Loving sports is among the least-rewarding pursuits in life. I should know, having spent most of my life pursuing it. At best you get a day or two, maybe a week, of gratification from knowing that your imagined affiliation with a far-away group of athletic professionals has outplayed their competition; at its worst, you get unending months of humiliation that you’ll carry with you to your grave. The latter is more frequent and more memorable.
But every now and then, maybe once or twice in the life of the average non-Yankees-or-Red-Sox fan, the stars align. Everything breaks your way, and for a moment, you realize it was all worth it.
Again, I’m happy to say that I’m speaking from experience. Because my team — the dismonikered group I’ll be referring to as the World Champion Atlanta Baseball Club — finally did the thing.
It happened just a few short months ago, actually. You may have seen it on TV. The club stormed through October on a shocking hot streak, upsetting the juggernaut Dodgers and devilish Astros with relative ease en route to their first championship of my lifetime. And did I mention they did it all without their best player?
As you can surely see from reading this far, the WCABC’s sudden success made me insufferable. I lost all my friends. I was kicked out of my apartment for constantly screaming at my TV. I spent all my money on overpriced World Series merchandise, and before I knew it I was going around suburban Kentucky looking like a walking Fanatics advertisement (I promise at least one of these things is true.)
I’d like to say that this experience taught me some perspective. In reality, the only lesson I’m likely to take from it is that purely unwarranted optimism sometimes pays off. Also, the Baseball Gods are out there and they have a mean sense of humor.
Anyway, with the 2022 MLB season starting this week — the 2022 defending champion Atlanta Baseball Club season — it seemed a good opportunity to reflect on this rare experience and what it all means in the end. So if you ever find yourself in my shoes, celebrating the end of a prolonged title drought (looking at you, Brewers/Padres/Rays/Mariners/Blue Jays fans), you’ll know what to expect from that brief window of wonder.
These are the Seven Stages of Sports Euphoria.
Stage One: Shock
“What do I do with my hands??”
Much like the seven stages of grief, it starts with shock. Your immediate reaction to your team winning it all manifests as a complete lack of functionality in your cranial noodle. You see Will Smith take the mound for the final inning, the result all but decided, and you still can’t process what’s happening. Surely he’ll find some way to blow it, you think, knowing full well he’s been nails all month. It can’t be this easy.
Two outs now, the ball is on the ground to short… and your hands go numb. Freddie Freeman is running across your TV with the biggest smile of his life, searching for someone to hug. You would like to accept that hug. Instead, you run outside and do laps around your house while you wait for your brain to fire back up.
During this stage, you may feel as though the world itself has paused on its axis and showed up at your front door. You are correct. It doesn’t get better than this.
- Loss of feeling in your limbs, face and extremities
- A wide circle of trampled grass in your yard from some idiot running the 200-meter dash in socks
Stage Two: Disbelief
“Pinch me, I’m dreaming!”
The companion feeling to shock, running parallel to denial (and perpendicular to blind faith), is disbelief. You’ll experience a heavy dose of this in the days that follow your team doing the thing. Every morning you’ll wake up utterly convinced that it was all a dream, and every afternoon you’ll spend loading up highlights to convince yourself it wasn’t. In what world can Eddie Rosario morph into Reggie Jackson for two weeks and send the greatest pitching staff in the game home in a casket? This one, compadre. This one.
It’s only natural to feel this way, particularly in such an unlikely scenario. After all, the thing you’re convinced was a dream is probably very similar to an actual dream you’ve been having since childhood. Not that the Baseball Gods give a hoot about your feelings, but it’s nice when things work out that way, isn’t it?
- A loosening grip on reality
- Compulsory texting of friends and family members, making sure they saw what you saw
Stage Three: Pride
“Mama, we made it…”
Once reality settles in (this can take up to a month or more, in severe cases), the void in your heart will be filled with pride. And I’m not talking about the rainbow kind, though if you spend enough time on Dansby Swanson’s social feeds, that could also be true. This is the part of the process where you feel most connected to the events of October, to the point where you convince yourself that you even played a role. We really did it, you’ll think, shamelessly overestimating your contributions from your couch. This is the proudest moment of my life!
There’s nothing wrong with embracing the community of fandom, and you’re perfectly justified feeling accomplished for having made it this far after sitting through the long, hard winter that was the rebuild. But still, it’s important you keep perspective in this moment. Otherwise you may get carried away, say something obnoxious and wind up being the main character on Twitter for a day. That’s never good.
- Tears of joy
- Over-inflated ego
- Questionable use of the word “we” in reference to a group of grown men you’ve never met
Stage Four: Relief
“It was all worth it.”
By this point, your initial excitement will have settled and the magnitude of what’s happened will take root in your thoughts. Realizing how many things have broken your team’s way, you’re overcome with a powerful wave of relief. That’s it. The curse is dead. Even as the baseball world falls apart around you, stuck in a collective-bad-faith-bargaining-hell, the thought of your team’s accomplishment is enough to keep you going. For all you care, the sport can disappear like Trevor Bauer sans-sticky stuff. Your team will be World Champs forever!
This is a well-earned feeling, born of years spent agonizing over repeated postseason failures. They finally did it, and no one can take that away from you — not even Rob Manfred and his army of evil minions. But let’s be real, you still need baseball in your life. How else are you going to fill your time during the long summer months? Get a real job? Hell no. Let’s get this sorted quickly, I’ve got draft sheets to fill.
- Random spurts of nervous laughter
- Days spent wandering around in a haze like hypnotized Peter Gibbons
Stage Five: Arrogance
“The haters are WEEPING”
It may not always happen in this order, but trust that your emotional recovery from sports euphoria will one day lead you to arrogance. For some, it may start as soon as the final pitch is thrown. For others, it may take several months. But as the celebration fades, your mind will inevitably return to the laundry list of haters who have wronged you along the way. From the Twitter trolls to the podcasters to the beat writers who failed to respect your team in their power rankings that one time, no soul is spared. They were ALL wrong, you’ll mutter with a malicious chuckle. And I knew all along!
Needless to say, it’s a slippery slope from here to Full-Time Asshole. Have mercy on those poor bloggers, they’re doing their best. There aren’t a lot of predictive metrics that could’ve told them Tyler Matzek would become the most important player in baseball for a solid month. As the old adage says, “To err is human; to forgive, 80-grade.”
- The uncontrolled urge to ratio three-month-old tweets
Stage Six: Emptiness
Once you’ve made peace with your spiteful feelings, prepare yourself for the darkest stage of whole ordeal. Emptiness creeps into your brain like a parasite, eating away at your hard-won confidence. It starts when you have a little too much time on your hands; most years, you’d be channeling your bitterness from the previous season into renewed passion for the new year around this time. Without that bitterness, you’re unmoored from your routine. So you begin to contemplate whether you’re truly as happy as you think you are, as everyone expects you to be, as you should be. And as it it turns out, that’s an impossibly difficult question.
To make matters worse, suppose your team hypothetically allows your childhood hero, the heart and soul of the group that endured it all and just brought home a championship, to walk away and sign with the enemy. You begin to question the very values of your fandom, wondering what’s worth more in the end: a three-week thrill ride, or a decade of memories that can be thrown down the tube in an instant (hypothetically)?
The good news is, this is still baseball we’re talking about. The lifeblood of sports fandom is commiseration, and there will always be something new to complain about. You may not be able to forgive your team just yet, but you can acknowledge why they did what they did and move on with your life. As soon as Spring Training starts you’ll be back in the saddle, scrutinizing every roster decision and lamenting every squandered baserunner. It’s the natural way of things.
- Garden-variety nihilism
- Impulse-blocking Chelsea Freeman on Instagram
Stage Seven: Acceptance
“Alright, let’s run it back.”
The final stage of the adjustment process is acceptance. Living with success is a lot like living with loss, in that both require a certain mental recalibration; the main difference is that the latter involves managing your expectations, while the former demands a new level of conviction (also, one sucks and the other is great). The trick is letting your old anxieties fade away and allowing yourself to be happy.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re in good shape. You’re ready for a new season to begin, and you’re excited to see what this new iteration of your team can do with a little swagger under its belt. Your new attitude should be one of graciousness: let the Phillies and Mets enjoy their early-season window of hope this year, I’m not even gonna stress until June. At the end of the year, your team will be right back where they belong: firmly in the mix, with as good a chance as anyone to run it back.
Congratulations, you really did it. You — yes, YOU — willed your team to the promised land, and now you’re reaping that once-in-a-lifetime reward. But more importantly, you’ve come away from it all as more wholesome and mature individual.
Now stop reading this and go rub it in someone’s face. YEAH, SPORTS!
(Photos by John Adams, Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire) | Adapted by Drew Wheeler (@drewisokay on Twitter)