Yesterday I wrote about my disappointment in Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Travis Wood’s decision to get rid of most of his formerly lush beard. Today’s Cubs starter, Carlos Villanueva, knows exactly what to do in the facial hair department.
This is a picture from early last season, a time in which Villanueva would pitch well as a swing man between the bullpen and starting rotation. His performance tailed off as the year continued, as his beard and mustache became less distinct.
And there he was earlier today, taking the mound with his pristine twisted mustache, triangular soul patch, and thick chin strap underpinning it all.
In just about any other life situation, I’d think Villanueva’s fussy sculpting would be silly and unnecessary. But in baseball, with its longstanding love for unconventional facial hair — Rollie Fingers, “Old Hoss” Radbourn, Jayson Werth — I love it. Their team-wide beard growing contest made it easier to root for the Boston Red Sox last year’s World Series. I didn’t need much (anything) to give me reason to root for whoever played the St. Louis Cardinals in that series, but the Red Sox gave me something fun to latch onto.
And in what will be a lost year for the Cubs, stupid things unrelated to the team’s performance are what fans like I need to follow. I love baseball, even of the bad variety, but that badness still grates the longer I’m exposed to it. Villanueva’s beard, if such a simplified term is worthy be used to describe its glory, lends that levity necessary to break up the annoyance at constant miscues, lack of hitting with runners in scoring position, bullpen implosions, and eventually, the constant pushing out of valuable players for prospects who could be years away from entertaining me.