Thursday, October 9, 2014

A post post-season post

It’s hard enough to wake up at 6:30 a.m. for school in this last month. This last month of daylight savings and baseball. It’s getting darker each day and though the solstice is two and a half months away, we are in the darkest of days. Our beloved home team Nationals lost 3 games to 1 against the Giants in the so-called National League Division Series. I still call it the playoffs but that doesn’t matter. All that matters now is that we lick our wounds and figure out how to move on.

For moving on, at least in this baseball post-season, we are somewhat fortunate to have a secondary home team. The Orioles, just 30 miles up the road, are the home team for many in our area. But where we live in Maryland, saddled up against the border of the nation’s capital, is solid Nationals territory. And though the O’s are as good a team as any to root for, the aging, but still reviled owner, Peter Angelos, and his all-out campaign to thwart locating a professional baseball team in Washington, D.C. will forever prevent anything more than a passing interest from this writer. It’s one thing, perhaps, to forgive. It’s another to forget.

View of Nats Park from Center Field
Our Nats were a mere 62 days old when my younger son was born. And his older brother was two months shy of three-years-old on the very first Nats opening day. Thus, unlike older kids (and adults) around here, they have no real experience of not having a home team. I grew up in South Jersey as a Phillies fan. I suffered through the mid-70’s then came of baseball age during the late 70’s and early 80’s glory years of Phillies baseball (and Philadelphia sports in general). Thus, I also don’t have the same experience many have around here of not having a baseball team. Older kids and adults who came of age after the second incarnation of the Senators fled to Texas in 1971, and before the Nats arrived in 2005, are naturally inclined to be O’s fans. And that is okay for them. All that is to say is we have not suffered that pain of that loss. The Nationals are my boy’s birth team and my adopted team. 

Two years ago we watched from the left field stands in utter dismay as our boys collapsed in what is one of the greatest implosions in sports, giving up a 6-run lead and the decisive game to the Cardinals. This year's Nats seemed stronger, firmer, more tested than the 2012 version but the outcome was about the same. Our 2014 Nats held the scores tighter and were in every game. The pitching, with a few notable gaffes, was strong. Our hitting, however, with the exception of youngsters Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper, never left the dugout. And rookie Manager Matt Williams is taking plenty of heat for his stubborn orthodoxy which put a little-tested rookie reliever in a most critical game and situation while more seasoned, and perhaps able, relievers watched from the bullpen.

And that is the way with a 5-game series. Enough has been written about the unfairness of it all: Playing 162 games to then have to face another good, if not excellent, team in a best of 5 hardly seems right or fair. As a result, in the postseason, every move, every pitch, and each at bat take on a magnified meaning.

The baseball gods are trickster gods. And they will turn even the slightest miscue into folly. Throwing to the wrong base on a bunt?  2 runs. A late inning walk to load the bases? Wild pitch. Can’t field a bunt at all? The baseball gods will frown on that for sure. In the regular season a deflected ball off the pitcher’s glove is little cause for concern. In the postseason it’s a death sentence. Which is why, of all the sports, the lessons of life are found most in baseball. Just like in baseball, in life, not everything is right or fair.

Baseball is a team sport comprised of individual performances. Pitcher against batter. The lone outfielder sprinting for a ball. An infielder's errant throw. The team wins or looses and can do so on the heroics or failure of one individual. There are times when a team rallies to shield the miscue and all is well, like the epic 15-inning come from behind game against the Dodgers in LA in September. We thought the baseball gods were smiling on our boys then. Now we know they had more devious plans in store.

And just like in life, in baseball there is always the possibility of redemption. Or perhaps not possibility, but hope. Redemption may not happen today. Or tomorrow. It may be next year. Hopefully. For some, redemption takes years. And patience is only rewarded after interminable waiting. Ask any pre-2004 Red Sox fan.

For us Washington Nationals fans, there is the hope of next year. Pitchers and catchers report in four and a half months.

And I like our chances.

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