When I was 16 my English teacher told me: “You can’t keep going living vicariously through your favorite sports teams.”
I tried really, really, really hard to, though. At least for awhile.
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One week ago today (Sunday), the Texas Rangers clinched the American League West outright for the 3rd time in 6 years, earning the right to match up with the World Series favorite Toronto Blue Jays in the ALDS. After an entire season’s worth of passively doubting my favorite team, basically the belief that a good chunk of what got them to the postseason was baseball luck, I felt surprisingly confident about Texas’s chances against the Blue Jays heading into the series.
After taking the first two games in Toronto, on Sunday the Jays struck back, dominating the Rangers 5-1 in Arlington in a contest that wasn’t as close as the final score indicates. Game Four is Monday (tomorrow), and I’m already looking forward/not looking forward to it, as I could potentially reach peak-celebration levels as easily as the Rangers could lose in some horrible, gut-wrenching way that will ruin my day and give me something to stew on Tuesday while the teams travel back to Canada for Game 5.
I don’t need Texas to win. But it would be nice if they won.
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Duke played in the National Championship this year vs. Wisconsin (and won!), and up until that point I can’t remember the last time I felt really, truly *up* for a sports game. I mean don’t get me wrong, the one-and-done format of March Madness is generally intense, but that’s 3 weeks (at most) and 6 games (at most) out of an entire season. Honestly, whether or not Duke wins at undefeated #2 Virginia at the beginning of February doesn’t matter; they are going to play in the NCAA Tournament regardless, and the ultimate goal is to win that championship, after all. For that reason, college basketball’s regular season is the least compelling of any major revenue sport, as the enormous 68-team pool in the inevitable end-of-season tournament is too fucking many. In reality, only a fraction of squads — 10-12, at most — have a real chance of cutting down the nets. Between November and around the time baseball teams are preparing for their regular season, NCAA Basketball is kind of just one long spring training.
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Baseball is… the opposite. Only a third of the teams make the playoffs, and to get there they need to perform during the regular season. 162 games are played in 180 days, so there really just isn’t that much downtime. The games always matter.
As an avid contrarian to the current two Wild Card playoff format, I thought 4 postseason teams per league was perfect; it put pressure on front offices to build a team capable of 90-plus wins, because anything less and you wouldn’t get your chance to dance. There was constant intellectual growth and change in the decision-making process, where teams strived to be truly great.
With 2 Wild Cards in each league, that standard for greatness has largely diminished, as teams built for 79 or 80 wins can outperform expectations, and jump a few standard deviations into 86 or 87 wins and a earn Wild Card berth. It isn’t rocket science. All it takes is little luck and taking comfort in the friendly laws of probability.
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The baseball postseason isn’t like any other feeling I have in sports. Because the action takes so long to develop, like a beautiful symphony or tragic suspense thriller, the emotional toll is legitimate.
Back in 2011, the Rangers were one strike away from winning the World Series, leading by two runs in both the bottom of the 9th and bottom of the 11th, and wound up losing the game and eventually the series. It was by far the most I’ve been crushed as a sports fan in my life.
Heading into the series with the Blue Jays, since 2011 Texas has been involved in one total playoff game (in 2012), and neither of the Chiefs (NFL) or Virginia Tech Hokies did anything meaningful. So there haven’t been a lot of games for me to get *up* for. Everything goes back to the 2011 World Series, and very few moments will ever surprise me or crush me again when it comes to sports.
Right now, though, I’m up. I am awake. The Rangers are playing the Blue Jays, and my guys have a real shot at getting back to the ALCS. This doesn’t happen every year.