Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Postseason *OR* The Church of Baseball II

The postseason. Music to the ears of any sports fan. "My" team, the San Francisco Giants, have not only made it to the postseason, they’ve won the first two series, are now the National League Champions, and are headed to the World Series. What a fan-tastic ride they are giving us!

Most everyone, except those of us that love this team and have watched them day in and day out, are stunned. This scrappy underdog team made up of “freaks” and “misfits” and castoffs no other teams wanted. With their rally thongs and dyed beards, with their simple infectiousness for the game, against so many odds, contrary to what any sports analyst outside the bay area thought, in spite of Las Vegas odds against them 3-1, this team is a certified, verified winner, and they are going to the fall classic.

I cried last night watching them celebrate. They fought the good fight, and I cried the good cry, and it surprised me. But I was so moved. And even if they had lost this series, even if they had lost the one before, even if they had failed on that last game of the season, down to the wire, to clinch their division it would have been okay, and they would still be winners in my eyes. Their spirit and chemistry, their belief in themselves, their excitement and passion for the game, the way they pull together, how they all, every last one of them, contributes, has been inspiring. Not to mention incredibly fun to watch. I’ve been hearing that they are rapidly becoming the all time favorite Giant’s team ever. Which is saying a lot, given some of the franchise's historical teams. But I get it. With their never-give-up-come-from-behind-we-can-win-this attitude, it is hard not to jump on their bandwagon. They are truly a team, and they embody what a team should be. There are no A-Rods or Bonds, no prima donas, no toxicity in this clubhouse. They are as humble as they are confident. They play together, they struggle together, they lose together, they win together, they celebrate together.

Though I have to say, they don’t do it easy, and they don’t always do it pretty. Their motto this year, thanks to one of their broadcasters, has become, “Giant’s Baseball – TORTURE”! Nerve wracking, hard to watch, sit on the edge of your seat, heart-stopping, palm sweating, make sure you’ve had your blood pressure medicine games. It’s been true most of the season, and it was true to the last out of the last inning of the game last night. Bottom of the ninth, two men on base, the tying run on second, the go-ahead run on first, full count to the batter, when Wilson threw the last called strike and it was finally—blessedly—over.

I am most moved by the veterans, the ones who, up until this year, had played their entire careers on losing teams, teams who out of spring training had no chance of winning, teams that lost over a hundred games a season, teams where showing up day in and day out, one hundred and sixty-two games a year, was drudgery and discouraging and disappointing. The younger players have their whole careers ahead of them. For these other guys, who are approaching the twilight of their playing years, they truly get it, get what a privilege and gift and honor it is not just to be playing the game of their dreams professionally, but to be winning; to be having so much fun. And make no mistake, they are having fun. You see it in the twinkle in their eyes, the big smiles plastered across their faces. I know they’ve been the inspiration of this club. And they’ve been captivating.

I know, I know. It’s just sports. And I know… some of these guys make millions of dollars a year for the privilege of playing a game for a living. I know they are among the elite. I know it is just entertainment. I know in the big scheme of things... really, I know. And yet. Isn't a dream a dream, no matter? Isn't it uplifting to watch a person's, a team's dream be so well fulfilled? Especially when it is unexpected. Especially when it is fought for so hard. Especially when it is against the odds? Is it not inspiring? Does it not feel good, touch something in us, warm our hearts, enable us to imagine possibility? Does it not give us hope? Not to mention the pure, unadultrated joy. Of players and fans alike. When else do grown-ups, grown men particularly, get to act like pure fools, get to give themselves so over to the moment, get to stand up, uncensored, and jump, and shout, and cheer? Give each other whopping high-fives and full body hugs? I can't think of another instance besides sports. And I can't think of another instance of the experience of such collective joy (or heartbreak for that matter when it doesn't quite go our way, when we watch it dawn on the faces we've followed all year, sitting in the dugout, hanging on the rail, that they're not going to take it home this time, this year...) And the fans this year have been amazing. To a man, every Giant interviewed has said without the fans, they wouldn't be where they are today.

Speaking of winning and losing, why is it that we can only be "winners" if we go all the way? Why is it that it is only a "success" if we win, win, win, come out on top, trample all the others on the way to victory, grab the prize, bring home the trophy? I honestly, truly, don't get this one. This year's Giant's team is a winner, is a team of winners, whether they take the ultimate prize or not. Disappointing if they don't win, yes. Hard to watch these guys I've come to care about and respect if they lose, yes. But ultimately, in my mind anyway, it's a no-brainer. Play your hearts out, do the best you can, be respectful of each other and the game, play fair, make it exciting, be proud of what you've done, and you've got me.

And one more thing. Personally, the Giant's have gotten me through some hard days this season. That they've been who they are, that they've been so likeable and easy to root for, that they've played exciting and competative games, that they've given us baseball through the end of October, that they are fun, entertaining and sexy... well, I'm just grateful, for the light they've given me, the joy these past couple of weeks especially, when light and joy have not exactly been at a premium.

The Giant's, one of the oldest franchises in baseball history, have not won a World Series since moving from New York to San Francisco in 1957. We have the third-longest championship drought in the MLB. The Texas Rangers, the American League Champs, technically an expansion team which came into being in 1961, has never won a championship. How great that these two teams will be meeting in the World Series. How exciting. If I didn't live in the Bay Area, if I hadn't been a Giant's fan since my dad started taking me to The Stick when I was ten years old, if the mere vision of black and orange around the diamond didn't make me practically swoon, it would be a toss up who to root for. But as it is, all I can really say is...


And P.S. What I wouldn't have done to be a fly on the wall in that clubhouse, and get to watch Aubrey Huff, aka Huff Daddy, aka Huffy, strut around in his red, that's right, red thong underwear. His way of keeping the troops loose, his contribution to the rally, and the spirit and energy of the team. "Oh my..." as Annie Savoy would say. Oh, my...

Speaking of which, if you haven't seen Bull Durham, now might just be the time. It's one of the best baseball movies ever, a classic, that's smart, sweet, sexy, fun, and pure enjoyment. Not to mention that Kevin Costner was pretty damned good on the eyes way back then.

Oh my...

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