Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Cold Dome of the Soul

Ever since B.J. Upton meekly popped up for the final out of the final game of the Rays’ 2010 season, nearly every scribe, blogger, writer, and analyst following the team has penned his or her ode to the past seven months of Bay Area baseball. Some have written of disappointment, some of joy, and others of promise. Yet they all convey the overall emotion of a fan’s love of both their team and the game of baseball.

After every baseball season, whether good or bad, whether I rooted for a winner or team that lost hope after the second week of April, I am reminded of “Green Fields of the Mind”, a brilliant essay written by former Major League Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti. Although it is over 1,300 words, the first 91 are among the most poignant ever written about baseball.
“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

Giamatti’s essay discusses his passion for following the 1977 Boston Red Sox, a team that won 97 games yet finished 2.5 games behind the eventual World Series Champion New York Yankees. Giamatti goes into depth discussing their eventual elimination and how a simple fly ball to center drained the life and feeling from all of the New England faithful.

(Note: if baseball had the wildcard in 1977, Giamatti would have never written his piece. Boston would have made the playoffs thanks to winning the season series over a Baltimore Orioles team that also finished with 97 wins and 64 losses. In a 2010 world, the Sox would have clinched the wild card on the day prior to the one Giamatti wrote about and played the Kansas City Royals as the Yankees would have coincidentally played the Texas Rangers.)

Of course, it is not only those in New England whose passion comes to an abrupt halt. In every region of America, wherever fans follow their favorite team, wherever fathers and sons play catch, or wherever people pack stadiums or bars or living rooms, there is a feeling of emptiness every October.

Even in Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

For us here in the Tampa Bay area, it begins at FanFest, when we re-awaken to baseball and explore the new facets of the upcoming season – whether it be a new player, new member of the announce team, or a new feature of the ballpark. There is a joy not unlike a family reunion, when you greet the friends and “family” you parted ways with the October before. You are together again for another season.

(From 1999 to 2007 that exchange was not unlike the reunion of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi.

Fan 1: Together again, huh?
Fan 2:
Wouldn’t miss it.
Fan 1:
How we doin’?
Fan 2:
Same as always.
Fan 1:
That bad, huh?

Then of course came the “new hope” of 2008.)

Following Fan Fest, we have the added advantage of seeing our team up close and personal during Spring Training. We are not as beholden as the rest of the baseball nation in relying on beat writers and bloggers to tell us who is winning a positional battle or who is going to make the team. We can make the short jaunt to Port Charlotte and see it with our own eyes.

Then comes the magical moment of Opening Day – a day that should be a national holiday – where every fan has hope and everyone is in first place, if even for 24 hours.

The real thrill, and one we are barely getting used to, is when our team remains in first, or at least in a battle for first from April to October. It is a fun ride. One of scoreboard watching and magic numbers*, wild cards and aces. One I will miss. One I shared with friends, family, and the entire Rays community, both online and at the ballpark. Sure we’ve fought, we’ve argued, and we’ve blown a few gaskets, but that’s what a family does. And now that our summertime reunion is over, as Giamatti said, we are left to face the fall alone.

(Isn’t it fitting that for most teams, “magic” numbers make hope disappear? Almost as if David Copperfield or David Blaine waves a wand and makes teams vanish from relevance.)

As for me, I’d like to thank Cork for my midseason call-up and now that the season is over I hope we can talk about extending my contract. Keeping it team friendly, of course.