Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Eternal Hope of Spring

Those who know me well know that in addition to Biblical studies and classic fiction, I have a true passion for baseball. It is around this time of year we see a multitude of articles, diaries, and blogs on the wonder of Spring baseball. Better writers than I have waxed and waned poetic about the hope and grandeur of our national past time in its inaugural throes.

Here in St. Louis there are a variety of standard April jokes concerning the rival Chicago Cubs. Most of them are along the lines of "Hey, even Cubbie fans believe their team has a chance...at least until May 1st." This year, the Cubs are proving to have some fight in them. However, the jokes illustrate how quickly fans can lose the hope which is so empowering during the weeks leading up to opening day. One wrong injury, one early losing streak, and suddenly the sky is falling.

My team, the Atlanta Braves, are an unfortunately perfect example. Three starting pitchers from the opening day rotation have spent time on the disabled list - and two are still there. The ace of the staff, John Smoltz, now appears to be planning to return as a reliever. Since the team's closer and top set-up reliever are also on the DL, he might be as needed in such a role anyway. The team is 12-15, and at least one Braves fan (yes, fan) has told me he thinks their season is over. In a recent article on ESPN.com, one scout was quoted as saying pretty much the same thing.

As of this afternoon, the club from Atlanta is averaging more runs per game than any other team in the NL East. They have allowed fewer runs than any team in the NL East. Yes, they are in fourth place - a whole 2.5 games out of first. Their record is largely a product of two mind-numbing statistics. In games decided by more than 1 run, the Braves are 12-6. In games decided by exactly 1 run, the Braves are 0-9. What a way to torture fans! Baseball historians and professional statisticians can demonstrate how such streaks are often the result of luck (and sometimes a bad bullpen)and tend to even themselves out, particularly in a sport with 162 regular season games. However, knowing this has not made all nine of those one-run losses less painful, and finishing one or two games behind the Phillies or Mets in September would be excruciating.

I have no idea where the Braves, or Cubs, or Cardinals will finish this year - though telling a friend of mine that I think the Royals have more talent, player for player, than the Cardinals this year did not win me points in this town. Regardless, I think hope can be pretty cheap for most baseball fans, myself included. Why should any of us give up on our teams on May 1st?!? Perhaps we should use words like "wish" or "desire" to describe our Spring feelings, rather than hope or anticipation. Yet, the romantic baseball fan in me clings to the spiritual elements of baseball (ah, a future post, TBA), and the transformative power of hope - even hope unrealized. I mean, really, weren't most Red Sox fans a lot more fun to be around when all they had was inevitably tragic hope?

Grace and peace,
James

1 comment:

Jim Hill said...

James,
You mother is uptight about the prospect of John becoming a closer again. You may need to call and console her. Dad