Baseball fans are smacked with cynicism with great regularity. The refrains are familiar:
“In the end, it’s a business.”
“There’s no such thing as loyalty.”
“Loyalty matters more to the fans than it ever does to the players.”
Still we try to ignore the cynics. We invest emotionally. We get upset and we get sentimental. We grow attached. It doesn’t mean we don’t understand the fact that “it’s a business.” We do, and the reminders come often, whether we want them to or not. We just try to ignore that reality sometimes. That is part of the irrationality to which we are entitled as fans.
We get hurt feelings when players don’t want our team anymore. The degree to which we feel this way depends on the popularity of the player, or his perceived importance to our team. Which brings us to Ubaldo Jimenez.
Every Rockies fan seemed to love Ubaldo. He was genuinely humble. He took care of his family and he remembered where he came from. He lived a simple life and he worked hard. He was a player to be proud of.
As a pitcher in Colorado this collective pride ran deeper. We never really knew what it felt like to watch a pitcher who was truly dominant before him. So when he was compared to Bob Gibson, started the All Star Game, and threw a no-hitter, all with that aww-shucks demeanor and little-kid smile, we almost teared up with pride. Because of an extraordinary combination of elite talent on the field and genuine likability off of it, he was truly our guy.
All of which made last July 30 so painful. It was gut wrenching to know that he was traded and to see it happen in such a darkly awkward manner. I remember nothing from that game except for Ubaldo’s one inning and the visual of him hugging his teammates on the way out of the dugout. Jim Tracy teared up at what a “special man” Jimenez is. Fans found themselves admonishing the organization for trading the gentle ace and transferring that frustration into ridiculous expectations for the incoming players. It was another brutal reminder about the business of baseball. The organization said it needed to capitalize on Jimenez’s value at its highest point. Like so many players he was ultimately an asset; even if they also saw him as a “special young man,” the business interests trumped.
It was a moment that hurt fans. Thankfully it wasn’t about Ubaldo not wanting the Rockies. It was the team’s fault and we blamed them accordingly. Even if there was a justifiable explanation for the trade in baseball terms, we were mad to have to watch the departure of such a beloved player.
As we understood it at the time, the end of the Ubaldo Jimenez story in Denver was painful and yet familiar. We still loved the player and we were mad at the team. Eventually we would forgive them and move on. Loyalty to our team had survived moments like that before, and it would survive again. We would cheer for the Rockies, and we would cheer for Ubaldo in Cleveland. He was nothing but a class act through the whole ordeal, after all.
Being mad at the team and not the player is easy. That is why yesterday’s article about Ubaldo was so difficult to swallow. In the article Ubaldo admitted that he did want out of Colorado; he actually wanted to be traded as early as spring training and he selfishly played through injuries to stay eligible to be traded. So now we are mad at him too. It feels like a direct slight to the fans that he ignored the possibility of an extension after the 2011 season and put his own interests ahead of the team’s.
It was a business for Ubaldo too. The reason he felt disrespected by management was marked with a dollar sign, and he made what appears to be a business decision that he no longer wanted to be in Colorado. The lovable, gentle ace, with his dorky gait and New Balance cleats, was a businessman too. Any affection he had for Colorado’s fans, which he claims will always run deep, came second to his own selfish interests.
Is he entitled to look out for himself? Of course he is. Was it still management’s decision to trade him? Yes it was. Do these after-the-fact comments make him a bad guy? No they don’t. But the fact it was Ubaldo saying these things, the guy who used to be our guy in such a special and unique way, made it sting that much more. For Rockies fans it was the worst kind of reminder about the business of baseball.