Monday, October 15, 2012

Surviving a "Nationals" Disaster

Saturday morning was gloomy outside, but especially gloomy inside the Janaro home.

John Paul finally broke the silence: "So, do you think that was the worst sports disaster that I have ever seen in my life?"

John Paul likes to rank things and various aspects of his life, not only according to "best" and "worst" but also in an orderly sequence of preferences. For example, he has a ranking for all 30 baseball teams, from favorite to least favorite.

The St. Louis Cardinals used to be his third favorite. Not any more.

"Well," I began to say, "that was just baseball. Things like that happen in baseball."

Of course they do. I am almost fifty baseball seasons old. I've seen every kind of crazy thing. I know well the truth of those famous words of Yogi Berra: "It ain't over...till its over."

"We were one strike away," John Paul groaned.

"I know," I said miserably. "And he threw strike three and the umpire didn't call it!" Certainly not. No smart umpire is going to decide the outcome of a playoff series on a called third strike at the knees.

It was painful to watch the end. It was terrible! Even Eileen suffered (she's now thoroughly hooked on baseball). We felt that awful pain that the old sports show famously described as "the agony of defeat."

Baseball is a kind of drama: a living stage on which intelligence, human effort, and even a kind of heroism combine with the uncontrollable forces of material contingency. Sometimes the difference in a baseball game is a breeze that blows at a certain moment, or (literally) "the way the ball bounces."

Of course, 24 hour sports talk analyzes every single detail, on and on and on. Fans get angry at players and call them all sorts of names that they don't really mean: "He struck out! What a moron!" Actually, he's a trained professional athlete with outstanding capabilities who was trying to do something very difficult. He was trying to hit a baseball at 90 miles an hour and he missed three times. There is nothing "moronic" about this at all.

But our emotions are invested in the game, and the players take on roles in a drama of winning and losing, triumph and tragedy. We experience a kind of catharsis. We also affirm civic or regional loyalties, and sometimes even the bond between generations.

We also go way overboard. Sports--like almost everything else in our culture--are bloated beyond proportion. They have become part of the all-absorbing distraction that we call "entertainment." They are a monstrous parody of their natures, and people drug themselves or otherwise do disproportionate damage to their bodies in their efforts to achieve success.

It is difficult for any of us to find our balance in the whirlwind that is everywhere blowing our culture beyond all boundaries. But that does not excuse us from the effort to live the game according to its real nature.

We must learn to play, even in the whirlwind. This requires special personal skill, which the ancients called virtue. Not many people in the world care about virtue, and those who do generally find that its hard to get very far in acquiring the skill to live well. We must try to help one another. We need to learn how to play the game hard, and then let it go.

That's never been easy for me.

When I was a kid, I used to throw the radio across the room (thank goodness it was just a radio back then) when my team blew a lead in the ninth inning.

But I'm much more "mature" now (haha). On Friday night, when the Cardinals rallied with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat our beloved Washington Nationals and bring their splendid and surprising season to an end, I didn't smash the television.

I felt like smashing the television.

Nevertheless--although I have hardly developed anything in the way of virtue--I have acquired a veneer of civilization over the years. So I swallowed my frustration at the always-unpredictable tricks of the little white ball. I simply rose from my chair, went to my bedroom, and--putting on Vivaldi's Four Seasons--laid down and closed my eyes, The first of the seasons, of course, is Spring.

Spring. It will be here before we know it. "We'll get 'em next year!"