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Why I'm still rooting for Pablo Sandoval

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There is little love for the Kung Fu Panda left in Boston. Here's why I still have mine.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, Red Sox fans heard about an incident involving Pablo Sandoval and a local writer. Sandoval, it was said, had gone on a tirade, going so far as to slam his bat on a table, over said writer citing his declining defensive statistics in an article. And while it would later be revealed that A) the incident was not so dramatic as it was made out to be and B) such incidents tend to happen fairly regularly with both sides ultimately keeping it private, the damage had once again been done, and Sandoval was once again in a very negative spotlight indeed.

As with so many other incidents surrounding Sandoval's short time here in Boston, it's not terribly important, but looks very bad. Instagramming as the team sinks, showing up to camp and contradicting the Red Sox on his weight loss goals, etc. etc. Pablo Sandoval doesn't come across as disruptive in the way certain other Red Sox have in years gone by, but he gives off the appearance of a player who is either out of touch with reality, or simply disinterested.

Most Red Sox fans seem to believe it's the latter, and Sandoval's weight issues certainly play into that. Obesity is generally viewed as a condition of the lazy or the indulgent. It's damn hard to fix—as someone who went from wearing XXXL shirts to mediums, I can speak to that personally—but ultimately seen as just a matter of exercising the proper willpower and effort. One is not forced to be fat, but makes the decision to be by refusing to work hard at fixing it.

Whatever the reason behind it, though, the fact is that Pablo Sandoval is large, and has been hearing about it on a daily basis from Boston. He has borne the slings and arrows thrown his way over his weight with as much grace as anyone could possibly expect. You might scoff at that, but it's true. There have been some exceptionally nasty comments directed towards Sandoval during his time here both by fans and certain portions of the media, and he hasn't really reacted to any of it, continuing to be his amiable self until, well, pretty much now.

Which brings us back to the incident in question, and the reason why I don't believe Sandoval is disinterested. He's taken a million cuts in stride, and what sets him off? A reporter citing declining defensive statistics.

Putting to the side, for the moment, the use of single-year samples with defensive numbers, does that really sound to you like a player who doesn't care? If Sandoval just wanted to collect his $95 million and sail off into the sunset, why should he be bothered by negative comments about his play? If Sandoval is upset by this, then by definition, he cares.

That doesn't make his reaction reasonable or correct. The fact of the matter is that Sandoval was miserable last year both on the field and at the plate, and I don't really need any numbers to corroborate that claim. The argument goes that if Sandoval doesn't want people to criticize his performance, then he should perform better. And that argument is absolutely right! Red Sox fans saw their team disappoint yet again in 2015, and know that Pablo Sandoval—both the portion of payroll he took up and the negative impact in-game—was a big part of why they were so bad for most of the year.

But it does show that, at least as a person, Pablo Sandoval is the sort of guy I want to see succeed. Is he fine with his weight? I honestly don't know. Maybe he thinks that, based on past performances, it's not physical fitness that's holding him back. Maybe he's even right, though the reality is that the physical requirements on a player change as the years progress. I don't necessarily think he's just lazy, and I know there's a vast middle ground between "fat and fine with it" and "finally fit." Sometimes it takes a hundred legitimate, difficult efforts before one finally sticks.

We don't really know what the situation is with Sandoval. We've heard about a 72-hour weekly workout routine, but it's hard to take that at face value given the results seen in Fort Myers. Still, we've also only had one season. One very bad season, yes, but still just the one, and as this town tends to do when it's disappointed, it's been doing its best to bury Sandoval on the back of that one year. His every spring training gaffe is picked apart while those of the local favorites are ignored, even knowing all along that nothing that happens in spring is really indicative of anything.

If Sandoval is as bad this year as he was in 2015, then the Red Sox will likely have to cut their losses on him rather than keep throwing good playing time after bad money. But I won't revel or rejoice in his failure. Not just because Pablo Sandoval is a player for my favorite team whose on-field struggles hurt their chances to win games, but because he genuinely seems like the type of player I would love to be able to cheer for, whether as the All-Star he was in years gone by, or just a solid-if-overpriced third baseman.

He may not be the most mature player in Boston, but that's not what you expect when you sign a player named Kung Fu Panda. And I'll take cheery, invested, and perhaps a bit out-of-touch over a player who knows exactly what they need to do to be good, but just doesn't particularly care if they're hitting .220 or .300 so long as they're getting paid. That's not the player I see in Pablo Sandoval, and hopefully it starts to shine through in the boxscore in 2016 the way it once did in San Francisco.