Adam Lind Is Gone, Long Live Adam Lind

So little of what we do as fans is done for anything like a rational reason. That doesn't make it any easier to say goodbye to the favorites we choose.
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During the hot, beer-clutching summer days at the ballpark—days that feel distant now, as the first snow falls on Toronto—there were sad rumblings of its fated certainty. It’s easy to ignore all the conjecture when the AstroTurf is green and you’ve got a two-can buzz on, but the idea of the coming loss lingers in the back of your mind, an anxious thought safer not to entertain it until it’s final. Unremarkable and inevitable, Adam Lind was going to be traded, and we knew it.

And it happened. On November 1, Lind’s option was exercised by the Toronto Blue Jays, and that same day he shockingly yet predictably became a Milwaukee Brewer.

Lind has been my “favorite player” for four seasons now. He’s a complete stranger that I, an adult whose closest contact with him was really just a few occasional hours in the same ballpark, have come to love. I like to think that’s a relationship weighty enough to justify the ridiculous little break up cry I had when news of his Brewers status hit. I salved the burn of loss with thoughts that he could hang out with Hank the Brewers dog, daydreamed about a Cactus League spring training trip, and wondered what I would do with my now defunct Adam Lind jersey.

The task, now, is to imagine for the first time what he would look like in another team’s uniform; try to picture visiting his new team’s ballpark; envision the infidelity of another fanbase yelling his name. As with anything having to do with fandom, the stunned, half-embarrassing despondency that followed the deal seemed out of proportion, overlarge, and otherwise absurd.  As with anything having to do with fandom, it was both chosen and non-negotiable.

***

I will readily admit that Lind was not my favorite during his days as an anointed Silver Slugger, that I missed the crazed fanfare of early years where his bat burned the hottest. 2011 marked my return to baseball after a lengthy break, so I wasn’t there on that record-setting day in 2009, when Lind was the Opening Day DH and drove in six runs against the Detroit Tigers, giving Roy Halladay the win. I was absent during the era in which Lind was easy to love, and came to find him compelling when the general populace had mostly given up on him. I rode alongside him as his stats slumped towards figures that made him at best reliable, mostly average, and occasionally a victim of the unforgiving and ugly choruses of “you suck.”

I chose Lind in 2011 for the inexplicable, amorphous, and very personal reasons we each pick out our favourite players. These reasons necessarily differ dramatically from fan to fan. That year was, to put it mildly, terrible for me, and it was that terribleness prompted my return to baseball. I found comfort again in the innocuous and beautiful drama of the game, and near-randomly plucked Lind out of the roster as the player I would label my own.

The strange chemistry of that connection always seems to be an indiscernible divination of both where that player is and where we are in our own lives. Some of us lazily choose “the best,” while others need to see promise in unlikely heroes; I’m not sure I can claim either, really. Some of us gravitate towards underdogs, while others like more obvious fanfare. Some enjoy quirky personalities, while others pay a premium for jerseys emblazoned with predictable names with appropriate stats. It’s personal, all of it, but it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say the answer to “who’s your favorite player” says great deal about not only who you are, but where you’re at in life.

What picking humble, soft-spoken Lind says about me I can’t entirely be sure. Perhaps it was because the sports reporters I know never had a bad word to say about him, often telling me he was “smarter than people think” and polite and always up for their questions, even if it seemed he thought some of the questions were absurd. (Which they were, but he’d answer them anyway.) In my first and only scrum with him he seemed terribly human—adorably self-effacing and genuine, a refreshing sort of sports star who seemed to have no idea he was one.

So Lind was the quintessential likable “nice guy,” an aw-shucks midwestern archetype married to a local Canadian girl (from the same Toronto suburb as myself) who took pity on him one night when she saw him eating alone in a Toronto restaurant, afraid of the big city. He was the subject of a collection of endearing stories; last year, his doting mother urged him to get an MRI on a broken foot that the Blue Jays medical staff missed. He was consistently skirting the limelight, either scrupulously or naturally ensuring that there was nothing ever terribly outspoken, offensive or controversial about him. In the end, the sole thing we were arguing about in regards to Lind was his unkempt, red goatee.

Despite his affable nature, loving Lind was less easy task and more exercise in masochistic endurance. People were egregiously prone to calling him lazy, fat, and stupid, screaming for a trade on bad days and saying close to nothing on the good ones. In his long and thwarted return from the brink—he was pretty good over the last two seasons, when he was healthy enough to take the field—Lind had a definite “phoenix rising from the ashes” quality about him, even if that phoenix seemed to be burning up and rising and burning up and rising over and over again.

I vividly recall my tantrum when, on May 17, 2012, the Blue Jays optioned Lind to Vegas, and then—unbeknownst to him at the time—followed up by putting him on outright waivers. When he miraculously returned in June he slowly bounced back; by July of 2013 he had a magical .350 batting average and temporarily crept into the list of top five American League batting leaders.

Support for Lind waxed and waned so much that being consistently committed to him made you feel like a member in an elite cult of believers, regardless of how crazy people thought you were.  The payoff was the distinct, smug thrill of “I told you so.” It seems like a small thing, and in reality is a small thing, but it was more than enough.

***

In the big blue sea of a stadium full of Jays fans, the percentage of Lind jerseys was certainly on the lower end during the time I claimed him as “my player.” Lawries and Bautistas were abundant, but when I walked the concourse and saw another Lind like my own there was a silly, near juvenile impulse to connect with another convert.

Liking him brought me structure—I always bought my ball tickets on the first base line, whether it was at Skydome, or spring training, or Fenway, or Wrigley, or Comerica. I took great pleasure in the fact that when Lind went yard, people in my life would kindly lie and let me know, “he did that for you.” From Lind I learned that your favorite is your anchor, a way of returning to each game with glorious predictability and in the same prized place, right there alongside your guy as he stands there, kicking at the dirt.

Why we love what we love is such predictable fodder for so many lyrical musings on the game of baseball. I’ve seen so many old men cry over the loss of players, teams, and games over the years to understand that while that strange love doesn’t have any logical explanation, it is still as real as it comes. When you sign up for that devotion, nobody sits you down and teaches you how to say goodbye to a player. You’d feel near ridiculous even asking for that lesson. It is, after all, just a game—that strange stew of affection and business that mostly means heartbreak.

In my grief, it would be easy for me to hurl invective at the villain Anthopoulos because he traded my anchor for a song. It would be convenient to lament the game and it’s decisions that belie my loyalties. It is my privilege as a fan to do all those things. We pay, in every way, for the right to be disappointed.

But as I move through the process of mourning, I instead prefer to be grateful for that dirt-kicking redheaded Midwestern boy who—during a terrible year—brought me back to baseball. It’s where I’ll stay, regardless of where he plays. In this sense, if only in this one, the trade has already worked out.


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