It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.
- Somebody who hadn't even seen the Wild Card play-in game yet.
Really great baseball writing or baseball thought sticks with you when you're watching baseball, even if you don't want it to, which I think is why so much of it works on a sentence level. John Updike's "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" is a perfectly constructed essay, but the part that forces itself into your mind during actual live baseball games is the essay reduced to its startling, inevitable climax—"Gods do not answer letters."
I hadn't read it since after Updike died a few years ago, and even then it was only as a palate cleanser while I read "Packed Dirt, Churchgoing, A Dying Cat, A Traded Car" over and over. Then at the beginning of this season—really, I think, to begin this season—Albert Pujols left the Cardinals short one Moral Center, one vessel for everything Cardinals fans are supposed to believe in, and there it was. Gods do not answer letters.
"The Green Fields of the Mind" is reduced so thoroughly to its own introduction that I'd known its opening lines for years before I finally read the rest of it. It's everybody's forum signature and favorite baseball-related quotation. It's convenient and it's ubiquitous because once you hear it it's never far away, once the nights start to get longer and your team looks shaky on the infield.
It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The first time I thought about it this year was during the Wild Card play-in game, which matches that description more accurately than any baseball innovation since somebody decided they wouldn't play in the winter. The play-in game's purpose is literally to get more fans' hopes up, and then to crush them in an even more arbitrary way than the postseason did before.
When it looked like the Cardinals were going to lose it—like Pete Kozma's luck was going to run out at that moment, instead of later—there it was. But they didn't.
Then in the NLDS, again—but they didn't lose there, either.
So by the time they lost, yesterday, I'd had ample time to reread the rest of the essay. And of course Bart Giamatti is not talking simply about the way teams win and lose games, even though baseball has already broken, this year, the hearts of Braves fans and Nationals fans and people, in general, who wanted to see newer and scrappier teams in the World Series. I'll do him the courtesy of blockquoting the conclusion—
It breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion; and because, after it had fostered again that most hungered-for illusion, the game was meant to stop, and betray precisely what it promised.
It's a powerful sentiment, and a beautiful essay, but I've been struck this postseason by how much I disagree. Baseball is nothing if not a pattern; it does nothing so much as resist corrosion. Every summer it comes back and every summer, no matter how hard-bitten the end of the last season made me, my life recenters itself within the baseball routines. Eating in front of the TV, KMOX in the car, checking my phone nervously at the library. It's designed to make you forget it's broken your heart, certainly—every year around February, when everybody's on the verge of a breakthrough and in perfect shape and trying these new contact lenses and seeing the ball for the first time, really seeing it, it gives you a new heart to deal with for seven or eight months.
It's always broken, but always with the knowledge that there'll be another one delivered after the first nice day of that winter, whether you asked for it or not. And by November, when we're eyeing Kelly Johnson and Jeff Keppinger like they would have made the difference—like we can know what would have made the difference—I'll have bigger things to worry about. By new years I'll be preoccupied with how long Spring Training outstays its welcome every year, not what happened in 2012.
Eventually I'll remember Pete Kozma's sloppy defense, but I won't remember each sloppy play; I'll remember Chris Carpenter not having it, but it'll be in the context of all the times he's had it. The baseball season is too long to remember too much—that, to me, is its design. You can't wrap your arms all the way around the good parts forever, and there's no room to detail all the slights and the wrongs and the bad parts unless you're Tony La Russa. It's what I love about it. There's always more coming, a deluge of numbers and moments and nights at Busch Stadium and gamethreads, for that matter, and each season requires you, eventually, to forget.