With the Red Sox season having mercifully ended nearly a week ago, it may seem like time for some to pretend that all of baseball has ended for a few months. It may seem like time to throw all of one’s passion into the Patriots, or into being vehemently angry over not having the ability to watch the Bruins.
But baseball is still here, and even though it is not in Boston, there is still a reason to watch this October. The drama of postseason play is universal as the story lines go further than just wins and loses. It’s about character, grit and everything that baseball fans love about the game.
It would be easy to say that Red Sox fans should automatically root for the team playing against the New York Yankees. The Baltimore Orioles are the underdog story of the postseason, and not just because they are playing against the so-called Evil Empire. Baltimore is making its first appearance in the postseason since 1997.
“Hey, this lineup here is a lineup that is a bunch of guys that are angry, want to play, want to win and ain’t taking no for an answer,” Baltimore’s center fielder Adam Jones told the media after the team defeated the Yankees on Monday.
That unbridled determination built the game. It is the reason why viewers become so emotionally attached to teams and players.
Yet, as much as the underdog story resonates with nearly everyone, and as much as every Red Sox fan would like to see the Yankees lose, there is a different team – one in the other American League series – that deserves some attention.
While the Red Sox season was continuing to crumble more than anyone could have predicted, the Oakland Athletics were going through something worse and on a more personal level. The A’s story goes further than baseball.
Just over a month ago, Oakland pitcher Brandon McCarthy suffered a life-threatening injury when he was hit in the head by a line drive. A mere three weeks after having brain surgery to save his life, while receiving the A’s nomination for the Roberto Clemente Award, McCarthy announced he would resume throwing the very next day.
Even after being there put him in a near-death situation, McCarthy will return to the mound.
That is true grit.
Last week, another A’s pitcher experienced a horrific life-altering experience when his newborn son suddenly passed away less than a day after he was born. Pat Neshek received the call from his wife during Oakland’s last regular season game that his son Gehrig had stopped breathing.
Neshek did not think he would return to baseball this season, but on Saturday he pitched in the seventh inning. Like the rest of his teammates, he wore a black patch on his sleeve with his son’s initials: GJN. After he retired the only two batters he faced, he patted the patch on his arm, and after looking to the sky found his wife in the crowd.
Neshek broke down in the dugout after pitching, but he did not regret going back to the game.
“I was hoping we’d win this game, but it will be a game I’ll remember forever,” Neshek said to the media after the A’s lost. “It was the right choice, it definitely was, being here.”
That is true heart.
While some might say that Neshek returned to the field too soon, baseball appears to be a part of his healing process, just like it can be for any fan going through a challenging time. The sport presents an opportunity to throw everything into a single pitch and remember what it is like to feel good about something.
Baseball is not perfect, and it is just a game. But these stories are real, human pieces to the larger puzzle that makes up the postseason. Winning the ALDS, or the American League or even the World Series will not stop McCarthy from remembering that moment when he was hit, nor will it heal the pain that Neshek and his wife feel.
But for a brief amount of time, a win can mean something more for them. It is not just another ring to add to the collection. It is a feel-good moment in a month of pain and heartache.
More than an underdog, the Athletics present an opportunity to support a team that needs some love as it heals.
Before you shut baseball out of your mind until the spring, think about those players that are a part of a larger cause. Remember the reasons why you fell in love with baseball, and consider, even for just one second, that maybe a win can be more than just defeating one’s opponent.
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