The last time the Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series gas prices were around $0.86 a gallon. That means I could have driven from my small town in Ohio to Three Rivers Stadium, and back, for the same amount of cash one beer and a hot dog will get you today.
Actually, that probably only covers the beer portion.
While that sort of memory-based statistic might leave some scratching their heads in confusion, for the sports fan, more to the point, for the major league baseball fan, it’s as normal as applauding failure in the name of success (see: sacrifice bunt). It’s as normal as putting eye black on your son, so he can be just like his favorite player, only after you have applied yours, of course, so you can be just like your favorite player. It’s not weird, man. That’s normalcy.
Baseball is funny like that. Whether it be a lucky spot in the stadium, or the guy who can toss a bag a peanuts to a willing buyer, sometimes at ranges of 20 to 30 feet, with such pinpoint accuracy it would make James Blonde blush, or just the uncanny ability to recite your team’s lineups from the past three decades, what encompasses a major league season goes way beyond the 162 (sometimes plus) games.
It’s an experience. It allows us to remember silly statistics, like what gas cost in 1979. And this year was no different. To me, it was more meaningful.
After the Royals came back—again!—leaving the Mets to ponder what could have been, that inevitable time of reflection began to create different avenues for the unique experience of each fan. It’s where some of the greatest stories ever told get there lead, where those memories get reported, story-lined, headlined and sent out to the masses to digest and regurgitate around water coolers or whatever receptacle you and your buddies (gals included!!) like to hang around when chatting it up.
For many, now comes the fun.
For others, now comes the regret.
For the Royals fan base, the entire organization, it’s a non-stop flight that doesn’t end until April 2016. Until then, names you never knew existed are now stapled in sports heroics, and when someone says Christian Colon, the rest of the sports-minded folk outside of Kansas City nod and tip their caps, signifying: Hey, they know who in the hell that guy is.
It’s about the “Working Class” fight, too, something that has been debated and dissected beyond the baseball diamond. Money this, money that, no team can ever overthrow the mighty payrolls of the big boys—Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers…blah! Yet, it happened. The team with the 16th-highest payroll, constructed in a way—speed, good contact hitters, great defenders, GREAT BULLPEN, youth, veterans, a no-quit, no-I’m-the-horse-with-the-biggest-dick mentality—just beat the team with the 21st-highest payroll.
That’s as much a credit to the Mets as it is the Royals.
And let’s not forget the Mets: They beat the team with the highest payroll—the $272 million-plus Los Angels Dodgers—and they upset the time/space continuum, and every Chicago Cubs’ and Pop Culture-tooting nutbags’ dream by defeating the pre-(post?)-destined Cubbies.
(My only guess on that deal is, that when the time machine was destroyed in the third installment, right after McFly said, “No way, Flea!” everything was voided. Contract terminated. For what’s it worth, though, the Cubs have a solid team—one that went beyond what I thought they would do—and it shouldn’t be a surprise to see them continue to improve.)
The Mets will be back, too. Not in the guaranteed way some analysts and fans like to predict, that certainty people throw around while tossing reality out the window. That rarely works. But this team has a starting ration that, if healthy, is pretty damn impressive. That, Mets fans, is better than nothing. Find some offense during the winter wagon months and you could be in the World Series again…next year, the year after, whatever works. And hey! Don’t forget that solid manager, either—salute Terry Collins, because he deserves it.
Sure, there will forever be the Matt Harvey thing. That’s part of that memory-based stuff too, sometimes the good, sometimes the bad. This bad, however, was magnified because of the Ludicrous Speed news travels these days. What started as a simple manager-pitcher conversation, eventually turned into a side event. Live from New York…it’s Will Matt Harvey Come Out for the Ninth?! It was Tweeted, it was analyzed, Fox managed to get a camera on the unfolding drama. At one point, I was waiting for Erin Andrews to pop up in between them to Emcee the deal. “So Matt, you just said no way, I’m not coming out…what did you mean by that?” “And Terry, you’re the manager, how does something like that make you feel?” As neither answer, she tosses it back to Joe Buck, who is laughing because a PA muted Harold Reynolds’ mic’.
And so it happened. Matt Harvey lived out a moment anyone who has ever pitched a game in his or her life dreams of living: He came out of the dugout, to the roar of the crowd, to finish the ninth inning of a World Series game. It was Matt Harvey, the savior of Game 5, ignoring any talk of innings’ limits or elimination…it was the pitcher, the catcher, the hitter, the moment, the mound, the ball, and three outs to go. The glory…
Then he walked a guy and shit went downhill quickly. And the rest is now left for fans to interpret, as they want.
Was it the stolen base?
Was it Hosmer?
Was it Duda?
What was it?
Game over, quite simply, the end of another MLB season.
For me, all of it was different. I had no horse in the final race—my team, the Pirates, saw their Wild Card woes continue, this year at the hands of the Cubs. Only a few weeks prior to that, I lost my hero: My grandpa, possibly the greatest man I will ever know. He was one of the biggest reasons I look at sports the way I do, the way they can give the dreamer a dream, the stressed an escape, the shy a shouting cage…if just for the evening. He was my catcher, at times; he was my pitcher at other times. He was a plus-plus batting practice shagger. He loved his local teams and he showed the kind of hometown pride that gets lost on the out-of-town mentality from the generations below. Mine included. Me included.
His voice echoed deep, like a mix of Keith Jackson and Johnny Cash. The guitar I pick up from time to time to play a tune is a direct result of what he had taught me.
He was my radio show sidekick, a sports talk chatter-type for our audience of zero. Once I moved to Los Angeles, some 12 years ago, phone conversation was all we really had. But it was great; I never wanted to miss a show. During that time, we saw it all–even if we didn’t see it, we picked up what we could from the newspapers, the Internet— and made sure to discuss it. Sports mostly, though I’m sure we solved presidential issues more than once. And there was always time for baseball, the Pirates. Man, they’re bad, he would say, referring to any number of things that plagued a team that hadn’t sniffed the playoffs in 20-plus years. One year it would be the bullpen, the next year the hitting. Every year it was the rotation. That Lamont/McClendon/Mackanin/Tracy/Russell guy, I don’t know if he knows how to coach. Yep, I would reply. I doubt we ever see the Buccos get back to winning.
And then, right on schedule, we would end the conversational wave of thoughts with one simple subject-changer. Gas prices.
I watched the subsequent playoff games without any major allegiances. For spite, I didn’t pull for the Cubs. But I wouldn’t have lost any sleep had they won it all. Each game, I would watch, send out a Tweet here and there, and then be done with it. Somewhere in the haze of the Buccos calling it a season, I picked the Royals to win it all. It’s the first time I’ve been right about something like that in, like, ever.
I pulled for Edison Volquez, for obvious reasons. I pulled for Matt Harvey, for obvious reasons. After every game, I would remember something worth telling my sidekick the next day. Maybe a pitch I saw, or one of the thousand silly stories you become accustomed to when watching the great game of baseball. Like I said, though, next time isn’t always a guarantee. In sports. In life. Any of it.
Honestly, I would’ve settled for telling him how expensive gas prices are.