Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Self-Abuse 101

I'm ending my Met-imposed silence today because, frankly, every baseball fan should have a million crazy baseball thoughts on his or her mind right now, and blogs even tangentially related to the ballfield should be overflowing with gushy sentiment and extreme superlatives. Like Rob's below.

Just about every sport presents a fundamental dichotomy between its regular season games and its playoff contests in terms of fan experience. Throughout the regular season, the games are largely spectacles for our amusement, exhibitions of skill and poise under slight pressure, and we watch to root our teams on, but just as much to enjoy the sport of it. Then the postseason hits for those select few squads (unless you're in the NBA or NHL, R.I.P., where "select few" equals half the league). For the true fans of these playoff teams, the enjoyment of taking in an athletic competition and observing masters of their craft perform in the spotlight, flexing muscles both literal and figurative . . . yeah, that's history. By this time of year, the purist delight in watching baseball has evaporated inside the bodies of the fans, supplanted by the anxiety and tension that come with watching your team walk the best-of-seven tightrope. For the Red Sox fans especially, the war waged between the hope of finally reaching that elusive eden and the dread of another tumble just short of the finish line physically devastates the body. In fact, those seemingly adversarial elements are in less of a war against each other and in more of a tag-team battle against you.

It starts at the extremities, where fingernails have been chomped into embarrassing nubs. Shake hands with a Red Sox National right now and you're lucky to see a nail at all, as Game 6 took them all the way to the cuticle. The hands are achy from wringing, but all that wringing can't dry the sweaty palms, flowing at warm-ups and ebbing in the postgame press conferences. Knuckles are bruised, and everyone knows why. Muscles all over the body are sore from remaining taut for innings at a time. At least one hamstring is pulled from sitting-to-jumping leaps. (For those on the taller side, there are head wounds from this as well.) Knees are worn; even by-now faithless Sox fans sneak a prayer and a promise of contingent goodness in between Yankee-directed epithets. It's possible the questions of "Does God exist?" and "Will the Red Sox win a World Series before I die?" evoke equal amounts of unknowing frustration, and these Sons of Job have fixed their hopes on their martyrizing journey ending with affirmative wisdom of the latter inquiry. But with the damage every October does to Bostonites' bodies, the "before I die" part becomes more of a challenge.

For all of the external harm committed during these playoff stretches, the internal organs may suffer more of a barrage. The nervous system is shot; by Game 7, there are 30,000 R.P. McMurphys walking around Boston after shock treatment. The circulation is great, but the heart's one more jolt away from giving out. The stomach has more knots than a boy scout manual. (I'd like it duly noted that with the boy scout reference I completely stayed away from the Sox-fans-getting-sodomized-every-year gag. Almost completely.) Ulcers appear like freckles on a red-head. Chest pains, labored breathing, wooziness. Baseball fever, my ass. This is baseball stroke.

The face of the Playoff Fan is quite a sight indeed. The red, swollen eyes, with bags deeper and darker than any eye-black on the players. Hair is thinning at a record pace. Patches of it are missing, and everyone knows why. Teeth are gnashed and ground so often that the dentist doesn't even ask any more. There are handprints over the nose and mouth from that girly, "oh my," inhale-the-prayer pose; it's one seen on the tube on 2/3 of the fans in the stands, and it looks so damned melodramatic, and then you catch yourself doing it in every tense scene. There's a coffee-table-crease across the forehead from that last GIDP ball. A candid from the bottom of the ninth will look worse than any mug shot 10 times out of 10.

And this is the fans' reward. This bodily devastation occurs during the postseason every year, and this -- this is what die-hard fans pray for? You're goddamned right, and this is what I, as a New York Mets fans, am pissed at my club for denying me even a taste of for most of the last 15 years. (Funny how 2002-2004 have eradicated 1999-2000 from my brain.) Of course I'm uber-jealous of the fans whose boys are still battling come October 20, but when the Evil Empire is still alive, there's always an extra seat on someone's bandwagon. And that's been the beauty of the 2004 Yankees-Red Sox ALCS. A nation of baseball fans is holding its breath as Game 7 looms, and I don't mean Red Sox Nation. Fans from Safeco to Pro Player, from Waveland Avenue to Chavez Ravine are tuned in and turned on to this outcome. Most spectators will choose a side somewhere along the way in any series, but there isn't a soul who's watching this event "just to see good baseball." You ask anyone watching Fox tonight if they're rooting for the Yankees and you'll either get "Go Yanks!" of "Go fuck yourself." There is no middle ground, and for the rest of us on the outside, it's almost like having our team in the thing. This is as close as we Mets fans will likely get to postseason drama for a very long time, like 5-10 years or more, maybe, what with the think tank known as the Family Wilpon at the helm. Why not embrace it with every ounce of the enthusiasm we've stocked up on in vain since '00?

Much has been made of how tired everyone is from staying up late, but it goes way, way beyond that. I've managed to trick myself into staying up late watching TV plenty, usually for a special occasion like my 253rd viewing of the scene in Shawshank when the warden rips down the poster. Even a few nights in a row, like for a Bullets west coast swing (okay, it's been a while since I did that). Not like this. The hours-long self-torture of hunkering down and living and dying with every one of the 300 pitches hurled night after night is a vastly different punishment on the corpus than mere late nights cause. I'm a zombie at work, and everyone else is, too, and we ache. But if it goes the right way tonight, it'll be the most comfortable physical agony some folks have ever felt. Like the pain of completing a marathon, or like TJ said, going through initiation. (Wow, the second biggest blasphemy to marathoners behind Rosie Ruiz.)

Were it not for the self-important bullying-tactics of a new executive here at work, I'd be on travel for work tonight. To Boston, Massachusetts. When the trip got yanked Monday, I was annoyed. After last night, I am consumed with a venom for this sleazy, cheesy bucket of pus that, if Game 7 plays out as it already has in my mind's eye, will not wane until I see this man being carried out of the building on a gurney. Douchebag.

So there it is. I'm all in. And, if history has any bearing on the future, misery does love company, and Rob and I will be lamenting 2004 tomorrow morning, another miserable chapter in baseball history, Mets and Red Sox style. Game on.

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