Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sweet Agony

Congress ran up the white flag once more last week before leaving on summer recess, and so the focus changes to other things. One of our daughters attended a Mitt Romney affair near her home. She came away with a good impression of the food served and feeling that Romney is mostly a good man, but she also concluded that she must change her registration from independent to Democrat. She just couldn't buy the message being sold at the Romney-Rama.

If I mention baseball this week, you may think immediately of Barry Bonds, the sport's new career home run king. Whole barrels of ink are consumed on that subject each day, and Bonds is a complex person. Let's therefore pass on the subject of Mr. B. and concentrate on something that happens, and thank God it does, every year.
I'm speaking of the pennant race. Two thirds of the games are played, and the seasons of some of Major League Baseball's well known teams are over, at least in terms of progressing to a World Series. The last two winners, Chicago's White Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals are mired in mediocrity with some of the other teams you may have forgotten: The Baltimore Orioles, The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, The Pittsburgh Pirates and Bond's team the, San Francisco Giants. Their fans can only take note of individual milestones, trade possibilities and future prospects - pretty thin gruel for the off season.
For other fans, this is magic time. There are about 50 games remaining, with half the teams retaining some hope of making the playoffs. Here are the reasons the situation is made for excitement, while 16 teams compete for eight playoff spots.
1. The "game within a game". To those bored with the pace of baseball I suggest - the pitching and batting IS part of the action. It can get pretty complex as lefties and righties face each other in looking for a tiny edge from one pitch to the next. Of course, that's for fans who are already sold, and have no kids to wrestle with. It goes with #2, which is...
2. Second guessing the strategies. When to pinch-hit, steal, pull a pitcher, pitchout anticipating a steal attempt or bunt. Since they've been playing for a hundred years, there are no new strategies, but going AGAINST the odds is a strategy too.
3. Your team in April "controls its own destiny", but come September they may need help from someone playing a rival. Watching the scoreboard to check out games going on somewhere else means that there is MORE than one game to get excited about. How great is that?
4. Playing with pain. Nobody this late in the season is playing with no discomfort. When do you rest your home run hitter? When do relief pitchers get some relief of their own, and how do you rest someone without giving away that Player X can now, because of a rib injury that occurred in June, be beaten by a slider thrown to a particular spot?
5. "Clutch guys". Even the best teams lose about 40% of their games, while the worst ones win about 40%. This makes every game potentially competitive. Is there someone you can count on to come through with a hit or a strikeout MORE often in a pennant race? This leads us to...
6. Grace Under Pressure. To the fans, it's really just a game or a season, but to the players, this is their LIFE. Fifty guys from all over the world are lined up to take the job of anyone thought to be not worth the big money anymore. And it's all out there for everyone to see. Sure, they're professionals, but that only means they're expected to get the job done. Not surprisingly, they sometimes don't. They may LOOK calm, but of course, the other team's guys are watching, too.
I hope that's helpful. The fans have no exam at season's end, so this isn't like war and peace, or even like getting your degree. But to the true fans, it's sometimes more.


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