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The Long and Short

Wild Card Round - St Louis Cardinals v San Diego Padres - Game Three Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

And just like that, it was over.

Every year, at some point, I pen those words. Well, just about every year; when the Cardinals win another title, I will not describe it in this way. The end of the rainbow does not call for a small, bitter smile. But when the season closes short of the promised land, there is always a moment for sadness at the sudden stop.

The end of the baseball season always sounds like Billie Holiday in my head. Most years, it’s the sudden, too-soon end of a long and occasionally too-long season, Valentine’s Day to nearly Halloween, absorbing some small percentage of your brain for eight months of the year, bringing both comfort and frustration, solace and sadness, the expected enjoyment of a June night spent in the company of a 5-2 victory, the sour copper penny taste of a late-inning closer meltdown in late July. Baseball is a friend, a partner, for so much of the year, and when it ends the sudden lack is a shock to the system. There is always a baseball game tomorrow, until there isn’t.

This year was different, of course. In so many ways. Almost none of them good.

And just like that, it was over.

Bob Gibson lived to 84 years old. That is a long life, a wonderfully long life, particularly when he remained Bob F. Gibson until very recently.

Bob Gibson died at 84, and that seems too short a time for such a giant to spend on the earth. Certainly 84 seemed older when I was younger, when my parents were not approaching 70, when I thought time was an illusion, a thing that happened to other people.

The 2020 baseball season was a painfully, maddeningly short thing, endlessly delayed and then rushed, the least satisfying version of itself one could imagine, and the three extra days of October baseball we got was nowhere near enough to make up for all those lost summer nights of pain and pleasure and boredom and pitching changes and incredibly dramatic home runs that contributed to only 1/162nd of the season.

The year of 2020 has been miserably long, miserably hard, and I hope to never see another like it. Let me put it this way, actually: if we see another like it, there is basically zero chance I see another like it beyond that one. I am not so attached to either myself or life as a whole to go through this again. This interminable year will never end, it seems, and baseball for less than a quarter of it instead of two-thirds doesn’t help matters any.

I need more Halloween Oreos. The ones with the fun patterns on one of the cookies and the orange stuffing. Do you know when you pull those apart, the frosting/stuffing never sticks to the side with the Halloween design? Only the regular Oreo side holds on for some reason. Every time I eat two Oreos one gets separated like this, and I have never had the Halloween side hold on to the frosting. I wonder if there is something slightly different about the patterned wafers compared to the regular ones? I only buy Oreos a couple times a year, mostly when the Halloween ones are available. I hope the grocery store still has some.

This year, we lost the two great living legends of Cardinaldom. Lou Brock and Bob Gibson were so closely tied through most of their careers and post-playing days, symbols of that late 60s peak era. They remained tied together even at the end, their passings separated by less than a month. We had them for so long, more than my lifetime. The two men implanted themselves on this franchise, this city, this fanbase, in a way sports legends so often do. It seemed as if they would go on forever, and then they didn’t. And it seemed like we needed more time. One more Opening Day, one more ride around the warning track in a pickup truck, one more red jacket event. We didn’t get any of that in 2020. I wonder how many other people all over the place didn’t get the things they normally look forward to in 2020, and how many of them will never get to enjoy those things again. After all, nothing lasts forever, and sometimes this year was the last year. Even when it was this year, if you know what I mean.

All I want is another unpleasantly long baseball season, complete with unpleasantly long games that go on forever, until one day it all stops, and it seems like it was too short. I want to see my childhood heroes back on those trucks while that irritating jingle plays over and over again on the stadium organ. I will not get those things, nor will you. Maybe we’ll get some of them, but we won’t get all of them.

The end of the season, and the end of an era, came together this year. The legends we have now are Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee, maybe Ted Simmons if he comes around a bit more often. Bruce Sutter, who my mom always said was so sexy when I was a kid, but now thinks looks like a garden gnome.

The Cardinals need more offense before next season rolls around, it’s true, but the most frustrating, downright infuriating thing about this season is the sneaking suspicion, the niggling tickle in the back of the mind, that we didn’t learn anything at all this year, and nothing we saw really told us what we wanted to know. The shortness of the season, the longness of the delay and the shutdown, the interruptions and the fatigue, the sheer weirdness of it all, all of it made this 2020 season unlike any other, and what do we make of it? I don’t know. I’ll write about the team and the players at some other point. Today I have nothing useful to say. Today I am only sad that my team is done, this short season in this long year has come to an end, and another of our heroes will never again put on that magic red jacket and throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

It is October in St. Louis, and baseball is gone. Bob Gibson is gone. Lou Brock is gone. We have coloured leaves and chilly evenings and bonfires to look forward to, but there will be no far off sounds of a baseball game on the radio of a pickup truck with the windows rolled down to accompany those moments. The season was too short, the end too sudden. Spring seems a long time away, particularly when so much seems so uncertain. Some years I would say spring will be here before we know it, that the next few months will be chewed up with harvest celebrations and festivals and Thanksgiving and Christmas and craft fairs and shopping trips and offseason roster construction posts and ridiculous trade proposal posts and decorating anything and everything in sight. But this year, I don’t think so.

So often life seems too short, and the things we love leave us so soon. But right now all I can see is the long, and it seems so long. The end always hurts when it comes, but I think we all needed the season to last just a little longer this year just a little more than most others. But it didn’t.

And just like that, it was over.