Sometime around 2 a.m., well after Juan Uribe nailed the Braves’ coffin shut, I sat in the dark trying to process what, exactly, had happened. In the course of four hours I transformed from a coiled ball of nerves, to a well of elation, to, in the blink of an eye, a pan-faced man, vacant of emotion. What a way to spend a Monday night.
Much like the sport itself, baseball fandom is a process. It’s a day-to-day grind that mirrors the monotony of life. Some days are great, while others are not. Over the course of a season, all the minor victories and defeats compile and give judgment on whether the year has been successful.
In football, every victory is a championship. Every defeat is the apocalypse. With so few games in a season, the line between success and failure is redrawn for every game, every series, every snap.
If a win in football is an anniversary party, a baseball victory is a passed spelling test. A defeat in football is a severed limb, whereas a loss in baseball is a scraped knee.
The action in football happens in sharp punches. Everything is immediate. With baseball, games and seasons meander, often times lulling fans into a trance. Baseball is more organic. Life plays out through peaks and valleys, eventually winding to a halt.
This is what makes defeats like the Braves so difficult to comprehend. Games play out over nine, long innings. Seasons play out over 162 excruciating games. Nothing ever happens with immediacy.
When one bad pitch and one good swing bury an entire season’s resume, it betrays the six months of conditioning. Winning fans hit the scratch-off lottery. Losers encounter Black Friday. A sport that never surprises suddenly catches everyone off guard.
Baseball is a process. Players and coaches go through daily habits. They trust their routines, and watch the planning play out as the seasons change from spring to summer, and finally to autumn.
Fredi Gonzalez trusted his routine. He didn’t force pitchers on short rest. He went with established relievers over hurrying his closer. Gonzalez went with a plan that won him 96 games. He was one bad pitch from looking like a genius.
Fandom also has routine. We try not to get too high or too low. We roll with the punches and stay patient as each season’s novella writes a narrative. But, when it comes down to crunch time, we can’t help but get excited.
That’s part of being a fan, though. It’s a losing battle, which only occasionally ends with a championship. We enter every season with an eternal hope that is seldom realized. Such is the true routine of a fan: dream, cheer, grieve, repeat.
The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. For all the systems, all the routines, and all the strategizing, there’s always a possibility things will go astray. Sometimes we plod along when, all of a sudden, the rug is swept out from under us. Sometimes life and luck get in the way. There’s always next year.