Stacked on my desk are ten plastic baseball helmets used as ice cream bowls. All of them green with a yellow “O”; they represent roughly half the baseball games I went to this season, which ended yesterday after Rice University slapped eleven runs up on the board, ousting Oregon’s four. In the mouths of every Oregon fan was that awkward, bitter, unfortunately-familiar taste of defeat.
For those who don’t live in Oregon, this current Duck baseball program has not been around for very long and yet has already experienced a surprising amount of success. Since 2009, Oregon baseball has seen the NCAA tournament three times; 2010, 2012, and 2013. And in the very first game at PK Park (Oregon’s baseball stadium), the Ducks ousted the defending champions, the Fresno State Bulldogs. Impressive, to say the least.
I’m not sure if it’s the green and yellow, awesome venue, ice cream, beer, a winning team, or a mixture of all the above, but I started taking to Duck baseball like the 60,000 Autzen residents take to Duck football. I eyed the competition from other schools, learned the Oregon roster all the way to the red-shirted freshman, and sat in awe of the athletic ability of my alma mater’s baseball players – in addition to the coaching brilliance of George Horton. Despite it being such a young program, I’m eager for next season to begin.
Losing sucks. It really does, especially when your team had a great chance of going all the way – maybe not the best chance, but a great one nonetheless. Yet just because a team loses does not mean it is no longer a team worth rooting for. As a Nike ad said two years ago after the Oregon football team lost in the National Championship, “Everyone loses games; Few change them.” Now I don’t know that Ducks baseball has changed the game of baseball; but I do know that it has changed the interest in baseball here in Oregon.
I don’t know if attendance increased this year compared to previous years, but I certainly know there are traditions amongst baseball fans. With videos like “I’m Elmo and I Know It,” “Techno Chicken,” or the clip from Major League whenever Jimmy Sherfy comes jogging out of the bullpen late in the game, Ducks baseball feels as though it has been around a while, which is something you want for a team looking to win a few more NCAA-tournament games, maybe even a College World Series. You want your team to be known, to be considered a “contender,” so that the best teams take them seriously. That way no one could ever say, “Oh, that was a fluke; they caught the best teams on their bad days.” Everyone will know they earned it.
I can’t say that Oregon will win a national title soon; all I can say is that, as a fan, I hope they do. Heck, I hope they have undefeated seasons with several pitchers tossing perfect games or no-hitters along the way. I hope to see bleachers in the outfield because so many more fans are watching and because more home runs are being hit. And I hope to collect a few more of those baseball-helmet ice cream bowls (and to dodge diabetes). And if I give up because Oregon lost last night, I won’t get to enjoy or experience any of that – at least, not as much as I could.
Seeing your favorite team suddenly become victorious is one thing; seeing them lose again and again despite predictions and polls and then finally winning it all is entirely another. I sincerely hope I choose to be that fan who sits through the rain.