A Fan's Lament
By Robert Nishihara
Baseball is a game of tomorrows, a nearly endless sea of tomorrows rolling in like the tide.
There are 162 games in a baseball season, and for nearly every one played there is at least one more waiting to be played the very next day. That is, until a team is either eliminated from championship contention or is eventually crowned champion. And the end of a baseball season can come abruptly, like a bolt of lightning that shuts off the power. One minute there are lights, liveliness, and noise; the next, darkness, stillness, and stunned silence.
The weekend before last (October 4), lightning struck mercilessly in South Florida and the San Francisco Giants and their fans sat in the dark without any suitable words to cut the silence. The wild ride that was the 2003 Major League baseball season ended for the Giants the second Jeff Conine's throw beat J.T. Snow's desperate lunge for the plate with the run that would have extended San Francisco's season at least an extra half-inning with the promise of another tomorrow magically appearing on the calendar.
Major League baseball seasons are built on promises. And the more promises an MLB team keeps with its fans the more likely it is that optimism in April will lead to confidence in July and, finally, something very close to arrogance in September. The sheer volume of a full season tends to lend credence to the idea that the best teams are the most likely to push themselves ahead of inferior competition. The perception is that luck simply cannot outlast six months and 162 games. The reward, of course, at the end of the longest road in professional sports is the exclusivity and history of a championship title. It is baseball's biggest promise, and one that often belies the peril of pinning so much earned over such a long period of time on a tiny number of critical games in October.
And, it is especially disheartening to see it all evaporate on a single play.
However, anything as dynamic as a baseball season, with so many variables that cover so much time, rarely hinges on a single play. Indeed, the 2003 San Francisco Giants did not find themselves struggling for their baseball lives in South Florida because of one moment or one play.
In fact, the Giants were in the playoffs in the first place on the strength of dozens of triumphs (professional and personal) over the course of the regular season. Most notably, Barry Bonds and Jason Schmidt fought through the devastating personal pain of losing a parent to post MVP and Cy Young caliber seasons. 69-year-old Felipe Alou left the bench of the hapless Detroit Tigers and overcame years of having the rug pulled out from under him in Montreal to manage San Francisco's franchise to its first 100-win season in ten years. A procession of rookie pitchers defied the odds and succeeded despite their collective woeful lack of experience. One rookie, Jerome Williams, was particularly brilliant, showing poise well beyond his years. On the opposite end of the career spectrum, veteran reliever Tim Worrell was pressed into the closer's role after Robb Nen, one of baseball's most overpowering short relievers, was lost for the season. Worrell, relying on little more than guts and experience, rang up a career-high 38 saves.
So, the Giants marched into the post season on the strength of these triumphs with the second-best record in the NL, but they only had a handful of games to prove their collective worth. And it unraveled quickly.
After a masterful complete game shutout by Jason Schmidt in Game 1, the team's big mid-season acquisition, Sidney Ponson, failed to hold a 4-1 lead and the best-of-five series evened at a game apiece. In Game 3, outfielder Jose Cruz Jr., who had been playing Gold Glove caliber defense all season long, inexplicably dropped one of the laziest fly balls he was ever likely to see. That drop lead to a two-run, ninth inning, game-winning Florida Marlin rally. In Game 4, the team gamely rallied from four runs down to tie the game against Florida rookie phenom Dontrelle Willis only to see the Marlins score two late runs and J.T. Snow cut down at the plate with the tying run.
And just like that, six months of blood, sweat, and toil was erased by a couple of bad games in South Florida.
Thus, the San Francisco Giants' 2003 season ended the same way the season has or will end for every MLB team except one: a quiet emptying of the locker room and a long, painful winter of self-doubt.
The hard reality of a major league baseball season is that only one team will win a world championship. All other clubs will fall short. In today's MLB landscape, baseball math tells fans that their favorite team has a 3% chance of hoisting the World Series trophy aloft and a 97% chance of watching someone else do it. And yet, fans of every team watch, hope, and toil with their favorite club with championship dreams in mind, however plausible (or wildly implausible), as the long season pushes forward.
It's sucker's bet.
And it's a bet that baseball fans everywhere will continue to make, without hesitation, every spring.
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Robert Nishihara is a lifelong San
Francisco Giants fan who believes that McCovey's line drive was still
rising when Richardson caught it (even though it happened three years
before he was born...he still swears that the Giants were robbed!) and
that Mike Ivie's pinch-hit, game winning grand slam against the Dodgers
in 1978 may have been the greatest moment in baseball history.
His interests include studying baseball history, watching movies (he's a
former film major from the University of Oregon), sharing laughs with
friends and family, and playing a myriad of sports recreationally.
Robert is single and enjoys his bachelor's life but is also
hopeful of finding a special woman who accepts his love of baseball and
is willing to spend a few lazy summer afternoons watching this
Though he is an SF Bay Area native and current
resident, Robert also fondly believes that a part of him can also claim
the town of Cooperstown as a hometown, because once you've visited the
Home of Baseball a part of you never really leaves. Read some
of Robert's writing:
Playing Through Pain - Bobby Bonds' final days, and how his son reacted.
Eleven Weeks - That's how much later Larry Doby followed Jackie Robinson.
The Next Willie Mays - What it meant to be Bobby Bonds.
Nothing and Everything - A year after 9/11 Robert takes a look at how baseball fits into the fabric of America.
Under Pressure - It's been a year and a half and Ichiro keeps rolling
Fumbling the Game Away - Yes, Bud dropped the ball on the
All Star Game. Robert asks the question, "Why do they keep giving
this guy the ball?"
The Empty Locker - On a nice Summer day in Wrigley they didn't play
baseball. A look at the death Darryl Kile and its aftermath.
The Loss of Greatness - Baseball lost a part of its soul when Ted Williams
passed on Friday.
The Fingernail Across the Chalkboard - PING! Is that the reason college baseball
isn't more popular?
Exercising Your Vote - Make your voice heard! Use the All-Star Game
to send Bud a message.
My Father, the Umpire - It's always bad to take a called third strike. It's
worse when your dad is calling the game.
Might Doesn't Matter - A look at the current steroids scandal.
The Green Grass of Home - A visit to Fenway Park.
Exclusive Excellence - .400 hitters of the past century.
In a Pinch - Lenny Harris, Manny Mota and what it takes to be a great pinch hitter.
A Common Problem - What about those baseball cards your mother should have
Baseball Mom - A Mother's Day article.
Home Sweet Home - Why Cooperstown is such a special place.
Winning in an Instant - Memories of a long-ago home run.
C'est la Vie - Hopes and fears concerning the situation in Montreal.
Turning Japanese - A look at the history of Japanese players in Major