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"I know that it's never over until it's over …"

By mid-October, even the very best major league baseball team has been running on fumes for at least a month. Whichever team embodied invulnerability through August, starts showing some cracks. A key player or two show up on the disabled list and the play-by-play commentary starts leaning toward the team that was rather than the team remaining on the field. Playoffs seem like a Special Olympics for professionals by then more capable of delivering winces than clutch hits. Games become excruciatingly tedious as recently reliable pitchers revert back to their pre-season performance levels and batters watch pitches repeatedly wiz almost over the plate. Some games see almost no scoring, so-called small ball, where strikeouts and short flies dominate what hardly passes for play. Other games turn into stumble sessions defined by errors and misjudgments. The two teams surviving this final gauntlet, one from each league, are deemed proven prepared for one final best of seven game face-off, one of which might be called due to snow.

Players show up wearing cowls and layers, and balls fly about as well as rocks.
The reliable home run hitters produce bloopers then, half their usual swagger eroding away beneath klieg lights unable to completely chase away encroaching winter. Almost everybody's favorite team was eliminated, so a fan might well find himself forced to change allegiances from a Hobson's selection of clubs he never much cared about. The Yankees always seem likely to be there, haughty and typically full of themselves, a team almost everyone loves to revile if not hate, if only for for their bankroll, though they've usually attracted some remarkable players. They perform like bankers, with little passion and tremendous craft, ticking off boxes, playing stacked odds, even sometimes losing a few. Their opponent arrives an underdog, the designated Bad News Bears team of the season, surprising themselves when they win, hardly shocked should they lose. Playoff season carries a certain pecking order, only sometimes deflected.

This year, my old home team managed to wend itself into the playoffs, thanks to a genuinely stupid practice which allows two of the more obvious losers from the regular season to compete for entry into the playoff slugfest. The gNats, usually the butt of their own fans' wry humor, slipped through two final gauntlets to leave their regular season betters behind. A team that delivered its worst early season performance in memory passed on the final turn teams they rarely beat during ordinary times. They end up with almost the worst record of any of their competitors, a genuine Bad News Bears organization, and to think that back in June, fans were clamoring for their manager's head! Now, there's talk of Manager of the Year status instead. Unlike their opponents, about a quarter of the gNats' line-up feature recently acknowledged has-beens. Their first baseman spent more than half of the regular season on the disabled list. It wasn't until very late September that this year's team started coming together. Sometimes, late seems the very best time to peak.

The Muse and I watch rapt, distracted by the sudden absence of grimaces accompanying our viewing. I struggle when the bullpen uncharacteristically fails to disappoint me. Old reliables remain dependable and fresh faces come into their own, the team's suddenly delivering their best baseball of the whole freaking year. I need not cringe anticipating any challenge. The opposing league's playoffs can't deliver anything like the performances our old home town team produces. I feel like a scout watching the Yankees and Astros pick away at each others' scabs, signature homers suddenly absent from their stats. A play or two might delight me, but the quality of play seems a little poorer than everyday and neither club seems all that invulnerable on any recent day. So it might just be that the very team I could barely bare to listen to a few short weeks ago might just maybe become World Champions by the end of October. I know that it's never over until it's over and charmed streaks never last, but when Baby Shark comes to bat, it's impossible not to feel young and invulnerable again.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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