I love baseball. Also, autumn. So it’s natural that as October brings the baseball season crashing to a close and sets us up for playoffs, I’m a pretty happy guy.
And yet …
My happiness at this point of the year always comes with a little sadness mixed in. As much as I anticipate the clash of the year’s best teams in the playoffs, I grieve a little for the dying regular season.
For, despite how much stock fans put in the Fall Classic, how we marvel when its winners kiss their trophy and hoist their banner, baseball is, at its heart, a game of the long summer.
Across that span, sustained excellence is hard to come by.
A team will lead you to believe its men haven’t a clue or a prayer while losing nine in a row, dropping to last in the division, lurking nearly last in the league. Then, without warning, something in that same team will click and it will win relentlessly, charging to the top of the division, the league, the whole shebang.
Later, the same team may fade to the point of elimination.
Along the way, crazy plays will be made and missed. Improbable victories will be won, crushing defeats, suffered. Your favorite player will ride the bench or get injured, or get injured right after coming off the bench. Meanwhile the player you despise — for statistically valid reasons, of course — will start every [expletive deleted] game even when it should be obvious to a brain-damaged monkey that guy shouldn’t be in the lineup.
And you will wonder, sometimes aloud, whether the team would be up or down in the standings if it had hired a brain-damaged monkey instead of the old guy at the end of the bench …
But, maybe at that point you remember that baseball is also a game of heart, and, try as you might, you aren’t a heartless bastard.
Only a heartless bastard would be happy to see that old guy go.
As much as my analytical self sometimes wonders what the hell the man is thinking with his in-game tactics, whether he has ever so much as browsed Fangraphs, heard of Baseball Prospectus, or knows an advanced metric from an inverted tantric, I do overall admire Bobby Cox and everything he has done for my home team, the Atlanta Braves.
As he made the rounds in this, his final season, I went back and forth on that. My warm-hearted conclusion is no doubt rooted in my love of the long summer.
As much as my favorite World Series remains the 1991 seven-game meeting between the Braves and the Twins, it is still the summer before it that I remember so fondly.
That summer, Bobby took a team of has-beens and never-weres, playing for a down-on-its luck and far-from-its-glory franchise in a city that had never seen a major sports championship, and came thiiiis close to the trophy and the banner. Four years later, he would deliver them, but by then it was already a changed team, a collection of have-beens and yes-we-ares, playing for a franchise revived of its luck, forging new glory.
Now, as the clock winds down on Bobby’s career, he stands poised to give the playoffs another shot, take one last stab at October fame, provided the Braves can hold their own this weekend.
And I find … I don’t especially care how that all turns out.
I care. If playoff baseball returns to Atlanta, I fully intend to buy my way into Turner Field and root, root, root for the home team.
Whatever happens, this year has returned a little of the magic that I had been missing. Bobby has again taken a team that I think can’t win and made me feel it can’t lose, done so through a host of player injuries and other inadequacies — including, yes, sometimes, his own — and he’s made me keep my eye on that team all summer, because I would have hated to look away and miss something.