Example: 2004 wouldn't have been half as bad if 2003 hadn't had so many improbable bright spots.
I'll always have a special place in my heart for the 2003 Toronto Blue Jays. I attended 66 games that year, which led me to meet you guys and, through a series of odd circumstances, to my current job. That baseball season changed parts of my life.
We had no illusions going in. The non-Halladay pitching staff was... Not to be uncharitable, but they were awful. Consider: Mark Hendrickson, Jeff Tam, Scott Service, John Wasdin, Tanyon Sturtze.
The batting was colourful, at least. Old guys, short guys, kids, a guy from Alaska, platoons. And yet somehow this scrappy, ragtag group (plus legitimate baseball player Carlos Delgado, who must have felt like Kenny Rogers in Six Pack*) drove in a lot of runs. Reed Johnson and/or Frank Catalanotto either hit a single (Catalanotto) or got hit by a pitch (Johnson) right before Vernon Wells or Carlos Delgado chauffeured them home with a fireworks display. I know it wasn't the case, but my recollection of 2003 was that every Jays loss was a 10-9 loss, and every non-Halladay win was a 11-10 win.
Considering that, and an overall winning record, when the 2004 team added Ted Lilly and Miguel Batista as starters and an almost entirely new bullpen filled with decent if not spectacular pitchers, it felt like big things were afoot. Possibilities! Slim outside chances! And that's why the Season From Hell was so Hellish: we felt hope and we were burned.
This is why we're seeing so much cautious, guarded optimism for 2013. 2012 was pretty Mayan for the Jays, so these big moves can't possibly be enough, right?
Sports fandom is about grand emotional rollercoasters, the kinds of experiences you can't find in a Robert McKee formula screenplay. Everything is organic and unpredictable. The only variable we control is our own reaction: if we expect the worst, our emotional crash is minimized. But do we want that? Aren't we missing out on the emotional release of wallowing in that trough at the lowest point in the season?
And when the team bounces back, we want to have been down at the low so we can ride the slingshot all the way back up to the peak and feel that exhilaration.
* In Six Pack, country superstar Kenny Rogers attempted to crossover into a film career, playing a race car driver who inherits a group of orphans and turns them into his pit crew. It's terrible.