September is a highly anticipated month in the 500 Level Fan household.
The weather is still beautiful, only without the oppressive and skin burning heat. Nightfall comes a little bit earlier, but not early enough to seemingly cut days in half. Add to that the allure of pennant races in baseball and you have a great time of year.
This September was poised to be one of the best ever. We had several family and friend events planned. For the first time ever I was going to be published in print (Bat Flip: The Greatest Toronto Blue Jays Stories Ever Told). And it looked as if the Jays were on the verge of winning the AL East for the second consecutive year.
But then September actually came.
And it has been the worst.
From the trivial and mundane to the life-altering, things have happened that were not part of the master plan.
A short list:
After romping through the regular season, my co-ed softball team unravelled in the year-end tournament, losing in the quarterfinals. This website went down on multiple occasions, ruining any chance I might have had to promote the book before it launched.
Stunningly, the Blue Jays, mighty and in control at the end of August, regressed to levels not seen since 1987. A 7 – 12 September record has threatened to destroy five months of hard work, as the team has lost seven games in the standings in 20 days and now seemingly only has Wild Card hopes.
But then came the big one.
On September 14, out of the blue and with no rhyme or reason, I shockingly lost an uncle. Now, the normal assumption when somebody loses an aunt or uncle is that they were in the periphery of your life, a person who you saw a few times a year at most. But not in this case. Uncle Anth was a part of my wife’s immediate family, and after I married her he became a part of mine.
He was without a doubt one of the nicest people I have ever met; he had the proverbial heart of gold. Need a favour with something? No problem, here’s Anth! Need a laugh? No problem, here’s Anth! Need somebody to talk to, or watch sports with, or have a rye and coke with? No problem, here’s Anth!
Of course he had his flaws – we all do. His biggest flaws were his horrendous choices of sports teams: the Bruins and the Red Sox (for real – who likes the Bruins?!?!?). We had a friendly bet every year about the Jays / Sox rivalry, and this year was shaping up to be one of the closest yet, until September. (As an aside, I swear that he was personally responsible for changing the trajectory of at least two of those Hanley Ramirez home runs last week. They looked a little “wind-aided”.) Ever since his passing I find that my normal deep rooted hatred of all things Red Sox has significantly diminished.
But this is not meant to be a melancholic column. The point of this post is not to bring people down or spread sadness to the masses. No, it is meant to be a column of hope. That’s why I titled it “Hope”.
And it is also meant to be about baseball. So how does all this relate?
One of the best traits about Uncle Anth was his penchant for Yogi-isms, those verbal quips made famous by the late, great Yogi Berra. You know them: “it ain’t over ’til it’s over,” or “when you come to a fork in the road, take it,” or “you can observe a lot just by watching.”
Uncle Anth had a bunch but his best has resonated with me for a while, and holds extra special meaning for the Blue Jays this September. About five years ago he was bemoaning the fact that we didn’t get out to visit him and Aunt Dar very often. The drive from our place at the time was about two-and-a-half hours (longer with traffic). “It’s so far,” I said, “it makes more sense to meet half way.” “Yeah, but all you gotta do is get there,” he replied.
Ridiculous! Clearly that was the main complaint – getting there! But take a step back and think about it: it’s so true. It doesn’t matter what kind of a journey you are on, the hardest part is always getting to your destination. Once you’re there? Take a load off, relax, enjoy it!
And that’s what all of you who jumped off the Jays bandwagon (including yours truly for a few hours), need to remember.
With 162 regular season games (compared to 82 in the NBA and NHL, 38 in MLS, and 16 in the NFL) baseball has the longest regular season, by far. Only 10 teams (33% of the league) make the postseason in baseball, compared to 60% in MLS, 53% in the NBA and NHL, and 37% in the NFL, making it the most difficult sport to reach the playoffs. In short, MLB’s regular season is a long, long marathon after which only a small amount of teams have a chance to win it all.
All of which makes qualifying for the playoff dance incredibly important. Once you’re in, anything can happen. Ask the 2006 Cardinals who won only 83 games but won the World Series. Ask the 2003 Marlins who finished 10 games behind the Braves but made it as a Wild Card and won it all. Even ask the 2015 Mets who finished the season 7-11, including a 1-5 tailspin, yet recovered to make the World Series.
Each and every one of those teams will say the same thing: making the playoffs is the hardest part. Once you’re there, anything can happen.
So for the Blue Jays and their fans, forget about this September swoon. The goal right now, as it was back in April, remains the same: make October. Sure the division would have been ideal, but the Wild Card game still means that the World Series is within reach.
Anything can happen.
Or as Anth would say:
All you gotta do is get there.
(Miss you buddy)