What a season. Seriously. Here we are, days away from the start of the playoffs and the AL Central will be decided by a one game tie-breaker on Tuesday. The Twins and the Tigers will duke it out for the top spot and a chance to take on the Yankees.
It doesn’t really surprise me that it would take a tie-breaker to determine a division. We’ve seen all kinds of crazy stuff this season. Who would’ve thought, after their record setting start, that the Dodgers would struggle more with Manny than without him? And who didn’t write the Rockies off before the All-Star break? I actually thought the Cubs would’ve been contenders in the NL Central but I sure was wrong. I wouldn’t have guessed the Mets would end the season with a record that resembled the Nationals’ more than the Phillies’.
In the AL, the Yankees had a shaky start while the Red Sox looked like they would easily put insurmountable distance between themselves and the Bronx Bombers. I’ll give the Yankees credit. When they get their act together, they really get their act together and perform like a well-oiled machine. A super-expensive machine. The Rangers sure kept the battle for the west interesting. Everyone kept expecting them to implode but that didn’t happen. The Angels had to fight hard for every inch of ground they gained. (If you’re reading this, Big Mike…yes, the Angels did finish 10 games ahead, exactly as you predicted, but it wasn’t easy.)
I’ll admit the last few days have been less stressful. I watched the remaining games of the Texas series, as well as the final three games in Oakland, secure in the knowledge that my boys had made it to the postseason. It was fun to watch the newbies take the field and do their best to impress the powers-that-be in the Angels organization. Strike-outs? Yawn…whatever. Errors? I just rolled my eyes. None of it mattered. How refreshing is that?
Carefree? Yep…that’s me. I haven’t felt like this since just before spring training. On one hand, it feels like it’s been years since Opening Day. On the other hand, it seems like it was just yesterday. When I went to the Big A last Monday night to watch the Angels clinch the west, the usual video montage that’s played before games to the Train song “Calling All Angels”, had been replaced with a new montage that chronicled the 2009 season. It was a bittersweet ride down memory lane and I found myself a bit emotional when it ended. There wasn’t anything in it that I hadn’t already seen. But I think that’s what got to me. I realized I’ve been there for all of it, good and bad, happy and sad. Just like seasons past, I haven’t missed a single moment of it. I’ve cried with my Angels and I’ve rejoiced with them too. And no matter what happens in the postseason, I’ll do the same next year. Because I’m a fan and that’s what fans do. I know for many players, it’s just a job. But I’d like to think that it’s more than a paycheck. More than a quest for a mention in the record books. There may be a few hundred players but there’s millions of fans. And without us there wouldn’t be Major League Baseball.
Baseball…good to the last drop!
My Angels followed up a four game sweep of the Mariners by taking 2 of 3 from the White Sox. All was good in Halo-ville. Then they got on a plane and entered the twilight zone, losing a make-up game to the Yankees and the first of 3 at Fenway. During both east coast games I was basically tortured by Mark Gubicza and Rory “Whose Side Are You On Anyway?” Markas as they kept referring to the games as “post-season previews”. Ugh. Not what I wanted to hear as once again, decent starting pitching was wasted by absent bats.
But as I started to seriously ponder my Angels’ post-season chances, I had to stop myself and consider the alternative to this dilemma. Granted, the Angels haven’t locked up the west but they are sitting 6 games ahead of the Rangers, giving them a more than fair shake all the way to the end. But so many of my fellow baseball fans have already had their hopes and dreams dashed as the dreaded “E” has shown up in their teams’ standings.
I’m sure fans of these teams will watch the remaining games…afterall, they’re fans. And there’s always a chance that their team will act as a spoiler and snatch the post-season away from one of their most hated rivals. There is a certain kind of pleasure in watching that happen. They’ll also watch simply because, once the season is over it’s a long wait until April of 2010. They may watch the play-offs and the World Series. Or maybe not. Sometimes there’s little interest in watching teams who may have smacked your guys around during the regular season celebrate in a heap of arms and legs in the middle of the field. That can be tough.
Diehard baseball fans will hang in there for all that October has to offer because their love of the game transcends their love for their own team. There’s no shame in that. They may also secretly harbor a bit of affection or respect for another team and will be quietly rooting them on in private. Sssshhh. I’ll never tell. I can understand that with a team or two.
Baseball fans may stick with it in October just to watch their most despised team go down in a ball of flames. Again, I can totally relate to this as well.
(That one was a toss up.)
And so today, I just wanted to express my sincere condolences to Rays, Jays, Orioles, A’s, Royals, Mets, Nationals, Reds, Pirates, Padres and Diamondbacks fans everywhere. I’ve been in your shoes. I know exactly how you are feeling. You gave it your all and fought the good fight. You observed every good-luck superstition you could. You yelled at your players, managers and front office personnel through your TV screen or in person at your ballpark.
You should be proud. Hold your heads up high. As a fan, you brought your “A” game. You held up your end of the bargain. You wore the gear, you flew the flag, you showed up at the ballpark, you skipped dinner with the in-laws to watch the game (good), you missed the birth of your third child because of extra innings (not-so-good). You gave it your all. YOU did not strike out looking with the bases loaded. YOU did not bobble an inning-ending double-play. YOU did not blow a save. YOU did not drop a routine fly ball.
No remorse. No guilt. No regrets. Sleep well this winter, my fellow baseball fans, knowing there’s always…well, there’s always…NO…I’m not going to say it. I’m not going to patronize any of you by throwing out that morsel of helpful advice, usually dished up by someone who doesn’t understand what it means to be a loyal fan. I’m NOT going to say “there’s always next year.” But what I will say is…there’s always the Angels!!! Well, if you’re examining other possibilites, let me give you my pitch (no pun intended but it’s appropriate, isn’t it?):
Great group of guys with catchy little nicknames like Figgy, Mighty Macier, Bam Bam, etc.
Not a prima donna among this bunch. It’s all about the team, NOT individual stats.
Cute little mascot that I swear, will grow on you.
The best manager in all of baseball. (Of course I’m biased. Duh!)
They OWN the Yankees. Need I say more?
I know the pain is still fresh, but I just want to give you something to think about in the off-season. Consider me an “Angels Ambassador”. If you’re thinking about making this life-changing move, leave me a comment or shoot me an email. I’d be happy to answer any questions or offer a little more persuasion, if that’s what it takes. Oh, and free thundersticks to the first 100 new fans who come aboard. (Must be able to pass a slightly invasive background check. Please have references available.)
Baseball…it keeps going and going and going…!