My annual summer retreat ended in dramatic fashion about a week ago. The Chicago Cubs were winning 8-0 by the top of the third, had lost the lead in the bottom of the eighth, and then won 9-8 with a home run in the top of the ninth.
Since the end of the 2017 MLB All-Star break, the Cubs have won eight of ten games and improved their pitching with the recent Sox trade. Nevertheless, the unofficial end of the first half was actually a relief this season because the Cubs have been lackluster although the recent trade suggests a seriousness about contending.
The Cubs, according to renown FiveThirtyEight statistical analysis, actually have had one of the worst World Series Champion starts in the history of baseball. Many predict that this team will have a better second half, but many had been predicting that they would have a much better season, especially given how much of the championship team returned.
I’m less a Cubs fan and more a fan of National League baseball. My parents had banned all television and most radio, so I spent many nights listening to the Saint Louis Cardinals before and through most of the Whitey Herzog era, which included three pennants (1982, 1985, and 1987) and one Series (1982). I even unintentionally attended the Cubs-Cardinals game when the Roger Maris’s longstanding home run record was broken although that experience has since been tarnished by the PED scandal that included these and too many other players.
I exchanged my allegiance when I moved to north Florida where I listened to the Marlins games and then again when I moved to New York where I listened to the Mets games. Then I realized a childhood dream when I moved to Chicago where I could legitimately claim to be a Cubs fan — their lovable loser reputation seemed to offer more return on fans’ investment, and their team logo (my initial) and color (my favorite) only made this match more.
The primary reason for my National League preference is that, in requiring pitchers to bat, it provides another variable to manage. In this and so other ways, baseball asks teams to respond to uncertain and unpredictable events, which is a good metaphor for life. Only so much can be managed through Moneyball sabermetrics, and the rest amounts to coping with losses and still finding ways to win.
Baseball is also a way I measure time. The season lasts six months or more if your team is lucky, and spring training starts six weeks before the first pitch. Baseball, in other words, pulls me into spring, carries me through summer, and thrusts me into fall, which leaves the holidays and then only a few weeks before pitchers and catchers report.
That is, for me, the significance of the All Star break. I tend to ignore the home run derby and even the actual game, and I spend the days fasting from meaningful baseball and meditating on the human condition while I await the second half of the season.
And I always realize, in an experiential way, that languid summer games will give way to the faster pace of the fall semester and, later, winter weather, all the while remembering that which is bigger than baseball that makes life meaningful. For that, I have to thank this wonderful and crazy game that probably originated in fourteenth century British and European folk cultures.
Enjoy spring training and the summer stretch but remember that fall pennant races and then a winter break always follow. This season will eventually end, and another, if we’re lucky, will begin, which will bring our favorite teams and us another chance to play ball.