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Hanging on to baseball

There's a cartoon strip I keep posted on a wall in my office.

A Peanuts clip. Charles Schulz classic. Charlie Brown with his head down. The caption: "I hate it when baseball season is over." Says it all. Kind of puts a baseball fan's life in perfect perspective.

The deeper sentiment outside of the obvious with keeping the strip in plain sight is how often the caption has meaning before the baseball season is actually over. It means something before October. In September. In August. In July. It all depends on how soon the team you dedicate your time, money and emotions to bows out.

Most of the country knows what I'm talking about and has a clear understanding of how this time of year feels. With the whole "big market versus small market" dilemma shaping the overall success rate and financial stability of most MLB franchises, a majority of people that are committed to and die-hard fans of the 20 or so teams whose baseball season perpetually ends earlier rather than later know what a challenge September can be.

So how do we cope?

How do we -- those of us forced to accept the words of Charlie Brown while still in the days of summer -- deal with watching baseball for the last month if our team is not in contention?

For some, it's not easy. The attachment to hope lingers long after the annual reality should have set in. Being from Chicago while also being a quasi-lifelong Mets fan (don't ask), I've been aware for years that "competitive" baseball is a four-month sport. With the exception of the White Sox World Series run in 2005, I've come to terms with the certainty that baseball season regularly ends for my teams before the US Open and NFL season.

Yet there is an art to getting through September, one that thousands upon thousands of baseball fans, who don't want to be inconsolable, have turned into an almost scientific practice to make the final month of the MLB season bearable.

You learn the art of bandwagon jumping, of finding a player (or two) to rally behind and put all of your emotional investments in during the pennant races and postseason.

It requires lying to yourself and making yourself believe that you are a real fan of an adopted team. You learn stats and inhale game logs on the fly. You backtrack to absorb storylines that will make people (i.e., real fans of those teams) think you've been riding with them for life.

You pick an alternate team for a few months or over a few years without being overly invested or loyal to that team until it is established that it -- not your team -- is going to play more than 162 games. You purchase merch the day it becomes official that your team is mathematically eliminated from the wild-card race. You start going to see that team when it comes in town to play your team and working on your major league covert op skills.

Or you find that player, that one player, and attach your affection and enthusiasm to him. All-in at all times. That player becomes your excuse. Andrew McCutchen with the Pirates, Yasiel Puig with the Dodgers, Allen Craig with the Cardinals, the Verlander/Scherzer/Sanchez trio in Detroit. You become a Yankees fan for the sake of it being Mariano Rivera's last year and act like you were a Yankees fan when he signed in 1804.

This year, non-Red Sox fans whose teams will not play in the postseason can claim that they were fans of new Boston manager John Farrell when he was with the Blue Jays and actually wanted him to replace the manager of their teams. "See, see, if we had hired him instead of not firing (insert hope-to-be-fired skipper's name here), we'd be the Red Sox this year!" Battle cry.

It's the art of hiding the fact that you are just trying to hold on to the game for four more weeks, the art of trying to avoid the worst day in all of sports: the day the baseball season ends sooner than it should.

That's how we get through September and the never-ending "Wait until next year." It's how we channel Charlie Brown. It's the art of getting used to losing.

At the end (before the last line "God help him") of his classic piece about Casey Stengel and the '62 Mets, the one symbolic by title alone ("The Worst Baseball Team Ever"), Jimmy Breslin wrote this almost biblical passage: "For over 50 years now, Casey Stengel has been getting into taxis in front of old saloons across the street from a ballpark. He has done this with great teams and with bad teams. Now he has the worst outfit anybody ever saw. But even if his players don't belong, Stengel does. He'll be back next year."

So will I. So will all of us.