Being a Brewers fan in 2022 is the ultimate duality: spoiled yet tortured; satisfied while disgruntled; in love yet driven to hate. It feels like we're stuck in a perpetual game of tug-of-war, struggling to determine if we are being ungrateful or if we have been overly loyal.
Milwaukee has reached the postseason in four straight seasons - a record for the franchise. Two years concluded with division championships, and the 2018 club came within a game of the World Series.
Despite the string of playoff appearances, Milwaukee has only had one postseason series win during their consecutive bites at said apple. So again, it's fantastic to watch meaningful September baseball yearly and attend playoff games regularly. Yet, it feels like we're in a proverbial hamster wheel with the Brewers where we can never quite reach the carrot.
The 2022 Brewers' campaign has been challenging to navigate for fans. It hasn't created the same frustration a 106-loss season as 2002 did, but it's borne of unmet expectations, personnel drama, and thoughts of a "lost year." The sensation of loss - though this season still has plenty of hope (believe!) - comes from considering that the Brewers have had their best pitching staff in recent years.
Like many other fanatics, I keep coming back day after day because we love the team, acknowledge the peaks and valleys, and hold onto the dream that the team makes a run like the 2019 Washington Nationals and the 2021 Atlanta Braves. Of course, they both knocked the Brewers out of those respective playoffs. That's almost too "on brand" for the franchise.
As I said, I feel in a unique position where as a kid, when most attach themselves to a team and players to an unhealthy level, I was trying to believe in Brewers' squads that were not "it." I was innocent and naive enough not to know the despair, partly because we didn't have access to all the stats and analysis we do now. There was a certain peace and joy at 10 years old watching my all-time favorite player, Paul Molitor, lead the Brewers to a near-division title in 1992 when no one saw it coming.
Similar to me in this photo with Rob Deer. I look happy and grateful, not privy to the fact he would frustrate me if I knew about his .305 OBP and too many strikeouts for the era.
Then the mid-to-late 90s arrived. Early on, my innocence and lack of complete statistical access led to believing (or convincing myself) that the Brewers could ride John Jaha, Jeff Cirillo, Kevin Seitzer, and Fernando Vina to an AL Central crown. To squint hard enough to see Scott Karl, Steve Sparks, and Ricky Bones as a "respectable" head of a rotation to set up Angel Miranda, Ron Rightnowar, and Graeme Lloyd for success in the pen before turning it over to Mike Fetters for the save each night.
There's something to watching a sport with your brain shut off that I sometimes miss. If I had the advanced stats, video and constant expert insight like my two sons have now, I would have known the truth but never had that unflinching pipe dream of excitement when Opening Day arrived before quickly seeing another season slowly fading into disappointment.
Speaking of my boys, now we are definitely talking about spoiled. They are 13 and 17, have attended three Brewers' playoff games already, and have watched their beloved local nine reach the postseason five and six times, respectively. I didn't get to cheer on the Brew Crew in the playoffs until I was 26 years old and had to live through the agony of so many losing years to earn that right.
We were there when we went nuts as the 2005 club finished the first "non-losing" season (81-81 record) since 1993. My sons weren't even a thought in the universe then, and now they only know competitive and successful Brewers baseball - which is awesome! I'm so happy for them.
At the same time, they only briefly enjoyed that innocent, "informationless" hope of simply loving your team without thought or expectation. As they walked with me to the game (below), they weren't worried about standings, preseason predictions, or where the pitching staff ranked in ERA.
When they were very young, baseball was just a thrill to watch and play, and rooting for their favorite guys was as important as "going to the playoffs." For them, at their earliest ages, winning the game that day was the only thing that mattered. They still live by the day-to-day grind as I do (I'm blessed to share that with them), but in some ways, I wish all of us could watch and enjoy without the burden of wondering if they will ultimately collapse and waste a year of Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff without a shot in the playoffs.
Now my kids can talk with me about all sorts of stats, complain about a move by manager Craig Counsell, or question the strange 2022 trade deadline of President of Baseball Operations David Stearns. At the same time, my boys almost might not know how to handle seeing the guys they cheer on struggling to the point of missing the playoffs. Spoiled yet tortured in their own way.
When they play baseball, they can control their actions and help the team. They're learning how tough it is to watch and accept the outcome (like me as a parent) instead. I can see the slumped shoulders and blank expressions when the Crew drops another game to the Chicago Cubs. It's great...and terrible.
That is the beauty of the duality of being a lifelong Brewers fan: we feel multiple things sincerely. No matter how frustrating a game or season becomes, watching even bits and pieces of my baseball club can create a sense of routine, normalcy, and peace.
Having the game on TV or radio in the foreground is a tradition. Going to a game with my family and taking it all in is better than almost any other day doing almost anything else. The atmosphere, the conversations, and the spurts of celebration are just a few of the many thrills.
The sport has meant so much to my family and beyond since I was a child that it's more than just baseball. It would represent more than simply "winning a World Series" because of the time, energy, emotion, joy, and every other feeling I've experienced with so many friends and family in my life.
It's another reality of true fandom: I admit it sounds a touch ridiculous to put so much personal emphasis on a sport or team. However, to many of us, it's like having a "music family" or an "artistic family" - it is not just something to do, it is a passion and a way of genuinely sharing in a wonderful element of life that removes you from the real hardships. Instead, you're back to the clear mind and pure heart of childlike joy that comes with no responsibilities, replaced with unfiltered enthusiasm for something you can't control.
Maybe the Brewers will sneak into the playoffs again. Perhaps they come achingly close but short. As I've talked about with my boys, I know the cold doldrums of winter are coming where all of baseball is gone for a while. We hate that. We love baseball. We love the Brewers. Like with family, love comes with pain, frustration, and heartache, but also unmatched joy, support, fun, passion, and the comfort of knowing you're in this thing together.
So I implore Brewers fans to take the ups with the downs and enjoy the journey as much as you can (and complain as much as you want). Remember, you never know when another 26-year playoff drought sneaks up on you, and you long for September to matter again, even if it means absorbing the hurt of losing.
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