Baseball at its Finest

So, how ‘bout that Game Seven?

And so I settled in to watch a baseball game last Wednesday evening, like millions of other Americans. I figured it would be historic, and I didn’t want to miss out.

Yes, I know it’s been the dominant non-political news story of the past week, but I’m going to write about it anyway. Given my post last week, I felt compelled to write a follow-up. And this post will be about twice as long as most, so feel free to skip this week if it isn’t your style.

This is an environmentally themed blog, but I’m mainly just going to muse about baseball in this post. I will say this though: cultural moments like last Wednesday night, where the rich complexity of the human experience is on full display, are one of the main reasons I care about the environment. To me, it would be heartbreaking to lose the World Series and scuba diving and Halloween costumes and good wine and a whole host of life’s joys because we failed to protect our natural systems.

Now, on to baseball. I grew up playing the sport, but I don’t think I ever loved it. Rather, basketball occupied my interest, partly because of its faster pace-of-play and partly because I was better at it. That second part seemed to matter a lot more to me when I was younger…….you know, before I realized that professional sports was never going to happen for me.

In college though, I finally developed an appreciation for baseball. The University of Virginia’s program was emerging, and it was a privilege to watch them get better and better each year. Sitting on those metal bleachers in Charlottesville, I learned to enjoy baseball for what it was, rather than wishing it was more like other sports. In particular, I learned that baseball isn’t slow; it’s unhurried.

Baseball also offered entertainment during the long, hot summers in Atlanta. Outside of major golf tournaments every now and again, I found myself wishing for some sport to care about. The Atlanta Braves filled that void, and for a time, I counted myself a fan.

But then almost four years ago to the day, the Braves announced they would be moving north to Cobb County, leaving behind the part of Atlanta that had been their home since 1966, their first year in the city. It was a complicated decision, and I understand why the Braves left, why Cobb County wanted them, and why the City of Atlanta couldn’t keep them. Still, I was disappointed when I learned of the move then, and that disappointment has lingered. It hasn’t helped that the Braves traded away some of my favorite players for prospects that will make them better when the new stadium opens in 2017. Those were justifiable trades, but they effectively killed off my fandom.

So, for the past four years, my interest in baseball has been waning. Those bleachers at Davenport Field in Charlottesville are a long way off, and the Braves no longer interest me. I don’t think I watched more than five innings of baseball all season long. Instead, I’ve anxiously awaited the arrival of Atlanta United next year, the new Major League Soccer team in my city.

Still, I’m a sucker for a good story. I know my history, and the Cubs’ curse is as compelling as it gets in sports. Here they were, one of the strongest teams in the 2016 playoffs, with a fan-base simultaneously hopeful and braced for an early exit. After all, these are the fans who have shuddered for the last 13 years at the mere mention of the name Steve Bartman.

Every few days, I would check baseball scores online. The Giants went down first in the NLDS, three games to one. Good, that meant my mild intrigue in the Cubs journey would continue for another series.

Up next: LA Dodgers in the NLCS. Game One went well, with the Cubbies hanging eight runs on the board. This was going to be an easy series, right?

Wrong. Chicago fans shifted into full-on panic mode as their boys got shut out in Games Two and Three. But it turns out the bats were just simmering, as the Cubs rebounded with 10 runs in Game Four. They wrapped up the series with wins in the next two, finally earning a return trip to the World Series to face the Cleveland Indians.

But things didn’t start out as planned. The Cubs’ bats went quiet again, resulting in two more shutouts in the first three games. Then a 7-2 defeat in Game Four put the Cubs’ backs against the wall. Trailing in the series three games to one, they had to pull off the improbable and win three games in a row.

Which brings us to my post last week. I wrote it after the Cubs won Game Five, and at the time, I was convinced that the Cubs would win Game Six. I mean, if the curse was real, then the Cubs were destined to lose in Game Seven, right? Not only that, the Cubs would probably lose after leading most of the game. That’s how curses work.

And so I settled in to watch a baseball game last Wednesday evening, like millions of other Americans. I figured it would be historic, and I didn’t want to miss out.

If you missed seeing the Cubs win their first World Series since 1908, I urge you to find a recording online and watch it from the top of the eighth inning through the end. Heck, if you have the time, watch the whole thing. It was remarkable. Arguably the greatest baseball game of all time.

I’ve spent some time in thought over the last week, wondering why I enjoyed Game Seven so much after being so removed from baseball recently. I realized that for the past ten years or so, baseball has kind of felt like dating to me. When you first meet someone, that honeymoon phase can be so powerful, and you think you’ve found the greatest thing in the world. And maybe you have. You just can’t tell yet.

Soon, you realize that it takes sacrifice to make the relationship work in the day-to-day. Perhaps you find yourself losing patience, and spending all of that time with this person isn’t as much fun anymore. Maybe you’re growing distant, or maybe this person hurts you in some way. Maybe it just isn’t the right fit, and it takes time to realize that. You part ways, hopefully on good terms and with respect for the other person and gratitude for your time together.

And then years later, maybe four years to be exact, you get a wedding invitation in the mail. It turns out this person from your past is about to celebrate the greatest evening in their life, and you’ve been invited to witness it. You say yes, and you settle into your couch on a Wednesday night to watch the nuptials.

Congratulations Cubs fans. Your World Series championship is well deserved, and that witch of a curse is dead. About dang time.

Baseball was perfect in that Game Seven. I’m glad I stayed up to watch it.