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Life Lenses

Who would have ever thought that Adam Kennedy, of all players, could cause this type of reaction?

I come to you today without any kind of real analysis, as I so often do; pretty much everything I could say about the situation at second base for the Cardinals in 2009 has already been covered by my colleagues here, and elsewhere, far better than I could. Number-crunching simply isn't my forte; I tend to lose interest when more than three or four acronyms are being thrown at me at any one time.

What I do have, though, is something that I want to talk about. Just a little thing, really, but something that I personally find fascinating nonetheless.

So that's my disclaimer. If you're looking for useful analysis that will help you to fill in the blanks in this paint-by-numbers exercise that we call the baseball offseason, then I'm not going to be of any help to you.

Anyhow, if you're still with me, I wanted to talk just a little bit this morning about Adam Kennedy.

We've all had plenty of time to weigh in now on the whole situation with Kennedy, to make our voices heard, be it on this forum, some other website, sports talk radio, or maybe just bitching to your friends around the proverbial watercooler about the way the situation was handled, one way or the other.

I've followed the story rather closely since it broke, I have to admit. Not because I have any real particular interest in Adam Kennedy himself, mind you. No, I've followed it because the way that people are reacting to this is just fascinating to me.

We all watched as Adam Kennedy turned in one of the worst season imaginable in 2007, his first season with the Cardinals. His bat appeared to be made of papier-mache, and the defense that had come so recommended to us looked to be a thing of the past. He looked slow. No, worse than that. Adam Kennedy looked old. It looked like the player we thought we were getting was still floating around Anaheim somewhere, leaving us with only this withered husk standing out in the twilight, coming up just short on everything.

But then, in 2008, Kennedy turned it around a little bit. He had the knee surgery toward the end of the '07 season, and it seemed to do him some good. Last season, he looked stronger than he had, and faster. In fact, he turned in one of the very best defensive performances in all of baseball. His glove alone made him a useful player,  despite his continued struggles with the bat.

What his glove did not make him, however, is an irreplaceable player. Let's face it: Adam Kennedy is a decent baseball player, no more.

But when he was released, the floodgates just opened. Suddenly, the player that people called for to be released last season and the year before had been horribly wronged. The anger toward the front office has been, to be honest, stunning. They've been called liars. They've been called backstabbers. They've been called, well, much worse things. And all of this over the release of a middle infielder who projects to be worth about a single win in the standings.

What I wonder about all of this is if there isn't more than a little bit of transference going on here.

See, things are pretty rough for all of us right now. i know for a fact that many of the people on this board are worried about their jobs, not because people have mentioned it, but just because pretty much everyone is worried about their jobs. I know I am. Even if you aren't worried about your job specifically, I'm sure you're still worried about the state of things in general.

So when we see Adam Kennedy unceremoniously dumped, are we maybe seeing just a little bit of ourselves there? The Cardinals said that Kennedy was their guy up until just recently; now he's just gone. How can we be sure the same thing isn't going to happen to us? It obviously doesn't matter how much our companies assure us that things are going to be alright, because one day you come in to work and it's just... over.

Of course, there's another side to this. Another bitter, slightly snide side, that of the people who joke and say they would love for someone to pay them four million dollars to sit at home. It's funny, of course, and true; I would adore it if someone offered me the same deal. But at the same time, isn't that a little insulting? Whether he's being paid or not, this is a man who was just told by his employer, "We would rather pay you to just go away than have you around any longer." A little harsh, don't you think? Yet we try to make our jokes. Are we really laughing that he's being paid for doing nothing, or are we angry that he doesn't have to live in the same world we do, a world where we don't have the golden parachute of a guaranteed contract even if we're told to just go away.

Now, please don't think that I'm trying to question anyone's motives in posting on this site, or any other, or of calling the shows, or anything else. Your motives are your own, each and every one. But all the same, I think this speaks to a larger meaning, something about the way that we relate sports in general. Something about why sports mean what they do to us, and maybe why we need them to.

I have a quick little story for you, and it's about me.

On a Sunday night last April, I lost the woman that I love. She was killed in an auto accident on her way home from shopping with her mother. I was having dinner with a friend of mine, the phone rang, and my life changed. I drove up to Chicago, where she lived, and managed to get there before she died. She never regained consciousness; there was no magical movie moment of recognition. I said goodbye to a lump of meat that looked a little like someone I knew. I had asked her to marry me the previous Tuesday; our engagement lasted less than a week.

After that, nearly everything in life seemed utterly hollow. Scratch that; there was no nearly about it. Everything seemed hollow. Period. I had this exciting new gig writing about baseball and getting paid for it, and I could barely stand to turn on my computer. I didn't want to be around anyone; I would have honestly preferred to just not wake up one day.

Something that I remember about that time specifically is how I felt about the games themselves. On days when the Cardinals won, life still sucked, but at least the team won, at least I could feel good about something. Nights when they lost, though, I just completely lost it. When the Cardinals lost, life literally was not worth living. The most important thing in my life was dead. I was never going to find anything good again. The world was shit. I personally was not worth anything.

Of course, nothing really changed, one way or the other. The fate of a baseball team had very little bearing on my life, save that it changed the tone of the article I had to come up with the next morning. But somehow, a pretty substantial portion of my grief had become attached to this baseball team, and their success or failure changed the way I felt about myself and the world on any given day.

And that's why I wonder if we're not seeing a little bit of the same thing now. I wonder about it because I've done it before. There's so much anger toward the organisation for releasing Adam Kennedy; maybe we're just angry that we could be out on the street just as quickly. I see anger toward the ownership, because they change their minds and we don't feel like we can believe them, yet I ask you: how often do you take anything a sports team says at face value? Maybe we just feel like everyone is lying to us; why can't our team, one of the few escapes that we have, just be simple and honest?

There's anger toward ownership for not spending any money, for using the economy as an excuse. I ask you, though: hasn't this economy changed the way you're looking at things? I know I was planning on buying a new car this year before everything went to hell, but now I'm going to just keep the one I've got for a while. Why shouldn't ownership change their plans when things are so bad? Maybe we're just angry that baseball isn't a fantasy. We'd like to get away entirely, and you can't do that when someone in your fantasy is reminding you that things are bad all over.

I suppose what I'm trying to ask, in my typically long-winded and meandering way, is this: how do you relate to sports in your life? When your day is bad, does it pick you up? Or when the team self-destructs, what does it do to you? I know that I've always been someone who takes losses much too hard. The Cardinals lose, and I'm tough to be around for a little while after the game. I get it into proper perspective, of course, but being angry at the team is likely going to lead to me snapping at you if you try to talk to me twenty minutes after a blown save. I wish it wasn't that way sometimes, but it seems to be something I'm sort of stuck with. (For what it's worth, I used to be much, much worse. I am at least trending in the right direction.)

Are we transferring our own lives onto the Adam Kennedy situation? Are our own fears about an uncertain future and a brutal economy making us all angrier toward the team than we might otherwise be? I don't know, and wouldn't presume to pretend that I do, but I do know this: I've never seen the Cardinal fanbase as flat-out pissed off as it is this offseason. And it doesn't seem to me like the anger is all just because of the moves, or the non-moves, for that matter.

At the very least, it's a question that I wanted to ask all of you here. Please don't think I mean to offend, as that is not at all my intention. I honestly wonder how you all feel about sports in you lives. I wonder if they mean the same things to you that they do to me, or if you have a different experience entirely. And lastly, I wonder if we're all saying the same things when we call the front office liars, or fools, or angels, or devils. I wonder if we all mean the same thing, or if we're all calling them something different entirely, something that only means what it means to me, and nothing at all to you.

I know it isn't all that useful, and it may be a little heavy for a rainy day in February (or maybe not, what good is a rainy day in February if not for thinking long thoughts), but I think it's a question worth asking. We've all had a chance to say exactly how we feel about Adam Kennedy. I'm just a little curious if any of us know why we feel the way we do.