I grew up a Twins fan. I remember going to Metropolitan Stadium with my Dad to see the Minneapolis Millers before the Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins. I agonized through years of crummy teams. I remember getting a Little League uniform with #6 on the back (I believe it was the year I played for the Gold Sox), and the disappointment that no Twin of note shared my number. (The next year #6 was Vic Wertz, and the year after that Tony Oliva arrived and took #6.) I still pull my hair out remembering when Jim Gilliam on a hunch decided to shade a couple of steps closer to the line at third base line in the fifth inning of game 7 of the 1965 WS when Zoilo Versailles was at the plate facing Sandy Koufax with runners on first and third and one out, Twins down 2-0. (Gilliam’s snag of a shot down the 3b line that should have been a two-run double was the key play of that WS.) I remember the years of agony of the Bud Grant Vikings going to the Superbowl four times and losing every time.
When the Twins won the WS in 1987 we were living in the San Francisco Bay Area. When Jeff Reardon closed out the 9th inning I told my wife that the fans weren’t going to go home. Thirty minutes after the game was over at least half the crowd was still in the Metrodome, cheering and waving their homer hankies. I knew that was going to happen; there was nothing else that could have occurred. It was a community catharsis, a purging of all of the frustration and humiliation that had been accumulating for years.
With the crowd still in the stands, applauding and cheering, the players came back out on the field for a curtain call, led by Kent Hrbek, the guy who, like me, grew up almost in the shadow of Met Stadium and rode his bicycle to the Met stadium when he was a kid. Some of the players had already showered, and they came back out on the field in their street clothes. Some of the other players had just been hanging out in the dugout, soaking it all in.
Of course the crowd erupted once again when they appeared. And I, sitting in my living room in Contra Costa County, was so totally a part of it that tears were rolling down my face. That was the moment when I realized that baseball was embedded within me in a way no other sport was. Every other sport I could walk away from. But for me, I realized that after many years away from the game, I had drifted back close enough to hear it singing to me, and I was as helpless before it as a Greek mariner catching the strains of the Sirens.
I confess to being a numbers type of guy. I’m an engineer and working with data is both my forte and my fortress. But life has a way of reminding us that what really counts is simple humanity. When we see that humanity in one of our teams, such as the Mariners after the end of the game today… that's a bolt that strikes us, often when we are totally unprepared, and makes us realize that this business of being a fan has claimed our souls. We can't set it aside; it has us and we are bound to it, not the other way around.
Part of the exuberance of today - for the players as well as the fans – is the awareness that this year was different from last year. Not just a bit different, but different in the way that Love Canal is different from the Erie Canal. The team didn’t win anything but the players are celebrating because they know the depths from which they’ve come. I’m celebrating now because after years of rooting for the team despite of what it was, now I can celebrate for what it is and what it it becoming. And it isn't just me; fans here, at USSM, and in the stands see it. Baker and Divish and Larue blog it. Drayer tweets it. And now we see the players and Front Office savor it.
Next season, 2010, is a new chapter. We don't know to what extent this might carry over. We hope it will, but there are no guarantees. For now we simply bask and enjoy. And that's all baseball asks of us and all that it grants us - savor and enjoy. If we dare ask more, it dashes our dreams more likely than not.
Now go out and find a Royals fan who needs encouragement.