I generally try to shy away from the Ken Burns Baseballisms, but baseball really is a lot like life - and that’s rarely as clear as after the kind of death we just experienced.
Every season ends in death, except those rare few that reach immortality in the form of a championship. And even in those rarest of years - just two in my 30+ years as a fan - immortality lasts only for the winter. Then you play another season and die again.
This year’s death was especially painful, so I stand here at the wake for the 2019 Cardinals asking you not to mourn the tragedy of their final days, but to celebrate their life. That’s what I’m trying to do, with admittedly mixed results. But over the last week, as I’ve interacted with fans in person, via text, at my local Cardinals bar and especially on Twitter, I’ve been struck by how differently we all process loss.
The frustration and anger came easily. With blinders on to the context and the history of this season, these last four games were bad baseball. Even if they had happened on a Tuesday and Wednesday night in June, nearly getting no-hit in back-to-back games would strike a chord. During the nightmare 1st inning last night, I told my family it was “the worst thing I had ever seen in my life.” Not the worst “baseball game” - I dubbed it the worst thing of all things. 9/11 had officially been bumped down to the #2 slot.
If you took a stroll through Cardinals Twitter, and especially if you dug into the the dark hole of something like the replies to @cardinals or Derrick Goold, you would find plenty of fans wringing their hands, calling for the firing of everyone affiliated with the team in any capacity. This in turn sparked national writers and fans of other teams to decry the spoiled Cardinals fans, who can’t even be happy when their team is in the NLCS.
I’m no grief counselor, but I’m pretty sure processing loss is not that simple and not that linear. Maybe there are fans among us who could watch that lazy fly ball drop between Jose Martinez and Kolten Wong and think “I’m just so grateful for all the joy this team brought me this season.” Me personally - the words I yelled at my TV were very different from that.
But in the long run, and hopefully as early as this morning, the place we all should want to get to is appreciation for the joy this team brought us this season. That’s not to say that there were not frustrations, and it’s not to say there are not things to be improved or even “fixed” this offseason. But (nearly) every baseball season is going to end in death. If you can only find joy in the seasons that end in a Championship, you’ve set yourself up for a pretty dreary fandom.
The actual death of this season was a rough one. It called to mind 2004 for me, and I’d guess many of you. That year, I saw my beloved Cardinals reach the World Series for the first time since my very first year as a true fan, way back in elementary school. Their team was a juggernaut. I was poised for immortality... and then they laid an absolute egg in the series.
That loss hurt me, and the hurt lingered for some time. But now, I look back on that as one of my very favorite Cardinals teams.
Much like that 2004 team, in the grand spectrum of Cardinals seasons, 2019 was a very good one. I hope you can all find solace in that as we begin counting the days to 2020 and another shot at immortality.