So, earlier this year, I had an idea for an article that I wanted to write. Basically, the premise of the article was that fans don’t really care about winning. This was all spurred by the fact that the trade deadline was in full effect in baseball and that there was a lot of sentiment related to the fact that the Brewers didn’t need to make any moves. Regardless of how good the team was, people posited, we weren’t supposed to win right now. So why try to speed the process up? I was puzzled by this logic. If there was ever a sport to jam your chips in the middle during the season to try to win it all, it’s America’s past-time. After all, baseball gave us one of the great sports axioms of all time: flags fly forever.
Basically, the thought process behind this statement was/is that accomplishments and championships never go away. Once you win a pennant, or a trophy, or a gold medal – no one can take that away from you. The banner is always going to be up in the rafters. That’s your fucking flag, and it’ll fly for as long as you want it to fly.
But I never wrote that article. I didn’t write much this summer, as it were. But the idea stuck with me. And I watched as the Brewers, who never added the arm that they were supposed to needed, rattle off 11 straight wins and found themselves in the National League Championship Series for the first time since 2011. It turns out you don’t necessarily need to make splashy moves to win, so the two schools of thought weren’t necessarily that far off. It was something special, with or without the additions. But the people who said it was too early didn’t seem to enjoy the winning any less. Just saying.
As the season evolved I started to have a new idea. Same article title though, so that’s convenient. And, no, it isn’t another slam piece on the fact that sports writers don’t know anything and we’d all honestly probably be better off taking any predictions they make and ignoring them. I realized something very, very important. Vince Lombardi might roll over in his grave (should he care), but I’ve come to an important conclusion: winning isn’t the only thing.
I want to take an aside to talk about something, or in this case someone, that might seem completely unrelated: my grandmother. Violet Robley was one of the smartest, sharpest, and strongest people I’ve ever met. Nobody that knew her had anything bad to say about her, and she had nothing but good things to say about everyone else. She was a fucking saint. I truly wish I would’ve been able to spend more time with her and soak up more of her wisdom, but the one thing that I will remember from her until the day I die is her crowning piece of advice to me: somebody’s gotta win, and somebody’s gotta lose.
For the longest time, I thought that total hogwash. It wasn’t practical. It didn’t even say anything! Obviously someone has to win and someone has to lose! That’s the point! There are winners and there are losers, and you obviously don’t want to be the loser. You need to be the winner at all costs.
And then, earlier this year, I grew up. And I think I finally understood what she was talking about.
In August I competed in the 2018 World Master’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament in Las Vegas. If you know me personally you’ll know that I spent a long time getting ready for this tournament. I spent a lot of time in the gym, a lot of time on the mat, a lot of time in kitchen, and a lot of time away from fun activities that might limit time spent in the places I just mentioned. It was going to be me and 52 other guys, and we would all be fighting for that same flag. When the tournament was over, I finished off of the podium (for the first time) and I watched as my very talented peers, some of whom I’d beaten and saw as my equals, battle for their hard earned medals.
I should have been bitter, or angry, or disappointed, but I wasn’t. And maybe the fact that I wasn’t was the reason I wasn’t on that podium. Maybe I didn’t want it badly enough. That’s hard to say, I can’t control anyone but myself, and I know how badly I wanted it. But I suppose we all did. We all wanted to be up there. But, at the end of the day, at the end of every match, somebody had to win and somebody had to lose.
The fact of the matter was that the tournament was only part of the journey. The months leading up to it, the trip driving to and from Las Vegas, meeting my friends, making new friends, it was all part of the experience. And it was an experience I would never forget. To borrow a corny line from nearly every cartoon I watched as a pre-teen, it turns out the real flag was the experience I made along the way.
Look, winning certainly makes something ordinary into something special. I’m not debating that. This magical season by the Brewers is going to be something that the state of Wisconsin is going to remember for a long time. If they do manage to win a flag this year, it’ll hang and people will remember that the season ended with a championship. But lots of special seasons end without them. After all, somebody’s gotta lose. And, hell, sometimes a loss can be more memorable than a win. But the flag itself doesn’t mean anything on it’s own. It’s just a piece of fabric.
Look, I’m obviously not a professional here, and I’m sure the pros do not feel the same way, but if you take the scope out far enough, only one team is lucky enough to win it all. And, even then, that only lasts for so long. I remember watching the Packers win the Super Bowl from the stands in Arlington, Texas and thinking “that was one of the most amazing things I’ll ever witness… wait, what’s next”. It seems like sports fans can win a championship one year and completely forget it before the end of the next season. Don’t believ eme? Ask an Astros fan how much they care about last years title while they’re in a knife fight with Boston for the ALCS.
This Brewers season will be remembered for a lot of things. Like how we caught the Cubs from five games back. Or how Yelich won the MVP. Or just how amazing it was to watch the second act of Ryan Braun’s career start to unfold. And I suppose if you argued that both of those things are related to winning, I guess I’d be forced to agree. But we’d have a dialogue about it. We’d have to figure out exactly what winning means. Because us losing the World Series doesn’t negate any of those things. That’s the thing, it’s all in how you define victory. My jiu jitsu idol, Nick “Chewy” Albin, gave some great advice in one of his recent videos: “your definition of victory is allowed to change”. We get to choose what victory means for ourselves. If you want to change your definition of victory to anything short of a championship win, that’s cool. That’s on you. We get to create our own flags, and we get to fly them as long as we want. Maybe not as a fan base, but certainly personally.
Tonight, the Crew will get a chance to topple the Dodgers and move on to the world series. Here’s hoping the Brewers read this article, nod in reflection of how poignant it was, and then “fuck that” and go get their own flag. It sure would be sweet to see that thing fly forever.