Saturday, October 8, 2011

More Crying Than Rallying

I was not 100% sure when I woke up yesterday morning that the sun would indeed rise in the East. My inherent cynicism coupled with the fact that the bell that tolls for me does so at 3:00 a.m. (a/k/a "pre-dawn") has taught me to take a bit of a wait and see approach as it comes to the sun's expected appearance. Sure enough, a couple of hours after I arrived at my office there it was. Given that the view out of my window does not include any (even when I set the lens in my mind's eye to panoramic) I can neither confirm nor deny that the sun did indeed appear to rise in a manner akin to a red ball over refinery towers. Given the manner in which the Yankees 2011 season came to a rather abrupt end on Thursday night in the Bronx, it was nice to see the sun. I thought that reports of the world's demise in response to the loss had been overstated. Happy to have received confirmation.

As a Yankees fan, I root for them to win every year. As a human being of reasonable intelligence who never as a child developed a taste for Kool-Aid, I do not believe that they shall end each season as the World Series winner. Given that they spent this entire season with two guys in their five-man rotation whose careers before they became Yankees in 2011 were so long that the back of each's baseball card is in fact double-sided - two guys they signed for nominal amounts of money prior to spring training and intended to have on hand "in case of emergency", I did not expect this season to end in a ticker-tape parade up the Canyon of Heroes. Bartolo Colon and Freddie Garcia both did an admirable job of using their minds to trick their bodies into believing it was 1999. That being said, the fact that an entire season went by and the Yankees found no better alternative for either in their rotation spoke volumes about their shortcomings.

While I wished for his final post-season in pinstripes to have lasted longer than it did - and with one more ride up the Canyon - Jorge Posada's likely last games in a Yankees uniform were a microcosm of his career. A number of his younger, more talented and more highly publicized teammates spent the past week choking the sawdust out of their bats as a residual effect of trying too hard. Their results were dreadful. Not Posada. He played in all five games. In Gave Five, he went 2 for 4. For the series he batted .429 (6 for 14). When three years from now, Q drops the question on you, "Which Yankees player led them in batting average in 2011 when they were eliminated in the ALDS by the Tigers?" (and he will - being a Sox fan - I assure you) you will answer with confidence, "Hip! Hip! Jorge!"

And in two separate moments that he will likely cherish for the rest of his days, he assumed what was once the spot on the diamond he owned unquestionably and squatted behind home plate to catch a ceremonial first pitch - first from Andy Pettitte and thereafter from Mariano Rivera. Three men linked inexorably by what they did together on the baseball field and what those efforts meant to those of us who watched them do it. Three-quarters of "The Core Four". It is reasonable to believe that when camp starts in the Spring of '12, Rivera and Derek Jeter will be the last two members of the Core still standing.

I have been watching Posada play - and rooting hard for him - since each of us was a much younger man than we are now. In 1995, when he and Jeter sat on the bench with the Yankees during their ALDS loss to Seattle, Posada had far less salt in his salt-and-pepper hair than he did pepper. Now, the spices have been reapportioned significantly. I know the struggle. He is at least smart enough to not wear a beard, which confines all of his "salt" to his head and keeps it off of his face. Me? Not so much.

Standing in front of his locker after the season ended Thursday night, Posada answered questions - including a number about his future - for as long as he could. Apparently after a few minutes he broke down, unable to continue, and politely excused himself from futher conversation.

In sports from time immemorial, fans and players alike of a team that falls short of achieiving a championship have rallied behind, "Wait 'Til Next Year!" For a fan, next year is always just a year away. You draw the next one from the bottomless reservoir of them that each of us - as fans - keeps within easy reach. Players do not have access to that reservoir. For each of them, a moment arrives for which "Wait 'Til Next Year!" no longer applies to them.

Sport is unscripted drama. In a team sport, an athlete may or may not be able to control what his team does. But as an individual he retains control over what he does. In what was likely the final week of what has been a glorious career as a New York Yankee, Jorge Posada did exactly that. And at day's end - at year's end - nothing else really matters after all.


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