My baseball season, the six months I look forward to most on the sports calendar, has not been going as planned.
One of the simplest and purest joys of life is the joy of summer. Things associated successfully with this time of year have built many a career. Bryan Adams remains immortalized for his soulful yearning to recapture the glorious summer of ‘69. Sandswept beaches and blazing sunlight have sold beer and soft drinks for generations. Shrieking children, unfettered by worries of book reports and math tests, splash recklessly through sprinklers. Mom struggles to hide her amusement as Dad shows off his unmatched prowess with tongs, coal, and lighter fluid. Summer means breathing deeply, shedding the weight of winter, moving forward. The future and its untold promise beckon, and we resolve, this time, to make it count.
The beauty of summer begs for a constant backdrop. A place where if you lose the thread, you can go there and count on reclaiming it. For me, that soundtrack has always been my beloved Indians. They are there. Every day. All summer long. The pitcher toes the rubber and the batter plies the lumber. The crowd roars and the umpires grunt. It’s as soothing as a baby clutching his blanket and as comfortable as slipping on that old pair of jeans. It is the adornment of long sun-kissed days, the glass of fine wine that accompanies a well-prepared rack of lamb.
The current iteration of Tribe baseball, however, has left me wanting. Baseball generally gifts a fanbase of a contending team the daily investment of counting the “Magic Number”. If we take two out of three here we will be two games up. If we drop this series we fall two back. Back and forth the pendulum swings. That huge home run in the bottom of the eighth is a signpost pointing towards October, the blown save against the squad looming visibly in our rearview mirror a visceral punch in the gut. On the occasions the Indians are running away with the Central, it is usually a product of sheer dominance. Our rotation is blowing away hitters, wisps of smoke escaping from the catcher’s glove. Major leaguers step in against our bullpen, knowing that they are a short while away from a sheepish trip back to their dugout. Our lineup is raking up and down and catching everything in sight. The party is raging and we are going on benders nightly. Even those tough years when the team is awful, the games seem to matter. Maybe they will win tonight and maybe we will see something special. It is baseball after all. Stuff always seems to happen.
This year has been glaringly different. The twists and turns of a normal campaign have been absent. The race for the division crown was over before the starter gun was ever fired. The games never really held any consequence and the team has played like packhorses slogging through the slop. Instead of poring over box scores and rewatching highlights, we stress about the lineups, our outfield inadequacies and a bullpen less reliable than Gallup polls. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, it got late really early. For the first time, I can remember I just want to get the season over with so the real drama can begin. It’s the NBA all over again.
It may come off strange and a bit entitled to complain about a surefire playoff berth and a chance to reach for the brass ring. But it’s just not the same. You can fly coach and reach your destination but it’s a whole lot more enjoyable to travel business class. I would much rather be awake for the journey and not have to pop a couple of Ambiens. I want this to be fun.
I want every day of summer to end settled in my recliner, a craft beer in my hand, and an entertaining game to watch. I want to glance at the schedule and feel genuine disappointment when I see there is an off day. The marathon has two months left. I hope the team finds a rhythm and heads into the postseason, not perceived as recipients of a fortuitous draw, but as feared contenders not to be trifled with. An exquisite part of this special portion of the year has been lying dormant. I remain optimistic, however. The key is in the ignition, waiting to be flipped. A suspenseful tale, hiding just around the bend, impatiently waits to be told and spread. It is summer after all. The future beckons.