Baseball can be so cruel.
And it was especially brutal for Mid-Atlantic fans on Friday night, as both the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals gave up the ghost in Game 5.
Both cities have gone a long time without a winner. Since winning the World Series in 1983, the Orioles have been a hard luck team (who can forget October 9, 1996?)
The dreaded Yankees vanquished them again this year — this time fair and square.
Of course, Washington has waited even longer — and the Nationals’ loss was even more heartbreaking. ”The park had been a party after three innings,” wrote the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore on Saturday. ”Now it was a morgue, a burial ground for the team [that] made Washington embrace baseball again.
Losing is never fun — and I suspect DC-area folks are an especially competitive sort. But the depression extended far outside the Beltway. I got a call from my mom in Pennsylvania on Saturday, reminding me that the Yankees huge payroll allows them to buy the good players. (Populism and class envy are alive and well in small market baseball towns.)
But losing isn’t what hurts the most. It’s what losing means that hurts – and that is death. Your season is over (and there’s nothing you can do about it.)
It’s baseball teaching us about our mortality.
The expression, “fighting for their lives,” isn’t an accidental metaphor. Kilgore’s use of the word, “morgue” was fitting. It’s not the losing, but the finality that gets to us.
Baseball fans are, perhaps, especially vulnerable to this. Unlike other sports, baseball fans follow their team day in and day out for six months (162 games in the regular season!). This provides humans with much-needed rituals and shared experiences.
As the Orioles headed into the 13th inning Thursday night, I traded texts with my high school best friend John. We haven’t set sight on each other in years (he lives in Texas.) But there we were, second guessing Nats coach Davey Johnson’s pitching decisions.
The Nationals and Orioles didn’t just end their season, they ended my season. They ended John’s season. There will be no more late night texts — not until next year, at least.
Of course, there is nothing new about this observation.
“We are all told at one point in our lives that we can no longer play the children’s game,” warns a scout in the movie Moneyball. “We just don’t know when that’s gonna be. Some get told at 18 — some get told at 40 — but we’re all told.”
This is also true for fans, who watch the children’s game.
Enoch Powell’s famous maxim, it turns out, wasn’t exclusive to politics. Baseball lives are also destined to end in failure, because that is the nature of the game — and of human affairs …