There’s this thing called baseball. It’s a sport. Although snobby people suggest those who play it aren’t really athletes. As though the ability to hit a baseball thrown at 95 mph is not an athletic skill.
It is a sport that has spanned much of America’s history. Plenty of people consider it to be part of America’s backbone. It is the one and only thing I have ever agree with George Will about. And it is the sport that inspires more great short stories (see W.P. Kinsella) and poetry and art than any other major sport in this country. There is something about baseball that is different, for those who love the game. It is not bound by a clock. It is timeless, both in each game that is played, and in its history. It is leisurely. There is no rushing in baseball. One can sit back and relax, talk with friends, and enjoy the pleasures of the game. There is a rhythm and flow to the game that can be appreciated and admired.
Unless, of course, your team makes the playoffs. Born into a family that developed into fans of the San Francisco Giants, I have spent much of the last 45 years or so comfortably numb in the pleasure of a baseball team that had little success. We could enjoy the game without fear of the stress of the playoffs, or heaven forbid, a World Series appearance. Through the miserable 70’s and most of the 80s, the Giants were horrible. Success was something other teams had. We could just be baseball fans.
In 1989, the Giants got this close <> to the World Series. Actually, they got real close. They were in the thing and they promptly got swept by the cross-bay A’s. It was a twinge. A moment when we fans realized that maybe there was something more than just rooting for the home team and when October came we would say, “Maybe next year.” Knowing full well that next year wasn’t going to be any better. Hope. We finally had it.
The 90’s came and there was a little more success. A little more hope. They made the World Series again in 2002. Facing the cross-state Angels. Sadly, they were again denied victory and the ultimate success. A World Series. A chance to claim the title of best team in baseball. Something not accomplished since 1954, when the franchise was back in New York.
So imagine our surprise when, in 2010, the unimaginable happened. A dream season. It started with middling success, but then something happened in the dog days of summer. Things began to click. Games were won at a staggering pace and the team qualified for the post season. The won their first playoff series, then the next, and the World Series arrived. We didn’t know how to act. It was new. It was also old. We knew how this would end. Another defeat. Wait until next year.
Yeah, wait until next year to see if they could repeat. The Giants won the World Series. The Giants won the World Series?!?!?!?! After decades in the wilderness, we had a team. We had success. Our team had reached the pinnacle and we could now claim that we had seen it and lived it and it was a beautiful thing.
Then they did it again in 2012. Are you kidding me? The first time, in 2010, I was too numb with the idea to consider attending a game. In 2012, things were different. I was going to be a part of it and I went to several playoff games. And then they did something unthinkable in their march to their second championship. They lost the first two games of the first series and then won three games in a row to eliminate the Reds. Then, they fell behind the Cardinals 3-1 and then rolled off three games in a row to eliminate the Cardinals. In the World Series, they dominated the Tigers, sweeping them in four games. The Giants had done something never done before on their way to their second championship in two years. It was … unbelievable.
My brother told me this past weekend that all he wanted was one World Series championship from the Giants and he got in 2010. Having two was more than he could have hoped for. And we’re OK with more moderate success.
And now we have this. They’ve made the postseason again and my brother and I agree. We don’t need it. And on some level, don’t want it either. There is this thing that happens when your team — the one that you have lived and died by for all those years — makes the playoffs. Your world changes, other things disappear. The only thing that matters is … did they win today? Every pitch hurts. It squeezes you and forces the air out of you. You can’t watch another inning. But you must. You can’t move. It’s far too important. The problem with having your team in the postseason is that you have to continue caring. You have to devote time to watching the games. You experience stress and tension unrelated to your actual involvement in the game itself. It is hard work being a fan of a baseball team in the playoffs.
The Giants had to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one game “play-in” game to make it to the first round of the playoffs. They did so. Then, they faced the Nationals — the team with the best record in the National League — in that first round. Nobody gave them a chance. Just as the pundits and prognosticators didn’t give them a chance in 2010 or 2012. Four games later, they’re moving on to the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals, with the winner headed to the World Series.
What a series it was. Game two went 18 innings, with the Giants scoring their first run in the 9th inning to tie the score 1-1 and then the two teams demonstrating offensive futility for far too many hours to count until Brandon Belt hit a monster home run to win the game in the 18th inning. It was the longest game in postseason history. I sat and watched the whole thing. When the game was over and I went to bed that night, I was convinced that it was all a figment of my imagination. That there was absolutely no way I had just watched what I had. I was convinced that when I woke up in the morning I would open the paper to find that the Giants had lost 8-2. It was that surreal.
On Tuesday, the Giants won 3-2, and won the series three games to one. I’m convinced that I have never been as tense watching a sports event on TV as I was watching the final couple of innings on Tuesday. It makes no sense. They’ve got two World Series Championships in the last few years. I can relax. Anything they do now is gravy. They made the playoffs. That should be good enough. It’s just not as important as it was in 2010 and 2012. Only it is. They’re there. I want another one. Nothing less will be a disappointment.
Go Giants!!! I think.