Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Most Historic Night in Baseball -- Why It Matters, to me.

I'm embarrassed to confess this but we pay for the MLB Network. Why? For nights like last night ... when the sportscasters sweat through their suits, jump up and down and sprint around the studio (while trying to be silent), and aren't silent and therefore (with a pinched-off scream) give away the possibility of insanity going on in another ballpark, a night when they try to explain the enormity of an historic night -- search for words like "Oh, the humanity!" -- and finally clasp their hands together as if in prayer and bow their heads, right there on live TV, overcome.

Check out this beauty.

So, let's back up because last night was an incredible sight to behold and here are two things that made it different than any baseball I'd ever seen before:

1. The effect of the way information now travels -- all the way to the guy up to bat (in this case, Longoria)

and, weirdly,

2. Copyright laws on live play versus immediate replay.

In case you don't know, last night is being touted as the most record-breaking night in baseball history. (If you're a poet, you should think in terms of perfect formal poetry. If you're a mathematician, you should think of the term "elegance.")

Maybe you're jaded, thinking that the OCD tradition of record-keeping in baseball could very well be broken any night (like astronomers constantly telling us that some star-gazing event will never happen again in our lifetime -- so wake up at 4 am and sit on the hood of your car etc... to which I say, "No thanks.").

But your jadedness is wrong. It was, in fact, incredible.

First of all, it was stunning to watch -- and to watch with a long-suffering occasionally redeemed Red Sox fan, Dave Scott. When I first met Dave, it was terrifying to watch him watch baseball -- how he'd slide off the couch onto his knees, crawl to the screen, pleadingly, then collapse to his chest or shoot into the air. The dogs leave, as scared of sorrow and loss as displays of elated joy.

So what was stunning was that this Red Sox fan was able to back-pocket the fact that his team was part of what he deemed "the most perfect collapse in baseball history" to sit back and be awed by the baseball being played.

In history, no team has ever been 7 down (7-0) in the 9th, come back, and win a bid to the play offs -- like the Rays.

All year long, if the Red Sox were winning in the 8th inning, they won -- this record was solid. But last night, fighting for their bid, they lost it at the end.

The Orioles were one of the worst teams in baseball, but beat the Sox five out of the last 7 games, and were spoilers, knocking them out of contention.

Meanwhile, Atlanta gave up a great lead in the wild card race. Atlanta was leading the Phillies in the 9th, but the Phillies turned it. Done. With nothing to gain or lose -- the Phillies were already in -- but they played their 162nd game of the season with heart.

The crazy part is that each of the games were being broadcast at the same time. The MLB network didn't have rights to the live games but they were broadcasting the immediate replays, bouncing between the three games. This was the way to watch it -- to get the most historic view.

So, as Longoria is coming up to bat, he hears the news -- immediately -- that the Red Sox have lost. To listen to Longoria interviewed later, you'd be convinced that he was just focusing on doing the job at hand -- just get the ball in play, he was saying to himself. But the news of the Red Sox loss had to have pushed a new rush of adrenaline into his body. No way around it. Longoria's up to bat.

And we know Longoria's up to bat. We know that he's hot right now, having already hit a three-run home to make it 7-3 to 7-6 -- in the 8th inning -- but we can't watch it live. We have to wait for the feed to play and then the immediate replay.

But, in studio, two sportscasters are watching the live feeds -- Harold Reynolds and Dan Plesac -- while a third is reporting to us, in the same studio, just feet away. Off camera, Harold Reynolds lets out a pinched-off scream while watching the live feed of Longoria at bat. No other way to describe it. And so we know -- or think we know -- that Longoria has hit a home run.

But we have to wait.

And it's crazy ... there's something strangely old-fashioned about this waiting and about the unbridled joy of the sportscasters. We hold our breaths ... and then they show it. Longoria's home run -- a walk-off.

So, Dave's thinking back to Wakefield giving up the home run in 2003. He was numb, heart-dead for a few days. But this time, he saw wildness and perfection and the true beauty of possibility. His heart's okay. His heart's still beating. Does he still sometimes mutter: The Atlanta Braves broke the record for the worst collapse in baseball history and held onto it for less than a half-hour before the Red Sox stole it from them? Yes, yes, he does mutter this.

I'll be honest. It's been a really hard month for our family. Really hard -- in some ways beautiful, in many ways wrenching, and it's all brought us closer together. And last night, I loved watching my husband watch sports. I love that it all still makes his heart race. I love this boyish beauty. I love this hopefulness. I love that it still matters.

Moreover, last night was a display of determination, of sheer will, of heart. It reminds us of our resilience and of possibility and ... hope. It's only a game, of course. But, these days, I'll take any excuse to talk about determination, will, and heart and any reminder of resilience and possibility and hope I can get my hands on.