Today is the final day of the 2014 Major League baseball season.
Yeah, there's a post-season. But if one's team is not involved, little more than a rat's red ass will be given. Baseball, more than any other sport, is a journey, and the destination, unknown in the beginning, is anticlimactic, a post-script joke to hide the emptiness that shows up the morning after. The post-season is just the last gas, pee, and cigarette off-ramp until spring training. For all the hype, the true baseball connoisseur understands that the World Series is merely the loud Chikhai bardo, an elongated and heavily-sponsored moment of death.
The casual fans love it, because Fox, Anheuser-Busch and General Motors tell them to. They'll watch every game, maybe the only games they'll watch all year, and talk about what a great player Dale Murphy was (he was), and what a great pitcher Nolan Ryan was (he wasn't). The games may be entertaining, and even if "their team" is no longer involved, they'll find a rooting interest.
Hell, even the most spiritual of baseball fans, those of us who see through the temporal notions of "winning or losing" and care not a tin shit about who wins the vulgar exhibition that is the World Series, could get caught up in the improbable comeback of the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Or the 1978 New York Yankees, a team of miscreants, loudmouths, fuckups, and baffled over-achievers who hated each other's guts, but Bucky Dented their way through one of the game's more unusual post-season runs.
But baseball is, as Bart Giamatti reminded us in his writings and his actions, designed to break your heart. It is not the NFL, short, weekly bursts of intensity and glamour that end with the world's biggest party, and lives within the echo from the moment the white player of choice announces his intention to go the Disney World, with a few day's lull until draft hype kicks in. Or the NBA, three months of elimination slop and two months, tops, of real competition. The baseball season is an enlightening death, and the best you can hope for is a last flicker of happiness.
In fact, the only season of my baseball fanhood that didn't end in a painful throe was capped the moment Carlos Baerga's pop-up landed softly into the glove of Marquis Grissom, and the Atlanta Braves had their first, and to date, only World Series Championship. I was playing in a bar in Hixson, Tennessee, that night, my home community and Braves Country by geography, media access, and temperament. By mutual agreement, we held off playing twenty minute versions of "Mustang Sally" and "Can't You See" until after that holy moment had passed. Much joy was had that night.
But that was nirvana for the Braves fan inside, not the baseball disciple. And even in that ecstatic moment, the awful truth overwhelmed me...tomorrow, there would be no baseball. The sixty feet, six inches of zen would momentarily disappear from my existence.
To the true disciple, the regular season tells the tale. Luck, hype, momentum, bad umpiring, all play a major role in the post-season. It's nothing less than a multi-tiered coin flip. There's more satisfaction in winning a league pennant...the luck evens out, and the game's cruel Darwinian nature becomes manifest. Once in the post-season, a mediocre team can Forrest Gump it's way into a trophy. A pennant, though, isn't merely won...it's earned.
The cool and optimistic spring nights of April, the wet, post-rain delay afternoons, the sticky August dusk...that is when life is lived. What follows is just hollow exhibition, and it has been so since the first World Series in 1903.
Early this year, I had hopes. The Braves would win their division by ten games, and cruise to another World Championship. As April unfolded, they appeared capable of doing just that. They were the most dominant team in baseball that month, being compared, by the "experts" and yammering announcers, to the great wire-to-wire champions of the past.
They will miss the post-season. Why? Because they didn't earn it.
Exact dates have yet to be posted. But pitcher and catchers report in the middle of February, 2015. And the big, beautiful wheel of life keeps on turning.
Brent Sanders 2014