The Door Out of Summer

It's only fitting that it was the Pirates.

The Cardinals were doomed this year by two bugaboos: bad teams and divisional foes. They lost game after game to teams the rest of baseball used as doormats, and played their worst baseball within the Central Division. So what better team to finally end our collective misery than the Pittsburgh Pirates, the hundred loss darlings of the NL Central? Score one for poetic justice, or maybe just score one for the continued cruelty of whatever it is that makes the world turn 'round. Either way, we all knew it had to be the Pirates.

***

I had planned on titling this piece "Not With a Bang, But a Whimper", before I remembered I used that title a couple years back on a post about Jason Isringhausen. Still, I think it fits, as last night was as whimper as it gets. It was a perfect, quiet sigh of resignation.

The lasting image of the 2010 season should probably be something happy, something exciting. An Albert record-breaking homer, or an Adam Wainwright curveball freezing an opposing hitter for strike three. If you wanted to focus on future glories you could go with Jaime Garcia instead, maybe the whiffle ball curve he threw Joey Votto back in that wonderful series sweep that almost sent Votto back to the dugout with just one strike. There were plenty of high points this season, plenty of good stuff we should file away as iconic. But for me, I prefer honesty to gloss, and the lasting image for me of this season just might be Mike MacDougal last night. A journeyman pitcher no one else wanted, playing out the string on what may be his last shot. He's still got the stuff, but somehow it just isn't working, and he looks around, trying to figure out if it's all just a nightmare. Trying to look behind without anyone noticing, to see if somehow he can find where he went wrong, where he left the road that made sense and ended up here.

We had Jeff Suppan starting an elimination game, and Mike MacDougal finishing it. If we had only been able to get our time machine working, 2005 might very well have been ours for the taking last night. Unfortunately, the calendar stubbornly remains set to 2010, and our season went out with a whimper.

***

Odd Pandora item of the day: using "Stranded" by the Walkmen to build a station on Pandora leads to a playlist including Journey's "Open Arms". I can only assume the algorithm that builds these stations interprets a Walkmen request as an affinity for high scratchy yelping, as that seems to be the only common thread I can think of.

***

 It's times like this, times when I feel as if I've just been punched in the stomach, when I sometimes question why I bother with sports at all.

I was talking with a man named Darrell a couple weeks ago at work. I don't know Darrell. I have no idea what sort of person he is. I don't know if he's married, if he has kids, if he's a cat person or a dog person. What I do know is that he's a big Cardinal fan, and I know this because whenever he and I find ourselves in a conversation the Cardinals are always the topic. We argue over the value of Aaron Miles, we laugh and celebrate great plays and wins, we commiserate over losses. He wants McClellan in the rotation, I don't think he has the pitches to do it. He hated the Ludwick deal, I still think it was a good idea. We both think having Chris Perez back would be awesome.

On this particular day, Darrell deviated from our standard line of conversation. Somehow, for some reason, he brought up books. And the particular book he brought up was, to my surprise and horror, "Atlas Shrugged". We debated the merits of the book itself for a while, and then he began expounding on the politics of the book. He had never really paid all that much attention to politics, he said, but lately has begun to really develop an interest, mostly due to the fact the talk radio station in his town (I don't recall where), is carrying a lot of political talk radio these days. He mentioned Sean Hannity in particular.

I tell you this not to start a political debate of some sort, but only to give you some insight into who Darrell apparently is. I would imagine most of you have been around here long enough and gleaned enough insight from the things I say to have figured out I'm about as far from that side of the spectrum as you can possibly get. In other words, Darrell and I do not see eye to eye on things.

I listened to him, and I just sort of nodded along, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. I learned long ago I'm not good at having political/social/religious conversations with people I wish to stay on good terms with; it always ends with me going way too far and the immediate dissolution of any sort of friendly exchange. So I nod and I say nothing. It works.

I saw Darrell again a few days after, and he asked me what I thought of Dan Descalso. I talked about how much I liked his swing, and what I think of his glove, and how I hoped Skip Schumaker would be patrolling the outfield for some other team next season. Darrel disagreed about Skip, said he thought the guy would make a really good fourth outfielder for us. We argued back and forth, and then I sort of realised something. It's something I'm pretty sure I already knew, as is the case with most good epiphanies, but it had never quite crystallized for me.

I could have a debate with this man whose beliefs are utterly inimical to me, and it never got ugly. There was no screaming match, no bitter exchanges, even though he once told me he thought Juan Pierre would be the perfect leadoff guy for the Cardinals. We laugh together about our team, and never mind the two of us see the world through such radically different lenses.

It's a common language, this game of ours, a common language with stakes that stay on the field. Friends never argue over whether Bert Blyleven deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and then stay pissed at each other for more than a few minutes. People don't march around with Bible verse signs in protest of the designated hitter. (Though maybe they should.) We may have different views of Jeff Suppan's stance against stem cells in '06, but we can all agree he was awesome against the Mets that year.

When I'm sitting and having a sandwich at the Bread Co., wearing a Cardinal jacket, and an older lady at the next table asks me what we did last night, I look over and give her the score from the game. I don't ask what she means, I don't question why she's talking to me, I just speak our common language and tell her what the Cards did. There's something at least slightly magical about that.

So maybe that's what we should all try to take away from this moment in time, when our team has finally died and we know October will hold no joy for us. We may be miserable, but we're all miserable together. I don't know about you, but I find that thought oddly comforting.

***

The Baron's Playlist for the 29th of September, 2010

"The Man in Me" - Bob Dylan (Big Lebowski was on the other day; every time I watch that movie this song gets stuck in my head for days afterward.)

"Green Green Grass of Home" - Porter Wagoner

"Delta Dawn" - Tanya Tucker

"Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" - Willie Nelson

"Que Sera Sera" - Jennifer Terran

"(Just Like) Starting Over" - The Flaming Lips

"You Are What You Love" - Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins

 

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