Sunday, July 06, 2008

Major League Baseball is a Tough Sport

Major League Baseball is a tough sport.

There are one hundred and sixty two games in a regular season. The season spans the months of April through September. Six months in total. And the endurance of Major League baseball is one that has to be paced. You can't put a hundred percent of your heart into it for the entire duration of the season. You really have to take a break from the game and remember to enjoy life.

No, I am not writing about how tough it is to be a player. I am speaking about the fans perspective.

Major League Baseball is tough on the die-hard fan.

There have been years where it has been a piece of cake to be a baseball fan, depending on the team you root for.

In my case, the easiest year to be a baseball fan was 2006 when the Tigers took off on a blistering pace – reaching and incredible seventeen game lead over the remainder of their division by mid-July. But for as sweet as that was, as comfortable a lead as that was, the Tigers squandered their lead away through August and September, losing their lead on the last day of the season after being swept by the worst team in the American League Central Division – the Kansas City Royals. Instead they had to settle for the American League wild card spot as the Minnesota Twins won the same division in what they called a "miracle come-back".

But truly the only miracle was how a team that played so well for the first half of a year could play so bad in the second half.

The Tigers did regroup in the post-season, beating the New York Yankees four games to one, then sweeping the Oakland A's to win the American League and go on to play in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. And then, to the dismay of all Tiger fans, die-hard or casual, the Tigers lost to the Cardinals winning only one game in a series they should have easily won.

So even in the best years, it is hard to be a Major League baseball fan.

The only real satisfaction is when your team wins the World Series.

Then there are years like this one. 2008.

Tiger fans were excited about this season as early as November of 2007. That day a trade was announced that was so great it would already have many sports writers declaring the Tigers to win the World series this year before spring training even started. They were supposed to score ten thousand runs, and run away with the American League – challenged only by the Boston Red Sox.

And this year has been a heart breaking disappointment from the start. Opening the 2008 season with seven straight losses, bettering themselves to maybe win one game in a series, they slowly progressed to winning the odd series here and there, then went on a tear of winning long string of series' as Inter-league play saw the Tigers playing a fairly weak schedule against National League teams.

But when Inter-league play ended, so did the winning streak. They lost the next series on the road to Minnesota, and lost night lost for the time in a row to the Seattle Mariners.

All the hard work to climb back into the race for the American League Central seemingly being squandered away before our eyes.

As a die-hard fan, it is crushing to sit on the edge of your seat – pitch by pitch – almost willing your team to do well, only to see the game lost in similar fashion again and again, with nothing to be done but to try to will them harder. Certain that they will respond to your extra-sensory messages your send by wishing them so hard that they must come true.

Wishing for a clutch hit with men on base to drive in a much needed run only to heart the announcer say the batter " … took strike three with the bat on his shoulder".

Wishing the bullpen mid-relief pitcher can just get this one more hitter out to salvage a one run lead, only to hear the announcer say ".. it's a long fly ball that could be trouble, hit up the gap and rolls to the wall for a double and the tying run comes to the plate standing up …"

And you, as the die-hard fan – feel those most familiar pangs of once again being disappointed.

But then you say to yourself, "there is always tomorrow" and you anxiously await the next game hoping the result will be better.

There is no better feeling than when your team wins that game you invested all your emotion into willing them to victory. There is true satisfaction as they move one step closer to that short term goal of catching a division leader, then leading the division, and moving in to post-season play. The playoffs are so wonderfully exciting when the team you live and die for is contending in the play-offs.

It's almost a euphoric high.

That's the beauty of a season of one hundred and sixty two games. It is also the problem with a season of one hundred and sixty two games.

There is always hope that tomorrow will be better. There is always opportunity for your team to win that next game.

And a true die-hard fan always believes their team has a chance to win the World Series.

Major League Baseball is a tough sport.

Full of highs and lows. Often more lows than highs. It's emotionally draining.

And one really has to pace themselves to be a fan.

I wish I knew how to pace myself.

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