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Hopeful Slings and Hopeful Arrows

Sep 11, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Edward Mujica (44) stands on the mound after the San Diego Padres scored in teh eighth inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE
Sep 11, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Edward Mujica (44) stands on the mound after the San Diego Padres scored in teh eighth inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

Of all the emotions a human can feel, my very least favourite may be hope.

Not because hope is a bad feeling, of course; hope is, in fact, a very objectively good feeling. It' know, hopeful. And yet, that's not all there is to it. Of course.

I find myself thinking a lot about hope these days, as we watch our team lurch along in patented St. Louis Cardinals September Zombie Mode, thinking about fishes on hookses and the hope of food for that fish. Not hunger but hope compelling that tiny, simple brain to take a shot at that tasty morsel floating so innocently in the water, only to find itself hooked, dragged against its will to somewhere it never meant to go.

We all know the Pandora story, I'm sure; woman comes to Earth with a big box full of evil, isn't supposed to look inside, does so, and lets out all the ills of the world. And then, when all the pestilence and famine and horror have been unleashed, a still small voice whispers out from the box. Hope is still there, hope for humanity and salvation. It's the sort of parable one can get behind; a tale of the human condition and why we keep at it day after day, with hope as our only companion. Funny thing about the Pandora story, though: depending on the version of the story and how it's translated, hope isn't always the salvation at the end. Sometimes hope is stuck behind in the bottle as a mercy, the word epsis meaning understanding as much as actual hope, the lack of knowledge of his doom the only salvation those bastardly gods (probably the GOBs of VEB legend, in fact), see fit to bestow on man.

I'm not talking about expectations, you understand; expectations are built in the mind from the knowledge we have, and we can adjust them as we move through life. Hope, though, is another matter entirely. Hope is a matter of the heart, and it doesn't change. No matter how much easier life might be without it.

Watching the Cardinals lose to the San Diego Padres for the second night in a row while ostensibly making a playoff push of some sort, I couldn't help but think to myself, "I wish I could just...give up on this team."

I've always wondered how it feels to be a fan of a hopeless team; one of those teams with no real shot at success, whose fans are resigned to their fate as bottom-dwellers by the All-Star break. It has to be a miserable place, I would imagine. At the same time, though, I wonder if it's really so cold and empty as I picture it. Perhaps there is freedom in despair.

For various reasons, I believed this autumn was going to be...special. In particular, I thought this October was going to be one of the best times of my life. It doesn't matter why; it's just what I thought. October of 2012 was, to be honest, going to be life-changing. I honestly believed that. Autumn has always been good to me in general; most of the best times in my life have come as the leaves change colours and the air goes all crisp and chilly and fragrant. Some of it, I'm sure, could be attributed to a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts: I already believe I'm going to be happier in the fall, and so it happens. I am successful and satisfied in the autumn because I expect to be. But that's not all of it. Circumstances just tend to fall better for me this time of year. It's always been that way. I don't know why that is, but it is. But this October...I thought it would be special. Meaningful.

Now, for other various reasons, this October isn't going to be so magnificent. The life-changing moments I believed were coming my way are not. And the feeling left behind is hollow.

I'm not expecting this October to be a particularly bad time for me, really. Honestly, it almost has to be better than October last year, which I spent largely laid up nursing a broken foot, physically unable to make it downtown for the beautiful insanity of those late postgame nights. The closest I came was dinner at Lombardo's late one night, watching the revelers stagger in for a night cap, basking in the exhilaration of what they had witnessed. So unless I come down with another excruciatingly painful, debilitating injury in the next few weeks, I fully expect October 2012 to be better, objectively speaking, than October 2011 was for me personally.

And yet, I'm also completely certain October of 2012 is going to be one of the most miserable times of my life. Not because It will actually be bad, but because I had hoped it would be something so much more than just another month. I believed, for the first time in a long time, that there was something better on the horizon. I opened myself up, and exposed my weakness. I will pay the price for my hope; never mind that reality won't have to hurt me to hurt me.

I wonder sometimes if we follow sports not for entertainment, but because it gives us all of real life without forcing real consequence on us. When we receive a hopeful prognosis for a loved one but they take a turn for the worse, we are devastated. Our hopes were built up to see them healthy and happy and whole again, but now it looks like that's never going to be. It's reality, and it can be unimaginably cruel. But when our favourite baseball team looks headed for a turnaround, then we see Jaime Garcia shit the bed on the road yet again, we have a taste of the same heartbreak, but our life is still fine. We can be sad, but never have to face real loss.

Maybe that's what we're all doing here. Simulating all of life's ups and downs without real risk. Territorial, tribal, banded together beneath colourful banners with only assigned meaning, exiles staying in touch however they can with the folks back home. Fish on hooks as far as the eye can see, all hoping for food and being dragged along, while less hopeful fish are still hungry but left alive. Simulated hope and simulated heartbreak, glory by proxy and defeat without consequence, real life chugging along without thought for the box score.

That's what our Wild Card race -- ahem, second Wild Card race -- really is, you know. A trap for the hopeful, those with belief. Those who live and die with every pitch until the very end, when giving up would be so much easier. Good to the last drop is just marketing; everyone knows the dregs are always bitter. October 2011 was the carrot; we got everything we ever wanted, all in the most improbably improbable fashion. And even now, as awful as this team has been so many times, letting us all down, can any of us really give up, knowing what happened a year ago? Carrot, meet stick. You're going to be great friends, I just know it.

I'm not sure I could give it up even now, though. Which is also part of the trap. Not just for baseball fans or sports fans, but for everyone. Charles Schultz has been dead for years, and we're all still waiting to see Charlie Brown kick that fucking football.

If I could let go of hope, never feel it again, maybe I could watch this team, and others, while simply enjoying the experience. Buddhists must make fascinating sports fans. No desire, only being. Without hope, maybe this October would feel however it actually is, rather than so, so hollow.

I don't know how to live without hope. Perhaps it's impossible. And yet I wonder sometimes if hope might not be the worst of all the plagues let loose on humanity out of that box, giving us the imagination to conceive of something better, always making us run at that football, always hoping for the life we want, no matter how silly our dreams are.

Happy Wednesday, everybody!