Resist the Old Narrative, Giants Fans

By Armando Gonzalez, SacMidtown.com

(3rd Inning of NLCS, Game 6—2-0, Phillies)

“You know, we really have had one hell of a year. I mean, who would have thought we would have made it this far, to the NLCS and all. Seriously, it’s been a fun ride.”

(2 innings later—tied game)

“Do you think we throw Bumgarner out of the pen in Game 7 if Cain struggles early?”

(9th inning, 2 on, 2 out, 3-2 count)

“Dear God. Not again…please…not again.”

If you are like me surely you heard a fellow Giants fan utter these words, or texts, during Game 6’s clinching win of the NLCS.

After Game 4’s thrilling 9th inning victory, the San Francisco Giants found themselves up 3-1 in the NLCS, and many fans were practically sending out their Facebook event invites for World Series viewing parties. Yet, just one and a half games later these same fans were now ready to pen their team’s obituary during Game 6.

So how is that? How could one loss and a 3-2 series lead have an entire fan base switching from party planning to ledge hunting?

If you ask me, it’s all in a story.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, part of my job is listening to people’s stories for a living. During a therapy session I hear my clients tell stories about themselves, their partner, their family and the world they live in. And, while all of these stories may be unique to the storyteller, they are all riddled with common themes. Themes of mistrust, despair, disappointment, and worse yet, hopelessness.

I happen to be of the belief that the themes imbedded in those stories play a large role in a person’s expectations of someone or something, acting as a self-fulfilling prophecy if you will. In other words, I think the more someone becomes entrenched in believing these stories, positive or negative, the more likely they are to come to expect, and experience, subsequent events that seem to fit with the theme of their  dominant story. If something occurs that doesn’t fit with the theme of the popular narrative, chances are it does not become storied, and thus, not remembered.

The more we buy into these stories, the more we retell them. The more we retell them, the more cemented these themes seem to become, and low and behold, the more they appear. (There. No you don’t have read The Secret).

Cultural narratives seem to operate similarly except in this case a mass of people collectively authors a story. 

Quick—when I say Tiger Woods what are the first few thoughts that come to mind? Now–Lebron James? Any chance those first few thoughts may have been different a couple years ago for Woods? 6 months ago for James?

Two years ago if I would have told you a story about Woods or James being an egotistical jerk you would have told me there’s no way. “That Eldrick (or Lebron) is a standup guy, there’s no way!” (likely your exact words)

The point being that the cultural narratives we construct for sports athletes are no different than the narratives we construct about our own lives or the people and things in it. And, just like those narratives, a story is not constructed solely based on the element of character alone. Often times an athlete’s dominant story is written based on what he has or hasn’t accomplished.

Before Kobe Bryant was an unquestioned winner who led his team to back-to-back titles, he was once dubbed the guy who couldn’t win without Shaq. John Elway was once the guy who couldn’t win the big game before he rode off into the sunset with a pair of rings.

All stories are translucent and fluid, even with the ability to shift overnight. All it takes is one defining moment, one big event that doesn’t fit with the overarching dominant theme of the story—and poof the entire story is re-written and the pendulum swings the other way.

Think it’s limited to athletes? Try a sports team.

Quick—when I say Boston Red Sox what comes to mind? Powerhouse team. One of the postseason’s constants. Yet, you probably would have had different thoughts had I asked you at the start of 2004 season, right?

That 2004 World Series run turned the Sox franchise’s dominant story from one of a hard luck and cursed loser to that of a consistent winner. Incredibly, one postseason run was enough to shift the figureheads of the story away from the curse of the Bambino and Bill Buckner to the heroics of Big Papi.

So now—when I say San Francisco Giants what comes to mind?

Salmon Torress’ meltdown in ‘93? Scott Spiezieo’s homerun in Game 6 of the ’02 World Series? Felix Rodriguez blowing that lead? Pudge Rodriguez single handedly beating us in the ’03 divisional series? Steve Finley crushing our dreams of one last run with Bonds?

As a fan base suffering from a 55-year championship drought, we can’t help but think about the blown saves, the improbable losses and the crushing defeats.

In any other facet of life if you get emotionally burned once you remember it. Twice, you take notice and action to avoid it. Out of self-preservation, and in the name of sanity, we learn to avoid putting ourselves back in the situations that cause this sort of distress and pain. And, if we stick around to endure it three, or four times? Then we will surely be left with permanent scars.

When it comes to following a sports team that shells out this sort of emotional abuse on a yearly basis, it’s not easy to just walk away from your love. And yet, the longer we stay, the more pain we are likely to endure, and thus the less hopeful we become about things ever changing.

It’s not just the fans that internalize these narratives though. We take our cues from the teams and players we cheer for. When a 3-run lead evaporates in a game and we see the “oh sh*t” deer in the headlights look on a players face, that is our cue to begin worrying, remember the story of blown games, and expect the worse. One can only imagine what type of effect it must have on a player who is playing on a team with a dominant narrative like this. Baseball is full of superstitions and mystical thinking. Just as the Cubs, Indians, and Giants fans might ponder in these moments of unraveling if their team might be cursed, one could only imagine that the thought has crossed a player’s mind a time or two while wearing these teams’ jerseys.

So, how the heck do you break the dominant and restrictive narratives of a team that has suffered losing like the Giants franchise has?

Here’s one way to do it.

You start by bringing in a group of guys who live for performing in the moment and have dominant personal narratives that classify them as winners on the big stage (Welcome, Juan Uribe, Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowland, and Edgar Renteria).

You mix that with a group of veterans who are starved for that type of success, and who are at the point in their careers where they are willing to do whatever it takes to win (Hello, Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, Freddy Sanchez, and Andres Torres).

And, to top it off you load up on a bunch of talented kids who are too young and too talented to buy into the dominant story of heartbreak and losing (Hey, Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Brian Wilson).

Once assembled you get those guys to start believing in one another, the team and one common goal. Then you believe some more. You believe like you never have believed before. And, before you know it that belief translates into a string of wins and energy that slowly begins to spill over to the fan base. This sort of belief and success is just the sort of magic that has the potential to start chipping away at the dominant narrative of the franchise.

Something happened when Duane Kuiper coined the title for the story of this year’s team being, “Giants baseball—torture.” The torture wasn’t anything new. We were used to that sort of emotionally wrenching baseball because it has long been part of the larger experience of being a Giants fan. The only difference is every other season torture always ended like it sounds—badly. We would come back from a 3-run deficit just to lose in our last at bat. Overachieve the entire season just to fall flat on our face when it really counted.

This year is different though.

This season we still squandered opportunities and blew games by hitting into one two many inning ending double plays. Except this time torture had a different outcome. We won.

Nearly every game we have endured this post-season has been tortures. Nail biting sequence after sequence. One run game followed by another one run game. Nearly every time this year’s Giants had their backs against the wall they did what other San Francisco teams of the past couldn’t do—they delivered. And in doing so, this year’s team of “misfits,” “idiots,” and “castoffs” has managed to accomplish the unthinkable. They have gotten a fan base to believe that a story 55 years in the making can be re-written.

Yet, here we are. Getting ready to step onto baseball’s biggest stage and as much as we try to ignore it that old narrative is attempting to creep back into our collective consciousness. It reappears only to protect us. To remind us that 8 years ago this team outplayed the Anaheim Angels for six games, were eight outs away from a ring, only to watch it all wither away. The old story about Giants baseball says if this team takes you this far start preparing yourself now for the fall.

But, Giants fans, you must resist the urge. Resist the old story. Tell it to shut up. If you hear it from your best friend, the guy at the grocery store, or even your diehard uncle who taught you to love this team, and this game, you must shut it down. Not now. Not with this team. This group is different. These Giants are the ones destined to break the mold.

This is the team of the beards, the rally thongs, and castoffs. This is the team that turned torture into winning. This is the team to believe in. These are the authors of a new story for Giants baseball.

About Jimmy Spencer

Jimmy Spencer has extensive experience in journalism and new media. As the founding editor of SacMidtown.com, Spencer combines his writing, reporting and editing skills to produce a "pretty good site about midtown." During the day, Spencer covers government and also covers the NBA. At night, he watches T.V. and plays on the Internet. Every now and then, he walks around his midtown neighborhood. Spencer began his professional journalism career with The Sacramento Bee, finishing his tenure with the McClatchy-owned newspaper in the new media department. Spencer moved to Connecticut where he continued his growth in new media as a writer/content producer for NBC Sports. Spencer also worked in media relations with the Sacramento River Cats, Minor League Baseball Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A’s. Spencer graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from California State University, Sacramento where he served as Editor-in-Chief of The State Hornet campus newspaper. Spencer was raised in Marin County and currently lives in Sacramento, Calif. Spencer works in the community as a high school basketball coach in the Sacramento area.

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Posted by on Oct 27 2010. Filed under 49ers/Raiders/A's/Giants. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

4 Comments for “Resist the Old Narrative, Giants Fans”

  1. Mike Pass

    Mondo Man——–well put! Always nice to read your thoughts on paper!

  2. Uncle Dave

    Dido, Part of me says the true spirit of baseball should be the love of the game… not rings! Having watched Mays and McCovey in the 60’s I never felt like I needed a championship.After years of enduring Seattle futility all I can say is…. GO GIANTS!!!!

  3. Kevin Gebro

    Armando,
    Rooting for the Giants this year, especially in September and now October, has been torture but it’s a torture I’ve looked forward too (based on my past experiences, I generally steer clear of torture). I listened to an interview of Brian Wilson on “Rome is Burning” and Brian was apologetic about getting 3 players out in a row for a perfect ninth….he was sorry he didn’t add any drama to our lives. With that, I bought in to the Giants and their torturous ways and no matter the stories and results of the past….all that really matters is living in the moment and lets just see what happens. Good or bad, don’t hold on to it and lets write another Giants story next year.
    Armando, this is well written story and I truly enjoyed reading it. Thank you! Game 1 of the 2010 World Series was a well written story too. Go SF! More torture is just fine with me.

  4. Max

    What a great take! And this is a great explanation for what is happening in San Francisco right now, or even all of Northern California… a collective frenzy. Perhaps I’m bias, but what I’m witnessing from afar is a mass of people rallying over a team with such energy and character a bit above and beyond what baseball normally sees. It is a people, much like the Boston fans in 2004, who are experiencing a change in their narrative. California has had some hard times recently, which has contributed to the narrative of old. But these fans have rallied around this very unusual team with a sense of hope and a desire for change that sports has, throughout history, provided. It might not be as dominant as Boston’s curse, or as meaningful as the Saints to New Orleans, but it might be nice (and good for the sport) for the Nation to start taking notice of something special going on in one of America’s most prestigious cities. With all due respect, I can’t imagine this kind of frenzy going on in Dallas/Fort Worth. There’s just something unique and different going on in the City by the Bay, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch. Let’s hope the rest of the country is watching too.

    But even as I write this, Mondo, that little voice of old creeps in, preparing my heart for disappointment and sending my brain to off-season strategy moves for next year. Beat it down! This is it!!! Go Giants!!!!

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