Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Irresponsibility and Irrationality of Playoff Baseball

There is nothing like playoff baseball. I have a hard time believing there can be a more dramatic or marked difference between regular season and playoff contests than the one in MLB. Surely, the grind of 162 games takes its toll, especially if your club is 8, 14 or (it hurts to write it) 24 games out of first place. But for those eight teams that make the first cut...on down to four and now to two, the competition is spectacular. I've never taken speed and I don't plan on it, but attending an NLDS or NLCS game live and in person is what I imagine the drug feels like. October baseball is reminiscent to that sensation I had as a child standing in the car with my head through the sun roof. Eyes are wide, wide open. You can't even don't want to. That's October baseball.
I hate them so much.
I've thought about playoff baseball because it has consumed so much of my time. And in my deliberation, I realize it's irresponsible and irrational. Playoff ball is a royal time suck, it's expensive, and yet it's emotional, beautiful and it's thrilling. In short, baseball in October is terrific.

Irresponsibility 101
My good friend Kevin and I vacillated back and forth about whether or not to attend NLDS Game 3. With Madison Bumgarner on the mound we were optimistic about a Giants victory; so was much of the Bay Area. But, with ticket prices at $200+ on Stubhub, pulling the trigger was tough to do. Responsibility and irresponsibility engaged in an epic battle. 

ButMadBum or not, this year's team did not instill the confidence in me that those in 2010, 2012 and 2014 had. In one way, responsibility won and in other ways it did not. I must have spent two to four hours refreshing my Stubhub page in the hope that ticket prices would drop. Kevin and I talked and texted about the game for another hour. In the end, I watched an incredible game that concluded with a 6-5 Giants win in 13 innings at Dino's pizza and in my own living room.
From 7:05 pm on, my mind and heart was totally focused the Giants v. Cubs. Four-plus hours later, my roommate told me that she was going to bed. I looked at her and realized that I might irresponsibly remain on the couch for another one to two hours. In a moment of responsibility, I thought about what I had to do the next day: attend a department meeting at 8:00 a.m., teach a full load and take my golf team to practice. I realized doing all of this on less that six hours of sleep was fairly irresponsible and I felt slightly worried/guilty until I identified one more irresponsible than me: my brother. Mark lives in Washington DC. He too was glued to the game; I know this because we were texting about it. Though my time stamp read 11:37 pm and then 11:48 pm—when the Giants finally won!—his said 2:37 a.m.and 2:48 a.m. Irresponsibility has no bedtime.

I admire my brother for hundreds of reasons; his loyalty to the Giants is one of them. He is one of my favorite people to watch a Giants game with because he knows so much history, he knows the team's current stats and trends. He engages fans around him in debate and in their cheers and jeers. I was happy that the Giants won, but happier that he saw the win. When I relayed this story to my parents, they were not the least bit amused. My dad said "I hope he keeps his job." My mom bemusedly added, "I think he did this the last time they were in it. It's so irresponsible for a grown man...a father...with a full time job." So much for delighting in a great win mom and dad. It might be worth adding: my parents are two of the most responsible people I know.

The next day, my good friend from high school and Notre Dame called to ask me if I wanted to go with her to Game 4. Her husband was unable to attend; responsibility remained silent. I met her at the yard for what was an exciting game, though it ended in a Cubs 6-5 victory. Their talented team made their way into NLCS.

Talking to my parents before the game, I wondered if I should tell them that I would be at Game 4. They were tremendously excited for me. I did a near double take, thinking: are these the same two responsible people I talked to about Game 3 shenanigans. My mom, before I could say anything added: "playoff baseball is so exciting; you are so lucky. Enjoy it."
Giants blow a 3-run lead with but 3 outs...
The next day, I traipsed into school feeling as though I carried an open wound. I wanted the Giants to win that game at home. I didn't need them to win Game 5 (I say that now). I put on my responsible hat as best I could: teaching and coaching in what was a very long and full day. Driving home from our golf match that night, I was sad that no playoff baseball game was on the radio. I wanted to hear the sounds of October baseball—loud, loud cheers, boos and jeers, dramatic calls from the announcers and much more. It's a beautiful game that take a new form come the month of October. It drives me to a realm that is often irresponsible, but that's why we are called "fans"—a word that is short for "fanatic." Nothing responsible about that.

Irrationality 201
After the Giants lost, I sought out some sort of insight or wisdom from a trusted colleague. A Mets fan first, he also roots for the Giants. He told me that with both teams out, he didn't care about October baseball. I looked at him incredulously. Though his comment wasn't that deep or revelatory, it was as though I could not really understand what he was saying, However, just two days later, I could hardly believe it...  I understood precisely what he meant.

As much as I love my Giants, I was also rooting for the Washington Nationals. I go to at least one Nats game a year and my brother lives very close to the ballpark. The series between them and the Dodgers was a good one; and in Game 5, the hated LA Dodgers emerged victorious. I was surprised by how upset I was. I realized in that moment, I too didn't care anymore about October baseball. Thank you, Tim.
I should be happy for them....
Less than 24 hours later, irrationality reared its head as I quasi-lashed out at an unsuspecting student. I was climbing the stairs heading to class, when a sophomore girl, dressed in bright Dodger sweatshirt descended into my line of sight. We locked eyes and I said, "wait a minute...what's going on here? Why are you wearing that?" She laughed nervously and smiled but I rebuffed her reaction. "No, I'm serious. Why are you wearing that." Within 48 hours, I found myself watching and caring about October baseball once again. I realized, it's not that I wanted the Cubs to win, but rather, I wanted the Dodgers to lose. The Giants great rival had won the NL West four years in a row; that stat makes my blood boil. I listened to and/or checked in on every game. I wanted Kershaw to go down. I didn't even care about the loyal and plagued Cubs fans; I just don't want to see anymore Dodger blue. In the hallways at school, on television, in Sports Illustrated—none of it. 

My feelings, quite often are irrational...but it's fun how October baseball plays with them. It's part of what makes this time of year so exciting

Fox Sports' motto for the post-season is October Reign. Many people believe this is the best time of year for sports: MLB playoffs, college football and the NFL are in full swing, the NBA is about to start. Indeed, it's a great time to be a sports fan...irresponsibility, irrationality and all.  Go Indians.

Photo Credits

Giants win

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