bunt sign

Sunday, October 27, 2002

It's hard to explain the connection between a boy and his baseball team. He feels as if he's more than just a spectator, watching and listening and reading about his team. They're playing games for him, even though they don't know who he is. They know he exists, somewhere out in the crowd, and that's all that matters.

He hears their names on the radio and they come to life for him. He reads numbers in the paper that tell him what they've done. They might have other lives, with families and houses and expensive cars, but that's not part of his world. It's less real to him than the numbers. And the names, of course, not only Willie Mays, a name known to everyone, but Hobie Landrith and Jose Pagan, and Sad Sam Jones.

Every day during the spring and summer there's another game. Each game the team wins has its own rhythm and its own hero. Each loss brings a bit of pain, but also a bit of promise, because there's another game tomorrow. The players are defended even in failure, because they're part of the team. You don't cast out a family member for one mistake; you commiserate. If necessary, you make excuses.

Players come and go, but the team remains. The history of the team is part of the life story of the boy as he grows. It's impossible to separate the man from the boy he was, as it's impossible to separate the boy and the man from his team. The team's success is still important, even if you no longer have time to memorize the numbers. You still know the names, and you still defend your team against all who would attack it.

You do learn one thing as you grow older, though. You discover that every precious moment is elusive, and winning is the most ephemeral part of it. When you're young, you think your team can win every game. You believe they should be successful every year. Then you learn that baseball doesn't work that way, that success is often followed by failure. Sooner or later you learn that life works in a similar way.

The longer you stay with your team, the more precious the successes seem. Somehow failure is less bitter, because it's more familiar. The one constant is hope. Even in the face of practicality and common sense, you start each season with the championship as a goal. Most of the time, somewhere along the yearly time line, you're shaken back to the reality that it's once again some other team's year.

You don't often get to the seventh game of the World Series before you're shaken by this realization. That was my fate this year, for the second time in my life. In 1962 I was thirteen and na´ve enough to think my team would have many more chances. They lost in the seventh game that year, and they did the same tonight, forty years later. In the years between, they didn't win a single World Series game, but I'll start next spring with the same hope that I have every year. This year is our year, I'll say, and I'll believe it.

death in the garden

Some of what died in the summer heat has stayed dead.

The Anaheim Angels, who did win this seventh game tonight to capture their first World Series title, are worthy champions. They're a gritty team with heart. They play the game the way it's meant to be played, with sound fundamentals and athletic excellence. They have some stars and some overachievers, and every player contributes to their success. In other words, they're a team much like my team. If the Giants couldn't win, I'm glad it was the Angels who did.

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