It’s because it breaks your heart just the right amount.
That’s why we do this.
Rooting for a team of human beings over the course of months out of every year carries more weight than losing a game of Jenga or Monopoly. You might groan and yell and practice your Disappointment Emotions when the tower falls, but you don’t think about it the next day. Who won the last game of Jenga you played? Who won the Jenga championship in 2012? We don’t know. There are no Steve Bartmans in Jenga. The human psyche is not built to withstand the capacity to care so deeply about every miniscule competition we encounter. Family holidays would be a one-time affair, fractured over the first game of Frisbee in the backyard.
Baseball, we remember.
And yet, swinging over to the other side of the threshold, baseball does not carry with it the permanent devastation of real and permanent tragedy. The Rangers lost. Again. In a creative and excruciating fashion. Again. But in Spring, hope will awaken, and mitts and bats and joints will pop and crack. Your brain won’t just data-dump and forget an entire calendar year, as grief therapists will tell you to prepare for in the instant aftermath of the unexpected death of a loved one. Baseball pain is a lesser dosage, even if it is the same flavor.
Baseball finds that middle ground. Hurting enough to matter without hurting enough to ruin. It hurts enough to make for shaky hands and unwelcome tears, but not enough to render you catatonic for weeks on end, unable to muster the strength to get out of bed. It hurts enough that we will still remember it in twenty years; ask anyone who is old enough to remember twenty years ago: they do.
We still don’t talk about 2011. All of a sudden, that was a half-decade ago.
Tonight, the Texas Rangers’ season ended. The odometer rolls over from 44 to 45. Flip: another year with no World Series. Flip. Another inventive and cruel way to end the season. Flip. Another play we will file into the file titled “Times Baseball Punched My Stomach”, and then close the drawer, lay down on the metaphorical sports couch, and sigh, unable to sleep.
Writers are not, or should not be, in the business of policing fan response. Some of you will be angry. Some of you will swear you’re done with this team. Some of you ran up a bar tab and extended/compounded your misery well into Monday morning. Others will choose to look back and smile. Baseball is a maddening sport. Every baseball team is frustrating at times. Some, however, have the added bonus of also being fun. This team was fun. And yes, they also lost a series they weren’t supposed to lose.
Baseball is a maddening sport.
The Texas Rangers will win a World Series someday. Maybe next year. Maybe in a new park. Maybe when we are one hundred years old. Maybe after you or I have passed from this mortal plain and into the next. When they do, we will remember Sunday night’s game. And Game Five. And Game Six. And Joe Saunders. And the Yankees of twenty years ago, or however many years it ends up being. The victory will be even sweeter for having marinated in these disappointments: spicy enough to burn, but not enough to kill you.
We’ll savor it then.