I know that Red Sox, White Sox, Cardinal, and Yankees fans are gearing up for baseball's post season, which has already started today. But I watched the last out of the last inning between the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday on ESPN 2--in a game that had no bearing that I know of on the post-season--with the same mixed sense of reverie and melancholy children must have as Christmas Day draws to a close. Now that the regular baseball season is over, I'm sad. It's as Bart Giamati put it so well: "...it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone."
Of course, I'll be watching much of the play-offs and the World Series coverage as usual, but so will most sports fans around the country who could take or leave baseball's regular season, except when the Bosox, Cubs or Yanks were on. Post-season prestige is what makes games #163-on anti-climatic for me ... even the most memorable post-season games. The post-season is the big marketing time for baseball, so I don't have the same sense of organic wonder and interest in the game as I do during the regular season. Don't misunderstand; some of the more Herculean efforts are put up by players in the post-season; I've picked my own horses in this race; but baseball to me is a seasonal game, rather than post-seasonal. The baseball season is for lovers of the game, the aficionados; the post-season is more for the fans of the teams in the mix and for the average sports fan who could care less about baseball as an institution.
Late season games are a unique pleasure to watch because of the long shadows cast by the setting sun and the tired-looking green in the grass. You know the end is coming and that only a few teams will survive past the season. You know that if your team is not among the elite, you have to hold on to every remaining game, every inning, every out, every hit, and every pitch because the game is winding down, not cranking up. If you love the game you know the loss of the season is coming. And that loss also makes you ponder how many baseball seasons you have left to enjoy. So, you savor them while you have them. You savor them like I did on Sunday, watching Padres and Dodgers whom I never heard of--many of whom I'll probably never hear of again--while semi-conscious of the fact that fall, the season of death and dormancy, is right on our doorstep.
This week begins baseball's post-season pageantry with its own unique pleasures that nonetheless pale in comparison to the retired season. The season is now but a ghost of the joy and awe that started when catchers and pitchers reported to spring training last February. It is a ghost that floats between innings of championship series when no average fan is paying attention. It is a ghost that beckons long afternoon shadows, a crisp chill in the air, and the wounds of loss and the memory of our mortality. No other American sport bears that much weight. No other American sport ever will.