Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Boys of Autumn

By the time this day is over, the Yankees will know against whom they will begin their heretofore elusive quest for a 27th World Championship. Twenty-four through twenty-six came in such rapid fire succession at the end of the preceding decade that a Yankees fan might have reasonably anticipated to have celebrated thirty-plus parades up the Canyon of Heroes by the end of this one. That is the great thing about sports - one of life's truly unscripted dramas, which is that often things have a way of not going according to Hoyle. Alfonso Soriano was one Mariano Rivera overthrow away from being the hero of the Yankees' fourth consecutive world championship. He was after all the one who hit the go-ahead home run off of Curt Schilling in the top of the 8th inning to give the Yankees a lead that they carried into the bottom of the ninth inning. Into it, but not out of it.

This decade has seen the rise of the "enemy" to the north: Red Sox Nation. Candidly, it would be a damn sight easier for me to hate the Red Sox if they did not have players on their roster who I like a great deal such as Mike Lowell, John Lester and Big Papi and if one of my few truly close friends on the planet was not such an avid fan. In the wake of the week that was in October '04 - when the plates on which the baseball world shifted perceptibly and the Red Sox went from 0-3 down in the ALCS to sweeping the Cardinals in the World Series, the thought that assuaged my white-hot anger at the Yankee front office for having tried to run that jive past us that they believed (and expected us to believe) that Kevin Brown + Javy Vasquez + John Lieber = Andy Pettitte was Diego's pure and unadulterated joy at his team's triumph. Being a Red Sox fan had brought with it for him to that point in time nothing but despair (if one considers the graying of his temples to be the proximate result of marriage/fatherhood and not baseball). He deserved a moment in which to bask. In '04 he finally had it. Truth be told, the fact that he had another such moment again in '07 I found more than a bit annoying.

Baseball is a great game because after battling it out through one hundred and sixty-two games contested over a six month marathon, in October everything changes. It is no longer a long haul. The endurance race has been replaced by a sprint that Spinal Tap would love. The first one to eleven wins.

Baseball's season is so long that it spans three seasons: beginning in the cool of the early spring, continuing into the heat of the summer and culminating in the early chill of autumn. However, unlike basketball and hockey - each of which wrap up a seemingly endless regular season by "winnowing" the field of post-season combatants down all the way to about 50% of the league's teams that seems to take another four months to complete, baseball invites only eight of its teams into the post-season. The remaining twenty-two go home. And once the post-season begins, the action comes fast and furious. The Division Series, which opens the festivities, is a best three out of five affair. It is not inconceivable that seven or eight days after you played the 162nd game of a regular season in which you won 100+ games, your season might come to a screeching halt in game 165 or 166.

All eight teams left standing by midnight tonight will be ready to play. Only one of them will begin a trek that will allow them to end their season as the only one in their sport that wins its final game.

Of course if baseball is not your game, there is always whist - a game where everything does indeed go as Hoyle stated it should. Let me know how that turns out for you. I shall be otherwise engaged.

-AK

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