**Note: This blog post was originally written in October 2011 for a previous personal website
What exactly about sports gives it an immeasurable value?
It’s a proxy for real life but better. It renews itself. It’s constantly happening in real time. There are conflicts that seem to carry real consequences but at the end of the day don’t. It’s war where nobody dies. It’s a proxy for all our emotions and desires and hopes. I mean heck, what’s not to like about sports?
Stephen Dubner, Author of Freakonomics, From Radiolab episode " Games"
There aren’t many nights of baseball that unfold like a big screen movie, where the plot of the night ebbs and flows in synchronicity between the games. As one team leads in Tampa, another trails in Baltimore, and then the plots twist. You’re hooked to that ‘back’ button, because the possibilities of the night are endless and it seems that just when you think you have things locked down — they shift. I’ve been thinking about games, sports and baseball a lot lately and after watching the final day of regular season baseball for 2011, I can finally add it all up — what makes baseball the best, what sucks you in and keeps you there.
I’ve just spent the last five hours watching three baseball games go through every possible scenario, rain delays and extra innings, come backs and breakdowns. A back and forth medley of will they or won’t they. Two TV screens and one Gameday sportscast later—all of my teams had lost. But, it was quite possibly the most entertaining night of baseball I’ve ever watched. I was captivated for the entire night, glued to the screens and hanging on every pitch. And somewhere in the middle of it, I realized what gives baseball its edge on other sports: the suspense.
Baseball is romantic. Baseball doesn’t rush into anything. It builds a run — manufactures the parts and then puts them all together — hoping they turn out in your favor. Baseball captivates in its subtlety. It draws you in with anticipation — building to that moment, pitch by pitch until the moment of truth, the moment when something has to happen. You know it’s coming, you can feel it getting there. The drama unfolds on the smallest and largest scales. Every pitch can take a lifetime, every batter an eternity. And a game, well a game can tell the story of an entire season.
And that’s where baseball really gets you — in its stories.
Because a baseball season is in fact a long, drawn out story. Beginning in Spring, thriving in Summer and then slowly dying in Fall — each team falling one by one. Baseball creates stories, and aren’t all really good games story-generating machines? Their power lies in the tension between the rules and the freedom of your imagination. Baseball lets us experience the world in both ways. It is confined to a set of rules, but we watch for when these defined rules break.
We watch for what is known as, “The Novelty” — an event which has never occurred in this universe. When the script goes off book and there’s no telling what will happen in the story. And if you’re looking for the classic “Novelty” moment, you can’t beat the 2004 AL Division Series. It was something that had never been done before. An unprecedented comeback inside of the greatest baseball story — the most perfect baseball matchup of all time.
It’s hard to imagine there will ever be another series that unfolds with such scripted theatrics as it did for the 2004 Red Sox. And the drama is somehow equally as impressive in those last few pitches as it was in those last few games as it had been since 1920 when the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.
For me personally, “The Novelty” occurred in a game that I can’t seem to find reference to anymore. It must not have had any cosmic baseball significance, but I remember the play, that moment — it’s etched in my mind. It’s A’s vs Red Sox, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded. The Red Sox are down 3 runs and up to bat. The Sox can win with a home run or lose it all in a single pitch. The ball is hit to right field, I’m sure it’s out of the park. Jermaine Dye is running, running, running… and makes an over the fence backhanded catch to save the grand slam, and save the game for the Oakland A’s. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. I was mesmerized and sadly, I cannot find that play to watch it again to save my life. It’s lost in a sea of endless baseball games. Destined to live on only in my memory.
There are certain moments like that that stand out in baseball, moments when you know you have a game won or lost. When you just know what will happen next. You can predict it. The catcher slips and misses that easy pop fly and you just know what follows will end badly. We experience these same visceral moments in life. We can recall just knowing how a part of our story will end. We watch sports because their struggles are a microcosm of our struggles. When they win, we win. When they lose, we lose. And that’s what makes baseball so fantastic. It plays out like a real-life drama — suspenseful to the end and filled with the stories that we imbibe it with. Every year we invest ourselves in baseball and every year it gives a little more of itself to us. We are a part of its story just as it is a part of ours.
And that is what is truly great about tonight.
I’ve once again invested myself a little more in the game. Our stories become more and more muddled.
The story of baseball truly lives in its fans — in our experiences with the game. We are the ones who give it depth and significance. When I look back on this night of baseball, what stands out most won’t be the fact that the teams I was rooting for lost. What will stand out will be a feeling, this heart-wrenching feeling about my love of the game. Because this game is more than just a game to me. Its a bookmark to my life. A way to look back and remember who I was. My stories live within the game. And when I think about that, I can’t help but smile. I can’t help but look forward to another season, another stunning October, another unknown occasion that will mark a moment in my life and ultimately, another reason to invest myself in the game.