Will Middlebrooks Gets His Number, But I Won't Be Buying A Shirt

Christopher Pasatieri

Nothing against Middlebrooks, but maybe it's time I stop buying player shirts

This isn't some stance against merchandise, either for its ever-rising price or the fact that the necks of player t-shirts these days seem oddly tight since Majestic changed the design. It's not meant to make any kind of stand and tell you not to take advantage of those MLB.com sales for shirts and jerseys, or to keep you from buying yourself or your kids the shirt of the apparel of their favorite player when you're at Fenway this summer. And it's certainly not anything against Will Middlebrooks, who had an excellent rookie campaign and is deserving of your love via t-shirt sales. This is a little more personal of a decision than that.

I like to think that, in my work life, I'm about as unbiased as a fan who writes for a team's site can be. In no small way, this is due to a focus on numbers and facts -- it's not the only way to analyze the game, and therefore it's not the lone way I try to look at things. But it's there, and the cold, unfeeling numbers tend to do a good job of balancing out the fandom. At least, I hope so -- that's the goal.

That even extends to watching a game at the bar, or on my couch -- I'm patient, and try to give careful consideration to events and players before overreacting in a way I'll regret shortly after. Say, when I have a more carefully calculated reaction to something than when it first happened.

There's one area in which I am completely irrational and, admittedly, far too superstitious, though. And that's when it comes to team and player merchandise.

Part of the problem is with me and the "success*" that I've had with player t-shirts and team hats. Let's start with shirts. I tend to buy player shirts at the first available moment, and if a player's number changed (like I said: first available moment), I would purchase a fresh one at the first opportunity. That's how I ended up with two different Dustin Pedroia shirts, and had Kevin Youkilis not started out as #20, that would have happened with him as well. These were two players I followed through the farm system, and I was excited for them to join the major-league team. Buying a shirt was a sign of good faith in a way, that they would be as good as I had hoped, and they held up their end of the bargain.

*Listen, I know my purchases and wardrobe don't actually help but they so totally do at the same time even though they don't.

This wasn't just exclusive to the Red Sox, either. I owned Zack Greinke and Adam Dunn team shirts from the moment they were available -- they had to iron Greinke's name and number on a custom shirt because his official apparel didn't exist yet -- and, if I hadn't already been wavering in the expanding of my t-shirt collection a year ago, a Josh Reddick shirt would be in my bureau as well.

Why was I already wavering, though? Ryan Kalish. I didn't immediately pick up a Kalish shirt in 2010, and decided that, since he was beginning the next season at Pawtucket, I should just wait and a bit and pick one up when he was called up mid-season and his number situation settled itself. That was before the neck and shoulder injuries that were still bothering him in 2012, of course. My first real misstep, and since I'm a crazy person, obviously, Kalish's downfall is my fault because I waited to get a shirt instead of keeping the faith.

While that was just one player, the shirt I did buy the prior off-season was that of the Padres' Kyle Blanks. He was a 6-foot-6, 270 pound monster with the kind of power you'd expect from someone of that size. He also hit .250/.355/.514 in his introduction to the majors and Petco Park as a 22-year-old. Since then, he's had Tommy John surgery, been pushed around on the San Diego depth chart, and failed to capitalize on the opportunities given to him. He's a 26-year-old afterthought at this point, despite his talent, and are you seeing any parallels here with Kalish? Again, obviously, I jinked Blanks and ruined his career, somehow.

Let's back off of shirts momentarily, and head to hats. I bought a brand new Red Sox hat before the 2004 season began. The 2003 hat I owned, besides being worn enough to merit discarding, had the stink of the 2003 ALCS on it. So, it was time for a new hat. The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. New hat, first World Series. Coincidence, of course.

I kept that hat through 2006, and because that season was so disappointing, I retired it, and bought another -- the same model, the 1975 red with the blue brim -- before the 2007 season. Again, World Series. Superstition getting hold of me at this point, but how could it not?

The 2009 season was disappointing, but not crushing, and the 2010 team looked good. So I wasn't ready to get rid of the 2007, one-time World Champion hat yet. I did, however, buy a brand new Padres hat, and they would win 90 games, so we're counting that as a merchandise victory given they weren't expected to go anywhere and had been bad in 2009.

That would be the lone one, though. My girlfriend at the time bought me a new 1975 model Sox hat, since my old one had some serious wear on it. The superstitious part of me 100 percent blames this gift for destroying my successful hat streak. I didn't buy it, and it was purchased far too early in the off-season to boot. I got rid of that hat after the 2010 and 2011 seasons convinced me of these facts, and went with Boston's current home hat for my 2012 cap. That, uh, didn't work out, either.

That hat, like most of the team and the manager who donned it this past season, is no longer welcome in Boston. It's been disposed of, and will need to be replaced. I'm considering going old school again, since that seemed to work before, but I'll go with something other than '75. Perhaps one of the 1930s hats that the Sox reminded us all were so cool during their 100-year anniversary tour through Boston uniforms past. That, however, is a decision for late-March. That's the proper time for new hat purchasing.

Back to shirts. I wanted a new player shirt for 2012, so I decided, as a show of support, to pick up a Daniel Bard. I rarely ever buy pitcher shirts, but, as I said, I like my shirts as a show of good faith, and he was converting to starting. I wore it maybe twice during the year before he was demoted, and as an apology to Bard, I've donated the like-new shirt to Goodwill in the hopes someone less superstitious (and less unlucky) gets their hands on it.

So, Will Middlebrooks fits the mold of past purchases, as I've watched him in the system for years and waited for him to come to the majors and succeed. He even has his expected number of 16 now, rather than last year's temporary 64. However, look at my recent track record: I can't, in good, superstitious faith, purchase any Middlebrooks gear, for fear of destroying his career. And because of this -- the inability to buy the shirt for a Red Sox I've been waiting years for, one who will likely be a favorite for even longer -- I think, in general, I'm done buying player shirts. I'll still pick up team-oriented stuff -- I do need a new hat for those days when a hat is necessary, after all -- but for player-specific stuff, I think that ship has sailed. And, given how things have gone recently, probably run ashore, too.

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