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Rooting for the laundry: Delmon Young edition

In which a conflicted fan tries to rationalize his hypocrisy.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The first run of the Orioles' 2014 season came off of Delmon Young's bat. He grounded into a double play with runners on first and third and nobody out, but the run scored. As the play happened, I yelled "Awwwww," then I cheered as the runner crossed the plate, then I said to my gametime companion, "Well, at least he didn't get an RBI." These are the conflicted moments that come with having a guy you don't like on a team you want to succeed.

When you really get down to it, sports fandom in the modern era is really nothing more than silly tribalism, at least as far as players go. Rooting for a franchise makes some kind of sense, since you probably grew up watching it, or have some kind of connection to its home city. But mostly gone are the days when hometown players would come up to play for their local team and stick with it for the duration of their career. Free agency and the money that came with it, along with the dramatically higher stakes for franchises and the wealth of statistical data available, make such perfect fits for such long periods a rarity. So fans who latch on to players do so at their peril, and instead find themselves increasingly rooting for whoever dons the uniform each year.

Which leads to uncomfortable situations like Delmon Young being on the 2014 Orioles. Oh, Nolan Reimold, if only you weren't so broken, you'd be the team's fifth outfielder / right-handed DH. If you don't know the whole history on Young, it's pretty short and pretty nasty -- he was suspended twice in the minors for altercations with umpires (one of which included throwing a bat at the official), and arrested (later pleading guilty) in New York for aggravated assault, including yelling antisemitic slurs while intoxicated. So, from the outside, it was easy to dislike Young when he was playing for the Rays (who seem to believe that unlikeable ballplayers are the new market inefficiency) in two separate stints.

A surprising spring and unsurprising Reimold injury later, Young was the Orioles' opening day DH, and fans find themselves in that awkward place where they'd like Young to succeed for the team's sake, but maybe to fail for his own sake. Or maybe they find themselves meandering into that two-faced rationalization that all sports fans do -- Well, maybe he's learned from his mistakes -- adopting beliefs that they'd absolutely never accept if he were simply wearing a different uniform.

This is the twisted result of modern sports fandom. Orioles fans know all too well that David Ortiz's mention in the Mitchell Report is another reason to hate him, but Brian Roberts thoroughly redeemed himself with his sincere apology, and probably only tried steroids one time anyway. And there's still some chance Rafael Palmeiro got that tainted supplement from Miguel Tejada, right? But Mark McGwire just straight-up lied to Congress. Of course, it's OK to turn on your own if they stink at their sport while going through an off-field trial (Sammy Sosa, Sidney Ponson), but the guys who are baseballing well for our own tribe really couldn't be bad people, right?

So, Delmon Young, please hit the baseball well for the Orioles when it matters. But maybe don't do so at all when it doesn't matter, so you can get a ticket on the Norfolk Express? Otherwise I might start to rationalize my way into rooting for you, instead of just rooting for a very select few baseballs that leave your bat, and I don't like myself when I do that. And hey, if you get designated for assignment, I'm sure the Rays would love to have you back.