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Weeds: A baseball man for all seasons

Being Catholic, I look to the saints for comfort and instruction. Pam makes me keep it in the basement, so you won’t see it when you come in. But I have a small altar to St. Jude, the patron saint of desperate and lost causes. In front of a holy card and votive candle are my Twins hat and Rod Carew mini bat.

There was so much hope. There is always hope. That’s the nature of being a fan. Then, like a geranium after the first freeze, life was sapped out of the hope. I’ve resigned myself to knowing the Twins will never beat the Yankees in a playoff game in my lifetime. Grandson Levi is four. Maybe, just maybe, in his.

Back in May, I wrote about how Twins fans were dealing with incredible success. Reticent Minnesotans don’t typically express joy well. For six weeks, the Twins were the best team in baseball. Improbably, they were one of the best teams ever in that span. It is of course a 162-game marathon, and some struggles followed. Cleveland actually caught the Twins in August. Then with both teams fighting injuries, the Twins punched their way to the Division title.

With that came the chance to play the Yankees. Which I don’t want to talk about.

What a season it was. The Twins set all sorts of home run records. That was as likely as me winning the lottery, and I don’t play. Almost every hitter spent time on the injured list, and others stepped up. The starting pitching was great, and the bullpen was bad. Then the starting pitching was bad, and the bullpen was great. It was a team that could come back from any deficit. There was a 17-inning game and an 18-inning game. They even beat the Yankees twice! No! Really!

My baseball friends and I were in a funk for a day or two after the Yankee sweep. Baseball is a game where the worst teams win sixty and the best teams lose sixty. For very good Twins teams to lose 16 straight playoff games over 15 years is almost not possible.

Noted historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote a beautiful memoir about growing up a Brooklyn Dodger fan called, “Wait Till Next Year.” It is the motto for most fans each fall, as we steel ourselves to the winter ahead. Gradually the life came back into my baseball buddies’ faces. We saw that the sun rose the next day. Our focus will shift from the Yankee beatdown to a future with a bunch of fun, talented Twins.

I was lifted from my mourning when uber-fan Billy Moran sent this: “Losing all these silly, short best of five series that happen in a blink are not allowed to diminish the pastoral joy of the long winding journey from winter to fall. A season’s aesthetic pleasure. Postseason is designed to inflict brutal agony within four days. Postseason can kiss my —.” I’ll let you fill in the blank.

The Star Tribune’s Patrick Reusse was ruminating on this, too. Patrick said all he really hopes for out of a baseball season, is that the local team is “relevant.” That makes a good summer for a ball fan. A metaphor for relevant would be competitive, or “playing meaningful games in September.” The 2019 Twins offered all of that.

Ruesse wrote, “Still, in the Age of the Internet, we have too many people who watch baseball as if they are watching football, where every blip is a crisis. It’s not. There are 162 of these things and they come in every form imaginable. They should be viewed in hunks, not in single outcomes, not even in disappointing three-game eliminations.”

Long before the Age of the Internet, there were 16 teams in two leagues. It was that way since the beginning of time. There weren’t weeks of playoffs. There was a World Series between the American and National League champions. If you go back to the first half of the Twentieth Century, winning the pennant was the big prize, the brass ring to be grasped at each summer. The World Series was a fun exhibition following the real season. Losing it did not diminish a pennant.

It’s interesting that attendance did not yoyo up and down based on a team’s success. This was a time when baseball was the only major sport. Fans had plans to fit so many ball games in their summer, and a losing team wasn’t going to take their baseball away from them.

Then came television and ESPN and espn.com and Twitter. Suddenly every day is the Biggest Game of the Season. Stadiums went from gentle organ music and billboards on the outfield wall to constant blaring sound effects and video boards flashing messages in bombs of color. It’s as if the game went from a quiet township road to the 35W/494 interchange.

The thing about a baseball season is that there is no Biggest Game of the Season. The nail biter in May counts as much as the blowout in August. If you include Hot Stove League and Spring Training, a baseball season is about ten months long. It’s a journey with an unknown destination. It becomes part of life. Almost every day, I have the game on in my tractor, kitchen, car, or machine shed.

In that way, it is like much of life. There are weddings and graduations and birthdays. But most of life is what happens in between, day to day to day. Showing up for work, taking care of a child, being a good spouse, taking care of animals; you don’t succeed at these things in the celebrations.

You succeed at them in the moments of drudgery. You succeed at them when you’d rather be sitting on the couch, but you go do the tasks life has handed you. If one can get up day after day after day and embrace it, there is deep satisfaction there. You succeed in life’s 162 game schedule.

I get to observe my daughter and her partner parent our four-year old grandson. It is a different perspective from being the parent. When you’re in the moment, you lose track of how much work a child is. But I see Anna either taking direct care of Levi, or else fully aware of where he is each minute of the day. Much of it is tedious. Most of it goes unnoticed. We undervalue that work. Raising a child is 18 162-game schedules.

Sure, it’ll be nice if the Twins win the World Series someday. It will be a heightened moment. But in the meantime, I love that baseball moves in and stays for all those days. It is perfect background to late winter melting into spring, warming to summer, and fading to autumn. Postseason can kiss my, well, you know.

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