It was the bottom of the 9th. The bases were loaded. The Rangers were down by four with two outs. My breath caught as David Murphy hit the ball deep into left field. It went up, up, up and then just like that their playoff run was over in just one game. For the third year in a row the Texas Rangers have shined in the regular season and then come up short in the playoffs.
Once again I was left devastated. My friend texted me after the game, “My condolences. There’s nothing worse than losing in the postseason. … I feel for you.” I responded, “There’s always next season, right?”
But Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli will be free agents and everything will be different, except that it will be a new year, a fresh start, and, literally, a whole new ballgame. But for now, I will sigh repeatedly, suck it up and watch some amazing baseball as the postseason really begins. Because I love the game.
I grew up in a baseball family. My dad converted my mom to it when I was five and from then on we went to countless games. Living in Dallas, the Texas Rangers were our guys. If we weren’t at a game, we were watching it on TV. If we weren’t at home, we were listening to it on the radio while driving. I even got weekly Rangers updates while I was serving my mission. Never mind that I was thousands of miles away.
Some of my dearest memories are of playing catch out in the backyard with my dad as he tried to help my improve my abysmal pitching, singing silly cheers in the dugout with my teammates, and splitting a bag of peanuts with my family at a game, littering the ground with shells that I’ve sucked the life out of.
Yes it has a slower pace. Yes it has a long season. Yes the players are overpaid. But it’s the smell of the intricately patterned, freshly cut grass, the vendors’ calls as they peddle peanuts and cotton candy and hot dogs. It’s the diving catches, the stolen bases, the double plays, the catch in your breath as you hear the crack of the bat that make baseball the gem that it is.
Hearkening back to before the Civil War, baseball holds firm to its traditions. Technology doesn’t interfere with this game. The umpire’s word is final. There’s no instant replay to override the ruling and halt the beautiful pace of the game. The coach’s way of communicating with a player on the field is through a series of signs that make the coach look like he has a fly buzzing around his head.
This game can break your heart. But it is also game that fills that same heart with an unwavering hope that next year could be the year. It’s a game of reverence for the past, exhilaration for the present and hope for the future.
So much in this world changes from day to day, from year to year, that nothing feels certain most of the time, but with baseball you get 162 games a season, 9 innings a game and 3 strikes an at bat until you’re out. No more. No less. And everything can change in that last strike.