Baseball's Best Secret is That It's Always This Beautiful
This makeshift, roller-coaster Major League Baseball season has worshipped at the temple of small sample size as a familiar marathon gave way to an Olympic sprint. Through good fortune and decent design the sport has leveraged an expanded and thrilling playoff format into an ideal World Series matchup featuring the two best teams in baseball.
The way it should be. Somehow. After all this.
Left for dead months ago, the sport's heartbeat has never been stronger or louder. You can hear it still reverberating in the exuberant chests of Dodger and Ray fans. You can see the aftermath in the broken valves and devastated atriums found in Brave and Astro postmortems. Two championship series diverged in a yellow wood and they each chose the road paved with golden memories and brilliant story lines.
The four teams combined for 14 games of goosebump-inducing drama. Unlikely heroes. Wild momentum shifts. Humanizing mental and physical errors. As with every October, the casual and indifferent fans tuned in for their own personal sample size. So many opted to spend their three annual hours with the sport for Game 7 of the ALCS or NLCS.
Judicious and well-chosen. But perhaps shortsighted. Because this past week has thrust a well-kept and magical secret to the surface. This thrilling brand of baseball full of superhuman plays and mind-bending feats of skill on display? That's what it is all the time.
If you liked or even loved what you saw on display in the season's biggest moments, then you like or love baseball. If Cody Bellinger's majestic blast delighted you, then you like or love baseball. If a pickle-flavored double play featuring a diving shock of red-maned Justin Turner made your heart race, then you like or love baseball. If the Tampa Bay Rays throwing the kitchen sink of mad scientist strategy to dethrone a loud and loathed Houston team brought you sweet satisfaction, then you may like or love baseball.
These feelings may not be identifiable at first. But they deserve exploration. All of these spellbinding things the playoffs bring forth in bold letters are on display all summer long, each and every year. At every level: from the pros to the beer leagues to the kids playing on a sandlot.
They are the game's DNA. The thing that makes it come alive and stay alive, replicating over generations in the face of those who doubt. Like a harmless version of Dr. John Hammond, standing on the shoulders of its own greatness while others worry too much about how to slap a logo on a lunch box.
There are dozens of key at-bats in every game where the chess match between pitcher and hitter challenges the mind. There are boneheaded and frustrating baserunning choices. World-class athletes climbing walls and laying out for bloopers. Desperate hitters groping in the dark to break out of long-running slumps. Managers second-guessing themselves in real time. And always time to think it through and appreciate the moment while it's happening.
All this happens for six consecutive months each and every year. There is unmatched inventory from which to chose. There are unlimited permutations for fandom. A person can be a diehard or drop in once a week. Hell, a person can hang on every pitch or use the broadcast as background until attention is warranted. A play can mean everything or nothing at all, depending on perspective.
Realizing all this is a great gift. It's opening up a door to a new reality and seeing things for richer versions of what they have always been. Like driving on the interstate and noticing the depth and diversity of the treeline or how the corn bends to the wind's every whim. It's always been there, of course; it's just that the beautiful secrets were unknown to you.
Baseball's great and closely guarded secret is that it's always like this. This is the game. In April, May, or October. There are go-ahead homers blasted to the moon. Called strike threes on the black. A never-ending cavalcade of players, each and every one playing the game differently. There's nothing inherently or genetically different about the postseason. It's just a glorious and perfect sport with the volume and intensity turned up to 11.
Lust can turn into love. This annual fling doesn't have to be over. Baseball will always be there, waiting for you to come to the realization that you've wanted it all along.