Saturday, October 21, 2006

October Magic

By a large margin, my favorite month of the calendar year is October. There are a variety of reasons why. For firsts, it is when humidity disappears and the air turns cooler. It gives you an instant natural high just to step outside & take a breath of air. Also, in October, it is my birthday, meaning I usually get free stuff. For you, my precious blog readers, there is still time. My birthday is Monday the 23rd. So get crackin'! And, as well, October is one of the greatest months of college football. You have border-war matchups like Oklahoma-Texas, Florida-Georgia, and Alabama-Tennessee. The season is in full swing, teams are playing at their best, and it is this month that separates the contenders from the pretenders.

And as singularly great as each one of those are, my favorite thing about this month is October baseball. There is nothing more edge-of-your-seat, pump-your-fist, yell-out-loud exciting than a playoff baseball game. There are are rivals, to be sure: back-nine of the Masters, college football rivalry games, March Madness. But for my money, it's October baseball.

Some may say that better athletes play football & basketball; I say that there is no more difficult task in all of sports than hitting a baseball off of a major league pitcher. Some may say that the games are slow; I say that it's just that the drama is building. And some may say that other sports are just more exciting; I say that no other sport produces the kind of "magic" that baseball produces.

Big Papi
Come on! I couldn't talk baseball and not mention this guy!
October makes great players, like Kirby Puckett and Joe Carter, into legends. Beyond heroes. Legends. It was one October a couple years ago that David Ortiz became more than that big oaf who hit homeruns -- he became "Big Papi." It was in the Fall Classic that Reggie Jackson became even more than "Reggie" -- he became "Mr. October."

It's in October that old pitchers can sometimes dig way down deep & recapture that old greatness, like Jack Morris in his 10 shutout innings in Game 7 of the '91 Series. It's also in October that young flamethrowers emerge, like when Josh Beckett silenced Yankee bats in Yankee Stadium in the 2003 World Series.

October is when Kirk Gibson limped into history. Off of one of the greatest closers of all-time, no less: Dennis Eckersley. It's when Curt Schilling pulled off a real-life Roy Hobbs-like performance -- blood seaping through the uniform and all. Only Schilling's performance lasted batter after batter after excruciating batter. And not just once, but TWICE: against the Yankees AND against the Cardinals.

You can't write these scripts. The Red Sox coming back from an 0-3 deficit in a 7 game Series ... after losing game three 19-8 ... forcing not just one, but TWO Mariano Rivera blown saves. Give me a break. Right? The wrinkled old washed-out, burned-out manager returning to coach a group of underachievers, "has-been's," & "never-will-be's" with a franchise that lost a league-record 119 games just a few seasons ago. THEY put the pieces together for a World Series run? You can't make this stuff up.

It's a month that makes life-long memories with unfamiliar names. Names like Bill Mazeroski, Francisco Cabrera, Luis Gonzalez, and Aaron-Bleeping-Boone. It's a month that makes goats out of Mitch Williams & Bill Buckner. The Fall Classic has intimately intersected with some of our nation's tragedies. The Giants and Athletics played in the midst of a devastating Bay Area earthquake in '89. The Yankees brought life to a city that had felt lifeless after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

Yankee Killer Luis Gonzalez
And if there is an unpredictable sport out there, Major League Baseball is it. This October we will crown the seventh different franchise "World Series Champion" in the last seven years. And of all the teams to make the Series ... the Tigers & the Cardinals? If you had put money on this Series pairing three weeks ago, you could have made a bunch of money. Detroit, who led the AL Central ALL season, limped down the stretch, sacrificing their pennant and earning a playoff spot only by sake of the wildcard. And the Cardinals lost 7 games in a row in one stretch in the last 2 weeks of the season. They very nearly missed the playoffs entirely! And now they find themselves on the greatest stage in sports.

We have already seen a little playoff magic already. Kenny Rogers has rejuvenated his reputation entirely. After 2005, you could have stuck a fork in this guy. Who would want HIM? He is notoriously undependable. He always fades down the stretch, when you need a pitcher most in a pennant race. And he has always flopped in the playoffs, never more famously than in this moment in the 1999 NLCS. Not only that, but he seemed to prove himself nothing more than a hot-head jerk when he assaulted a hometown cameraman in 2005 with Texas. But NOW, Kenny Rogers is capturing the imagination of the baseball world. With every nail-biting pitch against New York & Oakland, you were hoping for just one more strikout. One more chance to see Kenny pump his fist and slap his glove. Will Kenny find more magic this coming week?

And what about Jeff Weaver? Talk about a come-back story! The journey-man head-case, errr, pitcher. The Los Angeles Angels basically dropped him from their roster this season. And now he is one of the Cardinals' most dependable starting pitchers headed into the World Series? It's gotta be that October Magic ...

We've seen Magglio Ordonez live the dream of every young baseball player. "Two outs. Bottom of the 9th inning. He connects ... ... long fly ball ... deep left field ... and ... it's ... OUTTA HERE! Three run homerun, and the Tigers are going to the World Series!" Ordonez is so happy when he sees his first-base coach it's almost as if he momentarily forgot that he had to round the bases. The guy on second, Placido Polanco, doesn't just trot home; he SKIPS home, like an exuberant little kid.

And that's really the point. October baseball can make you feel like a little kid again. "It's as if you've dipped yourself in magic waters," and you believe that the impossible CAN really, actually happen. When the world beats you down, the humidity wears you down, & you feel like you're just about to turn completely cynical, October baseball arrives and lets you believe in magic again.

Jim Edmonds
Will Jim Edmonds recapture the Magic?
Can the Detroit Tigers consummate their magical run? Or will Scott Rolen, or Jim Edmonds, or any other of the wounded Cardinals capture lightning in a bottle & become the next Kirk Gibson? Will Albert Pujols become a legend? Or will the next Francisco Cabrera step into the up to the plate and shock the world? Will Kenny Rogers continue channelling Jack Morris? Will Justin Verlander become the next Josh Beckett? Or will it be young Cardinal Anthony Reyes who shocks the world with his young arm? Will Tony La Russa shrug off the image of being just a great regular season manager and finally add another World Series title to his resume? Or will Jim Leyland complete his redemption story? Who knows! But I can't wait to find out what that October Magic has in store for us this week.

No comments: