Baseball Season is Over but the Game Remains Strong

Fear not, the 2011 Series proved that the state of baseball is strong

With a victory Friday night, the St. Louis Cardinals secured their eleventh World Series title in franchise history and brought the 2011 Major League Baseball season to a close. It was a dramatic World Series, with many pundits saying it was easily the best since the 2001 Series, perhaps the best since the Braves/Twins classic of 1991. Not only did the Cardinals win a dramatic World Series against the back-to-back American League Champion Rangers, the Cards made a historic run to the playoffs. St. Louis demonstrated once again the beauty of baseball and just how funny of a sport it truly is.

In early September, the playoffs seemed set. The Phillies had all but locked up the NL East, the Brewers were looking to lock down the Central, the Giants and Diamondbacks were duking it out for the NL West crown and the Braves had a comfy Wild Card lead. Things appeared to be set. The same could be said of the American League. While the Red Sox were playing close to the Yankees, the Bombers had things all but settled in the AL East, while the Tigers had gone a roll to destroy any hopes of Cleveland making a late season run at the playoffs. Meanwhile in the AL West, the Rangers appeared poised for a return to the playoffs. Of course I can go into details about what happened, but with the countless number of blog posts, beat reports, commentators and even national news stories on the epic collapses of Atlanta and Boston coinciding with the rise of St. Louis and Tampa made the final day of the regular season one for the ages. There’s no need. That story was settled a month ago.

Many have commented, and I have criticized those for attacking baseball as a sport on the decline, with hardly any interest in this year’s Fall Classic. It is worth nothing that Game 7, the first Game 7 since 2002 brought in nearly 25 million viewers. That doesn’t take into account folks watching via computer, tablet, phone, DVR or other technological wonder of our time. Those were the folks watching live on television. This year’s World Series proved that the game is strong. Perhaps even stronger than the behemoth that is the National Football League or the despicable sideshow that currently is the NBA.

Sure, more people tune into any given NFL game than an average MLB game, but how many Super Bowls are so memorable? Few, if any. Except in rare occasions, we spend more time the days after the Super Bowl debating the performance of the halftime show, and if getting “Bosscocked” was more or less appropriate than nipple exposure. The World Series doesn’t make room for those silly and juvenile arguments. We stand around the water cooler talking about one pitch, play, missed catch or hanging curve ball that could’ve swung the game in the other direction. Unlike the NBA Finals, the World Series is not about the play of one or two people, but the performance of so many. Pundits will go after the performance of a superstar ala LeBron James when it comes to the NBA Finals, but they would never blame Texas’s loss on the hurting Josh Hamilton or Neftali Feliz’s blown save in Game 6. That’s not how the game works. World Series titles are won by teams, not individuals and certainly not based on the performance of aging pop stars during half time.

We saw two smaller teams (yes, Dallas is a big TV market, but the Rangers would never be mentioned in the same light as the Yankees, Red Sox or Phillies) take it down to the wire, stretching the 2011 season to the brink. It was awe-inspiring, with heroes named David Freese, not Alex Rodriguez and a single-game performance by Albert Pujols that was one for the ages. The 2011 Series was why fathers take their kids to the ballpark for Opening Day, or trek down to Florida or Arizona for Spring Training, hoping for an autograph from their favorite player. It’s why baseball fanatics impatiently sit through the Hot Stove season, awaiting for the day pitchers and catchers report, gleaming with anticipation that this season will be victorious for their favorite team. As the Cardinals and their fans celebrate in the Gateway to the West, 29 other teams and their fans prepare for a title run in 2012.

Today is Halloween and baseball season is over. I stare outside at golden leaves preparing to make their final descent, but in a few short months those dying leaves will be replaced by the buds of new leaves. Just as the season ended prematurely for some, they too will have fresh starts next season. That’s baseball. We are hopeful, confident and a bit naive at the start, and in the waning days of the year, we are pensive, contemplative and wondering what it would be like for our fair city to hoist a World Series trophy high in the air.

These thoughts help reassure all of us that the state of baseball is strong. Unlike the continuing saga that is the NBA, baseball will start again before we know it, with teams taking their respective Spring Training fields ready to start anew. As we push another horrendous Super Bowl halftime show into the backs of our minds, we look forward to sunny days, blooming flowers and the crack of a wooden bat against a baseball. There are thirty stadiums across this country that sit eerily silent as the Fall and soon Winter settle into our lives. The infields are covered up and the concession stands are shuttered. We’ve moved past 2011, but I know we’re all ready for 2012.

Fear not baseball fans, the state of our national pastime is strong.

Congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals and to manager Tony LaRussa, who joins his fellow managerial icons, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre in retirement. It was a heck of a season and I can’t wait for another.

In a brief side note, Root for the Home Team will be continuing throughout the offseason with occasional thoughts, commentary and various posts. Will and I are contemplating a trip to Florida for a few days of Spring Training and we course will cover that fully. Since this project got off to a late start, we expect a full slate of games throughout 2012. Rainouts kept us from seeing both the Rome Braves and Montgomery Biscuits (although we did pick up some snazzy Biscuits hats), so we will head back to those towns in an effort to capture baseball in the South. If you’ve been a loyal reader and have noticed the lack of posts lately, blogging is a difficult project when the two heads of this project are wrapped up in life’s other details, but we promise to continue writing and find out what it means to love baseball in America. If you keep reading, we’ll keep writing.

Onto the offseason!

~Joel

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