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Not With a Bang, But a Whimper.

Last year, just before Valentine's day, my paternal grandmother passed away.  Her heart finally gave out on her late on a Sunday evening.  She had been in the hospital, attempting to recover from a triple bypass; she had had a stint placed the year before, and it wasn't doing it anymore, and finally, it all just gave up.

My father was pretty broken up about it; it was the first parent he had lost.  What surprised me wasn't seeing my own father, one of the more stoic, unemotional people I've ever known in my life, just fall apart; I was far more surprised by how much it hurt me.  Don't get me wrong; I loved the woman.  But it was very much that species of love you feel for a family member 'just because'.  We had never been all that close.  In fact, I've never related all that well to my father's side of the family in general.  I always took more after my mother's side. 

I'm not much of an outdoorsman, and fishing is just something I've never been able to generate any sort of interest in.  I like fish, but actually trying to catch them seems too much like just waiting for nothing to me.  I can't stand to kill an animal, so I've never gone hunting or any of those sorts of wholesome, manly activities either.  My father's family consists almost entirely of rugged, salt of the earth types from out in the backwoods of Missouri.  I don't say that in any sort of denigrating way; I just don't relate to them all that well.

But when my grandmother died, I found myself far more broken up about it than I ever expected to be.  When it came right down to it, it had just never seemed to me like either one of my father's parents would ever die.  My mother's side of the family, the one that I've always been closer to, has never been a healthy bunch of people.  Heart disease, diabetes, alcoholism, bipolar disorder, you name it, that bunch of people seem to have a history of it.  I had grown used to the knowledge that there was mortality in these people; I know perfectly well that nothing lasts forever. 

But my dad's parents, on the other hand, had never been sick in their lives.  After my grandfather retired, they traveled extensively, spending very little time anywhere near home.  They even bought a doublewide down in Florida that they would go and stay at January through April.  It just felt as if they would always be there; that none of the infirmities and ravages of age would ever really touch them.  Even when my grandmother was diagnosed as diabetic, it was very mild.  The only noticeable change was the pitcher of unsweetened iced tea always present at family gatherings after that. 

And then, one day, she was gone.  I had somehow never even thought of her as being all that old; she and my grandfather had gone down to Montauk State Park just a few months before, at the close of fishing season, and had brought back bag after bag of cleaned, beautiful trout.  Like I said, I can't stand to kill an animal, but I am generally willing to eat them, at least the tasty ones, and trout are right near the top of that list. 

So even as I sat at her funeral, waiting to perform my duty as pallbearer, I realised, at least a little bit, that what I felt wasn't just sorrow for the woman who was now gone; it was a little bit for myself as well.  It may sound selfish, but grief usually is.  We don't feel bad because someone we love has finally escaped from their pain and sickness; we weep because we've lost them.  I had never thought of these people as being mortal.  Trust me, I was plenty old enough to understand that everything, everyone, and everywhere will have an end, and yet it just never seemed to apply to certain parts of life.  I grieved, not only for a woman that I had known, but never as well as I should have, but for my own new wisdom. 

I tell you all of this not to depress you, or to invite sympathy, or anything like that.  I tell you all of this because I felt, in some small way, a very similar emotion last night as I watched Jason Isringhausen's postgame comments.  If you didn't see the show, here's a little bit of what you missed:

"I'm just getting sick of embarrassing myself and letting my team down." 

"It's just time for [La Russa and Duncan] to figure out- we should have five more games in the win column, in my mind.  So we should be out there in first place even more.  They can't keep sending me out there when I'm pitching the way I'm pitching.  We're going to have to figure out some kind of remedy.  I'm sure that remedy will give me some time off from that role and we'll somebody in who can do a better job right now."

"I'm leading the league in saves and blown saves with an ERA of seven.  (7.47)  It's not a whole lot of fun, especially when you let down 25 other guys day in and day out.  It's the end of it."

Now, if you can't feel something for a man standing in front of the cameras, naked pain on his face, eviscerating himself so thoroughly, then you obviously don't have much in the way of compassion.  I saw those comments last night, and I watched them again this morning, and what I felt was a sense of sorrow, of loss, that seemed completely out of place in the context of a sporting event, regardless of outcome.  It wasn't the loss; it was the knowledge that this may very well be the end for Jason Isringhausen. 

Izzy has long been described by many, myself included, as a warrior.  Last night, he seemed almost to be following the Bushido code to me, falling on his own sword rather than dishonour himself, or his team, any further, by going out and continuing to pitch.  He gave La Russa more than enough in those comments to justify relieving him of closer duties, and he did it because he didn't want to hurt the team any more. 

I'm sure there are some who will still rant and scream at Izzy, but I have neither the stomach, nor the heart, for the task.  There are some, I'm sure, who will point to his salary, and say he has 8 million reason not to feel bad, but I don't buy it.  Ballplayers are paid very well for their services, yes, but that doesn't mean they aren't human.  It doesn't mean they stop feeling all the same things the rest of us feel.  They simply feel all the same things in a different tax bracket.  This is a man, a man of tremendous pride and confidence, staring into his mortality, forced to consider that he may, in fact, simply no longer be good enough.  In the end, time gets us all, even when we think it never will. 

As I said above, there was a point to all of my earlier maudling.  I've never been a huge fan of Isringhausen.  I've never booed him, simply because I'm not really the sort.  There's only one Cardinal player I've ever actually booed, and it had almost nothing to do with his performance on the field.  Still, though, of all the Cardinals who contributed to this decade's run, I've never loved Izzy like some of the other players.  I loved Jimmy Edmonds, with his dives, (sometimes justified, sometimes not) his blond tips, his ridiculous batting stance, his annual spring training leg injuries.  I love Albert, because I've never seen a player do the things he does before.  I loved Daryl Kile, because he seemed almost too decent to be true.  I love, but will never quite forgive, Rick Ankiel.  I loved Matt Morris; his duels in the 2001 Division Series are still some of the most memorable games I've ever experienced.  I even love Chris Carpenter.  Hell, who doesn't love the T-1000? 

But Izzy never really did it for me.  I've always respected his contributions, but also always felt, like many others do, that he put way too many men on base, he walks the bases full, always has to make it more interesting than it should be, yadda yadda yadda. 

But now, having seen Izzy prepared to step down, out of the role that he's filled for so long, it seems like the end has finally come.  Not just for Izzy; this may or may not be the end for him.  I have no way of knowing.  But for the Cardinal team that gave us all so much joy for the better part of this decade, this is definitely the end. 

How ironic, or perhaps it's just fitting, is it that on the same day, Jason Isringhausen falls on his sword for his team and his manager, and Jim Edmonds is released?  We tend to look at Albert as the big gun of the 2000 era Cardinals' success, but the arrival of Jim Edmonds and Daryl Kile really ushered in the era.  Kile, of course, has been gone for too many years now, but Edmonds was still around, still flopping in the outfield.  Now his career may be over.  Even if another team does pick him up, it's going to be strictly in a part time, defensive sort of role.  Personally, I would be a bit surprised if he even gets a contract. 

Earlier this month, we saw Matt Morris come to the end of his road.  The Pittsburgh Pirates, officially cutting ties with the Dave Littlefield era, released Matty Mo; he shortly thereafter announced his retirement.  Another warrior done before his time; another reminder that all things must end. 

Mike Matheny finally fell victim to one too many foul balls off the mask and retired two years ago now.  He made the decision, or perhaps it was more made for him, that being able to live without a permanent fog, or even just live at all, was more valuable than continuing to play.  He made the right decision, of course.  Still, strange to see him gone from the game. 

Houston had no use for Woody Williams this spring; Woody too received his walking papers.  One of the best stories you'll ever hear in sports, the ex shortstop made good on the mound, Woody appears to be retired.  I don't know if he's formally announced it, but then again, I'm not sure he has to.  No grand exit for Woody, either.  Just a slow fade, the days piling up until there are just too many to lift.

One by one, all of our heroes have fallen; time gets us all in the end.  And now Izzy.  He was never my favourite, never the player whose jersey I proudly sported.  But I never really expected him to go anywhere.  It somehow seemed to me that he would just close games for the Cardinals forever.  He would always put too many men on.  We would always complain.  But he would also get the job done, night after night, until the end of time.  He never really seemed to age, just wear down from time to time and have to go into the shop to get fixed.  To see him as he was last night, announcing to the world that a change needed to be made, hurt me in a way I was not expecting.  He was never my favourite, but he was always there just the same. 

And so it seems, to me at least, that we stand now at the true end of an era.  I've said that before, but it was always just lip service.  Now it seems real.  Watching the postgame show last night, I found myself looking back, and thinking of that team.  That team is gone now, and I'm surprised by how much I miss it.  Izzy was the last man left standing; the last on his feet and fighting.  You'll forgive me, I hope, if I can't feel any real joy, or even relief, that he's finally fallen. 

We all look to the future, of course.  We all wait to see which way the wind will blow for this team, and this bullpen.  I hope, though, that as we all turn our faces forward, you'll join me in one last little look back.  It may have been just a baseball team, but it was our baseball team.  It was my baseball team.  The story, though, is over, and it's time to say goodbye.