giants (in 2 separate deals) got 2 pitchers for Duffy and 4 minor league prospects. While most fans understand this economic tenet, the loss of Duffy was especially hard. He is a very hard-nosed player, very accommodating to fans and the media, and well respected by his teammates. Last year, his first full one in the majors, Duffy was awarded with the Willie Mac Award, voted on by his teammates. It was more spectacular in that Duffy was the first Giants rookie to ever win this award. And in 2014, he made this breathtaking play in the playoffs. To this day, I still consider it one of the most clutch plays in Giants playoff history.
Today, I was home from 10 AM to 2 PM, simultaneously watching MLB Network on TV, Twitter on my laptop, and mobile notifications on my iPhone. Even though I hadn’t slept much the night before (for unrelated reasons), I refused lunch and a nap until the 1 PM deadline had passed. And even then, I had to stay awake to make sure that the rumors were true. To my dismay, they were: one of my favorite players was traded.
Actually, 2 of my favorite players were traded. Josh Reddick of the Oakland A’s was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers (and Giants historic rival) earlier in the day. While it was not unexpected by A’s fans, it was still very heartbreaking to come to grips with this reality.
Sports fans are a quirky lot. We obsess over the most minute of details, we are way too biased for our own teams and unabashedly hate our rivals. (Come to think of it, sports fans are like the politically-minded in 2016 America). Fights, both verbal and sometimes physical, are started with inane comments like “The American League is inferior because the designated hitter takes much of the strategy out of the game.” Say that out loud in front of the right (or wrong) people, and you might get a fist in the face. Any slight against “our team” or “our player” is a slap in our face. To root for our rival is to hate us to our core.
Many of my real life friends are sports fans. Some of them only come out of the woodwork when there’s a major deal. My buddy & I had a lengthy text exchange earlier today. Here’s just the beginning of it:
I have another 3 more screens of dialogue, but my point is clear. This relatively short exchanged was repeated numerous times today, both publicly and privately, all throughout the baseball world. We sports fans put a lot of thought and emotion into our teams and players, sometimes too much.
Annie Savoy, in the iconic movie Bull Durham (played by the wonderfully gifted Susan Sarandon), gave a beautiful soliloquy on the Church of Baseball. The connection between teams and the fans is very special (not necessarily the one that Annie had with the Durham Bulls players!). And the connections we have to other fans is very real, often bringing the instant sense of community. I can search for “Giants fans” on Facebook, and several group pages pop up. I’ve connected with many Giants fans on Twitter, even though I’ve only met a few of them in person. And I’ve saved face at many social gatherings by huddling up with other sports fans and sharing stories about our favorite moments and players. Just by wearing a hat or shirt of the team of choice emits the beacon of light to the faithful around us. But clothing is for the novice fan:
Attending a game in person is akin to participating in a worship service. By going to the stadium (church), completing all the rituals (cheering for the home team, booing the opposition, standing for the 7th Inning Stretch), and singing hymns (the national anthem and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”), we share with our fellow human beings in a sacred ceremony. Beyond just observing the game from afar (from home, or work, or the car), we can actively contribute to the rite. Players often talk about the emotions they feel from the fans, which in turn motivates them to greater heights. Though I cannot throw a 100 mph pitch or hit a curveball, I can still have an impact on the game and on my heroes.
I met Josh Reddick at a fundraiser for a wonderful school before the start of the 2016 season. Even though I was a Giants fan (and he gave me a hard time in this picture), he was very gracious to me, answering all my questions about his team and his experience in baseball. Even though I only spent a hour or so with him, I will cherish this time.
I met Matt Duffy at an autograph signing in 2015. Though I only talked to him briefly, he was impressed that I asked him to sign my copy of his favorite book. Most people asked him to sign baseball or bats or jerseys, so I stood out from the crowd. Plus, I won the internet that day!
In the end, I know that players come and go. It’s the nature of the business of sports; very few players stay with a single team for their entire careers. And even though Josh and Matt won’t be on the local teams, I will continue to follow their careers. I will even cheer for them when they come back to down, even if one of them players for the Dodgers! We will still be BFFs!