The season's over. No more worrying about Joel Pineiro's wavering devotion to the sinker, no more worrying about Albert Pujols's elbow, no more—well, it's probably still safe to worry about Chris Carpenter's elbow. I won't blame you for that.
In any case, the practical issue that you'll come face to face with pretty soon—forgetting, momentarily, about the emotional void, the arbitrary belief and camaraderie that comes with being a baseball fan—is this: you're going to have more free time than you know what to do with. And I'd like to tell you how to use it.
You'll want to take the rest of the postseason off. Don't do it. Pretty soon there will be no baseball at all, and you'll be left alone with handegg for months on end. The people you small-talk to about sports on a regular basis will begin to mention Brett Favre more than you can handle. (Did you hear he came back? Even though he said he wouldn't? Whoa!)
Thanks to the World Baseball Classic, there's even more baseball left than usual—the World Series will stretch, at a minimum, to November 1. This is your grace period. Before long big-screen TV ads will begin, once again, to euphemistically suggest that you make your Big Game Party the best it could possibly be. And then you'll know that you've missed the last 12-21 chances to say that it isn't football season until the last Solemn Montage is narrated by Joe Buck.
GROW A MUSTACHE
There are a lot of great things about facial hair, but the greatest is this: it's warm. With no baseball to talk about, you're going to stop talking so much. With less movement, your lips are going to freeze. Frostbite is a precursor to hypothermia, and hypothermia kills up to 700 people each year.
The mustache you grow in November, be it majestic and evocative or basically ceremonial, will connect you to the season that was. And by November it will, once again, be something you'd like to remember. Roll the clip show:
- Skip Schumaker became a second baseman. I don't mean to overstate the case, here, but before it actually happened this would have been basically equivalent to the Cardinals actually trading Chris Duncan to the Giants in exchange for Matt Cain, or Vicente Padilla actually being handsome. Much like Ryan Franklin finally becoming unsuitable for the closer's role, it was a VEB meme that somehow exerted its will upon reality.
- Colby Rasmus! The Cardinals have had this guy—can't quite recall his name, there's a C and an R somewhere—installed at the top of their prospect rankings since about 2005. After a rough 2008 he established himself as chief mancrush (and real-crush?) of 2009, playing smooth defense and showing spotty, but exciting, flashes of the smooth offense that made him the Cardinals' first step back into the Toolsy High Schooler market after the Chris Lambert Draft.
- Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright!
- And last but, in the case of any memories evoked by the mustache-as-Madeleine, almost certainly first, Brendan Ryan went from a utility infielder who'd had a fluky year with the bat in 2007 to the best defensive shortstop in the National League. And to our benefit, it couldn't have happened to a more interesting guy. Hopefully his wiffle ball partner can make the trip back north in 2010.
I'm not going to tell you how long you should keep your mustache, chronologically or physically, but I do know that it will warm both your lip and your heart. And in the cruel days after baseball cedes ESPN to the NFL, and the weather slips from jackets to coats, you'll need both of its benefits.
You can take Christmas day off—watch some basketball if you want, have a nice family get-together, listen to Bing Crosby before White Christmas has to go back on the shelf. But before that you have the Winter Meetings, and there's a non-zero chance you will have a Christmas gift to discuss underneath the Busch Stadium tree.
This year it's in the tiny resort town of Indianapolis; Mozeliak doesn't have a lot of faberge eggs left to deal, but there are some interesting free agency cases on the table. Will the team have Matt Holliday on the rolls long-term by December? Will Mo kick the tires on Adrian Beltre? I don't know; that's what makes the Winter Meetings so exciting and, every other year or so, ultimately disappointing.
Hopefully somebody makes some big move, because by December things have started to settle down in the baseball world. You might find yourself spending more time with the mustache wax every morning, straining for the effects that used to come so easily. You might find yourself, before long, in January.
I'm serious. Sob until there is nothing left, and then cry some more. Put on that James Blunt album that touched you so deeply and watch the end of Casablanca (no spoilers.) It's been two months since baseball ended. And it's going to be another two months! What's the deal with that? So let it all out. Recharge your batteries. Play a game of MVP Baseball 2005, if you have your Gamecube handy.
Last year—well, last year we did community projections, we talked about exciting new acquisition Khalil Greene, I filled out a Cardinals-only Hall of Fame ballot, and things generally proceeded as though there would never be baseball again. But after January finally crawls out of the picture there's February. And in February pitchers and catchers report.
GET IN THE BEST SHAPE OF YOUR LIFE
This is really important, because everybody else is going to be. In February you're going to start feeling the lack of warmth—it's close to March, which is close to April, which is pretty warm half the time, and the transitive property of warmth doesn't reach that far but you're going to think it should. It'll only get not-warmer when pitchers and catchers report around Valentine's Day.
And these pitchers and catchers—well, you're going to be impressed, to say the least. Bryan Anderson has put on twenty pounds of muscle; on the satellite fields by Roger Dean Stadium certain unnamed scouts have seen him hit baseballs over two fences at the same time. Yadier Molina's been sprinting all year—he plans on doing suicides every time he grounds into a double play, even if they have to stop play until he's finished running up and down the baseline. Matt Pagnozzi hit a double recently, but you guys probably didn't see it, but man, it was great.
Don't even get me started about the pitchers. Unless you want to know about Gary Daley, that is, who spent the whole offseason working with Greg Maddux. Jason Motte's been throwing a curveball lately that looks mighty fine, and Kyle McClellan? Well, he's been working with Gary Daley all offseason, so his command should be in peak form by the end of spring.
This is it: the peak of the offseason. All the ruminating and re-ruminating and sobbing has culminated in the official month of unbridled optimism, the first month of the rest of your career year. The minor leaguers are pushing the big leaguers, and the big leaguers are preparing to have career years. If you're not in the best shape of your life in February, well, you aren't trying.
WAIT IT OUT
Now the games are on the radio; now cuts are being made and the rosters start to take shape. The vacation's almost over, and the weather's almost better. All these almosts are going to make it seem basically uncharitable that March has 31 days and April only has 30. But you've spent the last five months playing MVP 2005; you can take it from here.