At some point during last night’s Sam Adams Octoberfest haze—it was the last keg of the stuff for the season, they said—I became aware that I would be a lot more emotionally invested in the sixth game of the World Series if I hadn’t been hangin’ with some buds, as the Budweiser ads implore us to do. Baseball’s fictional element breaks down when the mind is distracted, and it’s hard not be distracted when the game is broadcast scattershot alongside a ridiculous 9-8 Winnipeg Jets win and Thursday Night college football. It’s the slowness of baseball that makes it the darling of writers everywhere, including most recently Chad Harbach and Jane Leavy, who have eloquently and correctly expounded on how its pauses and emphasis on lingering facial expressions leave ample room for one’s imagination to operate.
In a sports bar, these pauses and emphases are wiped out. Alcohol does its part too. Alcohol pushes you to root for one team or another for an elemental reason you can’t quite put your finger on. It erodes the brilliance of sports-hate narratives to a simple “Fuck them.” It becomes personal instead of playful. Or should I say it does for me, anyway.
To me, there’s no better way to watch a baseball game than alone, in front of my television. Sports are a fiction, and fiction is best and almost exclusively consumed by oneself, allowing you to fill the pauses in the action, an elaborate Mad Libs playing on your senses of loyalty, heroism, good and evil. There’s no right or wrong way to love sports, but there’s always a better way. That’s why we talk about them so much: we’re refining.
This year’s World Series ratings aren’t great, but this year’s World Series is great, one of the greatest in memory. It has been at times grand and at times patently absurd. Despite what we are told, it is hard not to believe we’re seeing the best two teams in baseball. In an alternate universe, the Yankees and Phillies might be onto their seventh extra-inning game, the sixth having been won when Chase Utley bunted for a walk-off grand slam. That scenario would barely top last night’s Rangers/Cardinals game, with its endless assortment of gags and false endings, like a well-constructed but poorly written mystery novel. The hometown boy wins it. We’ll see you tomorrow night.
Tomorrow becomes today, and the words cascade. I wait for Will Leitch the Cardinals fan, Jonah Keri the steady, caustic and sarcastic observer and Joe Posnanski the master to weigh in. I search my own clouded headspace for a narrative, and realize that I drowned it. I’m not the only one. I wasn’t even the only one at my table.
At some point today the last Sam Adams Octoberfest will be poured from Ditmars Station Ale House. At some point today a mob of men will meet around a home plate or pitcher’s mound in St. Louis, throwing their caps gloves in the air in celebration, and maybe ripping someone’s jersey off. At some point today a series of disparate men and women will attack their keyboards all across the world, explaining what they saw. And at some point the fog will lift and I will know what I think happened in the 2011 World Series, and I’ll take my conclusion out to the masses, looking to defend, alter or disown it. And then I’ll do it all over again.
Fiction exists for a reason. It helps us learn about life through a shared experience. Its power comes from its texture, which is different from one book to the next. Sports are the same. Baseball is the best. The World Series is the best baseball has to offer. This is one of the best ever. Enjoy it.