October Baseball

In less than an hour, the cry will come from the field: “Play ball!”

But my team isn’t in the mix this year. So why should I care? Why DO I care? Is it because the Kansas City Royals–the team of my husband’s hometown, the one that my late father-in-law like so much when Brett Saberhagen and George Brett led the team–are this year’s Cinderella team, stepping into the pumpkin coach with their fairy godfather Ned Yost at the helm?

Is it because the Baltimore Orioles and their skipper, Buck Showalter, slammed the rest of the American League East, besting what was supposed to have been the toughest division, and then took down the mighty Detroit Tigers in the Division playoffs?

Is it because the San Francisco Giants (the only team in the country to have a female public address announcer) showed the Washington Nationals the door by proving that the East Coast team was not ready for prime time?

Or is it that I just want to see anyone beat the St. Louis Cardinals–just like my beloved Red Sox did last year in the World Series?

None of these reasons (with the possible exception of the Kansas City-local tie) is the predominant one for my anxiousness to hear those words at 8:07 pm.

It’s because I love baseball. Plain and simple. And this year’s playoffs have offered some of the finest games I have seen in many years.

The games have been evenly matched. In fact, I would say that the World Series could be a letdown, based on how incredible the play has been. The playoff between the Royals and the Oakland Athletics to earn the wild card berth could easily have passed for the seventh game of a World Series. It was an exciting roller coaster ride, an extra-innings thriller that could have landed in either team’s lap except for a few inches here or there. This is baseball for me.

At a time when everyone is complaining that Major League Baseball has deteriorated into a money game, I hang on because sometimes baseball–quality, well-managed, well-played, down-home, team-play baseball–like this comes along. In these four teams that are left, I see the heart and soul of what used to be played in the sandlots of my youth. Everyone wanted to win, and everyone worked together to win. They learned the fundamentals and used them. Everyone didn’t get a trophy; everyone earned his spot on a team, and he had to keep up to maintain that spot. If he was good enough, he made the Babe Ruth team after Little League; if he was good enough after that, he made the high school team. If he excelled in high school, he went on to play in college, and, if he caught the eye of some scout, maybe, just maybe, he’d be drafted by the “bigs.”

And then, the grueling salmon-swimming-upstream saga would begin: Single-A instructional ball, hoping to graduate to Single-A, then Double-A, then maybe Triple-A, then, OMG, maybe get the call to play in the “show,” making a Major League debut for even one game. Then two. Then wow, they wanted you in spring training. Spring training!

All of the major leaguers I will see on television in less than an hour will have been through all that. Yes, I know–they make a lot of money, playing “a kid’s game.” It’s not a kid’s game when you’ve been through all that they have been through, and, at this time of the year, most have played a full season (162 games) as well.

What makes October baseball even more special for me this year is that my team is NOT in the mix. I can sit back and be objective about the moves made by the managers. I can watch carefully to evaluate whether or not the umpires are making the same calls for both sides (“He’s calling the outside balls as strikes, Johnny…”) rather than just on one. (When it’s my team in the playoffs, it ALWAYS seems that the umpire is picking on “my boys!”)

And I can determine which team wants it more. From where I sit today, after watching two games for each of the league championship series having been played, it looks as if Kansas City is pretty hungry for a World Series berth. But I wouldn’t count the Orioles out, either. On the National League side, both the Giants and the Cardinals have a shot, but I do admit that I like watching that Panda (Sandoval) run!

And when it’s over–when the World Series is finished and we have a winner for 2014–I will put on my baseball hat and go into professional sports hibernation until spring training once again. I do not like football or hockey. Professional basketball is okay (although I prefer college basketball), but it is not my passion.

Baseball is. I cannot explain it. Come on, clock. Let’s go. Now, who’s throwing out that first pitch today in KC?

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