Monday, October 7, 2013

If you were never down, how would you know when you were up?

I'm a nervous person. I always have been. I'm on medication for it. But the last week's worth of baseball has taken it to heights I didn't think possible.

Extract all the butterflies and nagging self-doubt you felt during all of both middle and high school, combine it with the tenuousness of your first date, first big job interview and everything you went through while reluctantly learning to swim. Pour that into a small saucepan, then add Game 6 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals and five ounces of red wine vinegar.

Then place it uncovered on low heat for a few minutes to reduce it into a concentrate, let it cool and drink it over the course of about five hours.

That's what it felt like on Tuesday night while sitting at Kelly's Korner Bar in Lawrenceville and watching the Pirates and the Reds throw down for a trip to baseball's real post-season.

I've loved baseball as far back as my memory takes me, and I'm told that I had a predisposition for it even prior to that. My feelings toward this game are so strong and so inexorably linked with my identity that I'm sure their intensity rivals the way other people feel about their faith or their kids or Ultimate Frisbee.
But for as passionate as I am about baseball, I've never hung on every single pitch of a game with the anticipation and focus I did on Tuesday night. And though I couldn't get a ticket, the crowd was so intense that felt it through the TV for all nine innings.

All these years, I always wondered what it would be like when these guys finally got over the hump. I imagined being there. I imagined not being able to get a ticket and watching at a bar. I imagine watching with friends. I imagined watching alone, presumably for some kind of Zen catharsis. I imagined it would be tense.

I never imagined it would be as tense as it was, or that I'd be so overcome with raw emotion at a Lawrenceville dive bar that I'd completely lose my composure. I've never been a crier. When it was over, I felt lightheaded. Then I wept like a child for about 30 minutes. Right there at the bar.

Once it became clear that this was the team that would end the futility, I set what I felt was a completely reasonable expectation: either win the division or win the Wild Card Game. Either way, play in a real playoff series. Just make it to that stupid five-game divisional series and that's enough. Dayenu.

Now, these guys have taken home-field advantage away from the Cardinals and are one win away from going back to the series where this whole ignominious odyssey started.

And I'll be there tomorrow. I couldn't be there on Tuesday or today. But tomorrow, I'll get to go down to my ballpark to watch the Pirates play in a game which for years, I wasn't sure I'd ever live to see them play.

Win or lose, that's invaluable to me and I plan to savor every minute of it. Always appreciate the winning and never forget the losing. If we're lucky, some day that will be the only thing separating us from Yankees fans.

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