"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it goes .... And summer is gone."
- A. Bartlett Giamatti, former baseball commissioner
Game No. 162 is in the books. This is one of the saddest days of the year for me.
You see, I am a creature of routine. That would freak some people out, but I’m OK with it. For instance, I like that I go to the same bagel store for breakfast every day, and that the clerks start preparing my order as soon as they see the silver Saturn pull up. Sometimes I mess with them by requesting a sesame seed bagel instead of a poppy seed. That’s about as wild as I get.
And Giamatti’s right, mostly. It’s not just summer that’s gone. It’s the routine. Being a baseball fan isn’t just a casual commitment.
The football writer at a paper I used to write for used to bash baseball in a column once a year and he’d always complain that the season was too long. He didn’t get it and probably still doesn’t. The beauty of the baseball season is that it is so long.
Baseball weaves itself into your life, day in and day out. A week in football is three days of hype, game day followed by three days of rehash.
That same week in baseball is seven games. OK, six games if there’s a West Coast travel day or a rainout. But generally, you get seven games, and that's seven opportunities to get excited, or to get depressed. Seven opportunities to cheer David Wright and boo Chipper Jones. Seven chances to marvel at Jose Reyes and curse the Yankees.
And if Braden Looper blows a save or Kaz Ishii can't find the strike zone with a map, we can wallow for just a day because the next game isn't too far away.
From late-February to the first week in October, my routine includes looking at the box scores to chart the daily progress of my Mets. When I was a kid, I’d check the paper on the doorstep each morning. When I was older, I’d check the AP wire on my terminal first thing at work.
Now, thanks to the Internet, I can find all the details of the game as they happen – and enjoy the recap, ranting and revelry of my friends in the blogosphere.
The games serve as a backdrop for the other things going on in our lives. I love Greg Prince’s “Flashback Fridays" feature on his Faith and Fear in Flushing blog where he takes a season and tells the story about what happened on the field, but also how it related to what was going on in his life. Of course they’re connected.
Shea goes into hibernation starting today.
So now that the Mets are packing it up for the winter, my routine is shattered. The playoffs and World Series, not counting the six years of my life when the Mets were included, serve as a transition period so we don’t have to go cold turkey. Though the thought of listening to Tim McCarver drooling over Derek Jeter all October makes me want to try.
And baseball has an active off-season. The awards are dripped out over a couple weeks in November and Hall of Fame balloting takes place in December with results announced in January. Free agents and trades stoke the hot stove discussions. But you can’t build a routine around those events.
So now, like Giamatti said, the game designed to break our hearts leaves us to face the fall and soon, the snow. But you know…. pitchers and catchers report in early February, the box scores will come back and we can start this all over again.