Don’t Try To Fight Your Good Dustin Ackley Feeling
By and large, your brain is pretty smart. It’s pretty good about looking out for itself and for its host body, and it’ll usually tell you what it wants. You have instincts and first impressions and feelings for a reason, and though these days we have feelings about things our bodies never could’ve known would exist, there’s a lot of validity in listening to yourself. Your brain will tell you if a song is pleasing. It’ll tell you if the weather’s uncomfortable outside. It’ll tell you if you’re in the mood to socialize, or if you’d be better off laying low. Most of the things you think, you think because of your brain, which is something I learned in college. And your brain has reasons for sending signals, even if you might not always understand what they are.
Right now, your brain is telling you that you want to believe in Dustin Ackley again. Of course, you’ve been through this, and you’re not alone — we’ve all been through this. Dustin Ackley has been through this. But this time, like the other times, you want to believe. Your brain is sending those signals.
It’ll also indicate to you, in a minute, that I might be a wet blanket for pointing out certain things. Over his last 112 plate appearances, Ackley’s posted an .887 OPS. That’s very good. It’s unquestionably encouraging, as we all continue to wait for Dustin Ackley to turn into himself. But then earlier this very season, Ackley managed an .823 OPS over 86 plate appearances. In 2011, he had a stretch with a .921 OPS over 167 plate appearances. In 2012, there was a run of an .822 OPS over 102 plate appearances. In 2013, there was a run of an .851 OPS over 120 plate appearances. Dustin Ackley’s had hot streaks before. Every single time, we wanted to think he’d figured things out. Every single time has led to this year, where Ackley still has a below-average batting line. He has a below-average career batting line, and he’s coming up on 2,000 trips to the plate in the bigs.
Your brain wants you to believe. Your brain wants you to ignore skeptics or otherwise discouraging information. Your brain doesn’t want you to bum yourself out. Some of you might be trying to override your own brains, trying to use it to convince itself that there’s no sense getting excited this time, on account of all the previous times. But, you want to have a good Dustin Ackley feeling. So you should embrace it. Why the hell fight the hope, even if the hope’s been spoiled before?
Isn’t that kind of the whole point? Fan projections are always more optimistic than objective projections, and reality. Fans tie themselves into knots every season trying to see reasons why the next year could be The Year. Every time a young player turns things on, we entertain the idea that they’re breaking out. We’ve been there with Ackley and god knows we’ve been there with Justin Smoak. Most of the time the breakouts aren’t breakouts at all, but every so often there’s a Michael Saunders, or a Michael Brantley, or a Jose Bautista. In theory, being skeptical can protect you from further disappointment, but do you really want to be a sports fan on the defensive? This is the one part of your life where you can entertain unreasonable dreams. And it feels better to hope. That’s why your brain wants you to do it.
This isn’t a situation like junk food and exercise. In those areas your brain can be cruel — it tells you to keep eating junk food, and it tells you that exercise sucks, and then it’s hard to stay in consistent shape. The downside of giving in and eating junk food without exercising is that you die soon. The downside of allowing your hopes to get up in following a sports team is that you’ll be let down a lot, but you’re likely to be let down anyway, and the upside is that you can actually enjoy your damned self. You can be aware of the analysis, you can do your own analysis, and you can still let yourself get carried away. It isn’t going to hurt you, and you get to experience more smiles and less dread.
In any given season, the odds are stacked overwhelmingly against the Mariners winning the World Series. We know that, we all know that, but we still watch to see how the story plays out. By investing ourselves at all in the first place, we’re selecting hope over reason, so why then draw lines? It’s all silly irrational nonsense, and the goal is to maximize the good, not to minimize the bad. These aren’t your savings. These aren’t even your real, important, deeply-significant feelings. These are your feelings about a hobby, and sports-depression is nothing like life-depression. Sports-depression isn’t something you need to protect yourself against, unless you’re way too wrapped up. Sports-depression makes you unhappy watching a ballgame. Life-depression makes you unhappy doing anything, and those aren’t the stakes here. You can be a dreamer because why the hell not?
I don’t know if Dustin Ackley’s figured things out. I honestly suspect nobody does. I suspect even the Mariners are taking this one day at a time, Ackley included. My guess is that Ackley hasn’t figured things out, or that he’s temporarily figured things out, and pitchers will soon make him figure other things out. That’s the rational part of my brain, responding to a request for consultation. But that’s not a part of my brain I like to consult very often when I’m watching a game where I want a team to win, because that’s the side of my brain that doesn’t have fun. That’s the side I need for important life decisions, but choosing whether to believe in Dustin Ackley again isn’t anywhere near the top of my important-life-decision list. Those decisions I leave up to the young party side, and that side has been burned a lot and recovers fast. Young people can recover from anything, and it’s the hopeful part of your brain that preserves your youth, even when you’re hoping against probability.
Maybe Dustin Ackley’s finally arriving. Maybe he’s going to quit it with his annoying little drift in the batter’s box, and maybe now he’s going to be that consistent line-drive machine he was supposed to be from the beginning. Maybe Jesus Montero’s turned himself into the answer at DH, and maybe D.J. Peterson is less than a season away. Maybe everything good. We already know that Ackley has turned himself into a pretty good defensive corner outfielder. We’re already seeing him improving. If the bat’s for real, he’s a core piece, and a vital asset down this particular stretch run. Maybe Dustin Ackley is valuable. If he’s not, I know I can take it, but I don’t see the value in bracing yourself against a pain that won’t hurt. This is sports. This isn’t even sports — this is one player out of a lot of players in sports. People seem to have more fun on roller coasters with their arms up.