I don’t know how much MLB.com’s Jason Beck gets paid, but his tweets leading up to the spring training warm-up between the Florida Southern Moccasins and the Detroit Tigers regarding the absurdly large tiger beyond the outfield wall at Joker Marchant stadium alone earned him his salary early in spring training. It began with an innocent enough tweet identifying the unavoidably large inflatable feline somewhere beyond the center field fence.
As more information began to trickle in, questions I did not know I had were being answered. It wasn’t just a large inflatable tiger. It was a bouncy house, and it had a name.
Giant kids bounce house from last year... pic.twitter.com/9qKpORiB1H— Ryan Eversole (@mav713) February 22, 2018
As I contemplated this tarpaulin tiger, it occured to me that this funhouse construction could serve as an apt metaphor for something many of the members of this fanbase are unfamiliar with: the rebuild. If you will indulge me, I’m going to attempt to lumber as best I can through the experience we may want to be preparing ourselves for over the next six months.
Imagine it’s a warm, sunny spring morning in Lakeland. As you enter Joker Marchant stadium you see, far off over the wall in right-center field, there looms an engorged orange giant that demands your attention. It draws you in, forcing you to contemplate its purpose and, subsequently, your own. You approach this inflatable tiger, and quickly realize that it serves a more useful purpose than just sitting there and looking huge. It is indeed, a bouncy house.
Standing on the outside looking in the entry to this experience appears somewhat challenging and leaves you asking yourself “Is this really worth getting into?” This is the very question many fans are asking about this 2018 season. It’s a rebuild, and the hands up posture of this beast suggesting he is already surrendering indicates that there isn’t an expectation of success. The roster is a list of names so unknown and challenging it makes you wonder how Jim Price is going to survive Lakeland, let alone the regular season. You decide it’s not going to be that bad. You focus on the fun of the bouncing, the memories of a healthy Miguel Cabrera mashing baseballs and the thoughts of an effective Michael Fulmer and you decide it couldn’t possibly be so bad as to avoid the season entirely.
Someone on the design end of this tiger showed equal parts foresight and restraint by avoiding two physically easier, but otherwise problematic points of ingress and egress, and designed entry and exit points in the feet.
Assuming that you have somehow convinced the minimum wage employee that it is indeed appropriate for a grown adult to enter a giant tiger shaped bouncy house with a bunch of children, you begin the crawl up the inside of the left leg. This is the early part of the season. It’s exciting and unknown. At this point you can anticipate the experience you would like to have, ignoring the warning signs from the child in front of you squealing with unbridled aggression and generally behaving in a manner that is best associated with a wolverine someone just stabbed with an epi-pen. It’s like watching spring training and choosing to believe Steven Moya could hit 40 home runs as he mashes fastball after grooved spring training fastball, willfully ignoring the fact that he can’t hit for shit against anything else.
As you emerge from the upper leg you find yourself quite literally in the belly of the beast. You slowly find your footing. Watching carefully not to seriously injure any other participants you begin to find your footing and get some serious air. “This is actually kinda fun” you think to yourself. This will be the first months of the season. In the beginning the fact that the team hasn’t been given the adequate rope to hang itself, combined with the simple fact that you’re actually watching real baseball again will be enough, but much like this bounce house packed with kids whose bellies are full of cotton candy, sugary drinks, and other random stadium foods, an experience that is at first exciting, could turn terrifying, and is almost guaranteed to not end well.
Things will start to get familiar, kids will get comfortable and start getting kind of rowdy. As you start to wonder if it might be time to exit you notice a six year old in a hand me down Yoenis Cespedes shirsey who looks like he’s having a bad go of it. You lock eyes just as he opens his mouth to projectile vomit hot dogs and Dr. Pepper like a wide open fire hydrant on a hot summer day. This is when you realize things are bad, and they’re going to stay that way. Welcome to the all star break.
Armed with the knowledge that one puking child in a crowd of children sets off a chain reaction the likes of which you don’t want to witness, you make the wise decision to head for the right leg and get out while you can. The long, baked-vomit smelling crawl to daylight is the equivalent of the last months of the season. You’re just hoping to see the end without anything too terrible happening. When you do reach the conclusion of this adventure the hope is that you valued the experience just enough to not swear off doing it again in six or seven months.
As a fan you have a choice to make, and please know I’m not telling you which way to go here. That’s your decision. You can be angry about your experience, which is a valid reaction. Barring a miracle, things will not unfold in an ideal manner, and certainly not in a way you may be accustomed to. You invested your time and energy in a product that has proven less than stellar. You can also choose to find the humor and entertainment in your experience and embrace that. We as fans are not owed perfection. We’re owed an entertaining time, and the more you can allow yourself to be entertained by the follies of a rebuilding franchise, the better off you’re going to be over the next few years. I’m going to do my best to be entertained. I may not always be successful, but I’m going to try.