|Lesson learned: winning really is the ultimate feeling.|
My first Major League baseball game is a hazy recollection. It was in 1977 or 1978, Reds vs. Cubs at Wrigley Field on a gray day. My family was there to see the Reds because my brother loved them – Johnny Bench was his idol. Somewhere in all the boxes of family photos are snapshots my brother took that day. I remember there are a lot of backs of heads in the photos, plus a blurry figure in the distance that was Bench. The day didn’t have a big impression on me, nor did either of the teams involved. It wasn’t until five or so years later that I fell in love with Major League Baseball, even though it was first with the Cubs (a story that I detailed in my first post for Diamond Diaries).
And the fact that you really can change allegiances is one of the lessons I’ve learned in these many years I’ve been a baseball fan. My brother who loved the Reds and Johnny Bench is now a Cubs fan with a basement bar filled with more memorabilia than many real sports bars. My friend Kathy grew up loving the Cubs but changed loyalties to the Yankees when that was where the Cubs traded her favorite player, Henry Cotto. I, of course, wised up and abandoned the Cubs after the 1999 season and became a Cardinals fan in 2000. And it’s been the right decision. Frustrating at times, of course, but every good relationship has its ups and downs.
There are some other lessons I’ve learned in these many years as a fan.
Until the numbers say otherwise, there is always a chance.
This lesson was repeatedly learned during almost all my years as a Cubs fan, when sometimes that chance ended in June. During the past month, the 2010 Cardinals have forced us to look more closely at the standings and the number of games left. Six games behind the Reds with 21 games left to play is still a chance (and perhaps a more realistic one than climbing past three other teams in the wild card).
Even when a season is hopeless, there are reasons to watch.
Even though the 2010 season is not yet hopeless, our friend Bob detailed on Twitter the other day many of the reasons to still be excited about watching this year’s Cards: Albert (of course!) Jaime Garcia’s Rookie of the Year quest (continuing tonight). Adam Wainwright’s push for 20 wins. Jon Jay. For me personally, of course it’s Chris Carpenter. Watch the games now, while they are still on daily. There will be a cold and dreary January evening when you will wish the Cardinals were playing the Pirates live on your television.
Talent is necessary, but it takes a good team to win.
One great player (such as Andre Dawson in his 1987 MVP season or Albert any year) or even five 2010 Cardinal All Stars plus Jaime Garcia doesn’t guarantee a thing. It takes a productive roster overall for success.
Technology enhances your enjoyment of the game.
Obviously my brother didn’t have a digital camera with a zoom lens back when he took those blurry photos of Johnny Bench, but that’s just one small improvement to watching baseball these days. We all have so many ways to find and watch our team now, as well as to find and connect with other fans – to say nothing of the improvements of the broadcasts themselves. Truly a different world that would have been unimaginable back when I rejoiced because my family finally got cable TV in 1983. (Or, during 1984, when I would write journal entries on that day’s Cubs game – who knew in the future I’d have the chance to share my writing for anyone to read?)
Gut instincts are right.
This is something I’ve learned only in the last 10 years as a Cardinals fan. There has been a moment late in every season, regular or post, when I’ve had a flash of what’s ahead for the team. All but one of those times, it was a realization that the season was – at some point in the near future – going to be ending either with a loss or on that early October Sunday when the season ends for 22 other teams as well. Then there was the exception. In 2006, while watching Chris Carpenter dominate the Tigers in game three of the World Series, I knew they were going to win it all.
Winning really is the ultimate feeling.
When you think of the 2006 Cardinals, of course the World Series win is the first thing that comes to mind. Perhaps the second is how awful that month of September was, when they lost seven straight and went from a seven-game lead in the NL Central barely clinching the division. Yet all that angst (and all the media reports mocking the Cardinals for even being in the World Series) was long forgotten when Adam Wainwright struck out Brandon Inge on Oct. 27. And the emotion of that instant, of knowing you are the champions, is what we all – fans, players and coaches – hope to experience (or experience again) when a season begins.
There’s always a time to move on.
Truthfully, and personally, I’m hoping this is a lesson Tony La Russa realizes when this season ends. It’s a lesson that I’m glad Jamie Moyer, who I met during my internship in 1988, has not yet learned. Moving on also is a lesson I’m learning, as this is my final post for Diamond Diaries. As a writer and a Cardinals fan, being a baseball blogger was something I always wanted to do (once blogs actually existed!) Now that I’ve done it for five months, I’ve realized that blogging definitely has its high points. But it’s not helping me move toward my ultimate writing goal of being a published novelist. (There are, unfortunately, only 24 hours in a day and I cannot spend all of them writing.) So, although it’s been fun, now it’s time for me to move on.
Thanks for reading.