With all due respect, September, August is baseball’s best month.
Yes, yes, October, you’re the king. But when it comes to the regular season, no month epitomizes the game more than the present. Pennant races are still in a toddler stage, though we’ll still peek at the standings with increasing interest every morning. The debates and hand-wringing of the trade deadline are in the past, as are the distractions of the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. The Red Sox won’t parade their ridiculous stars and stripes hats out again until Labor Day, and the Orioles are Comfortably Numb with the worst record in the American League.
Baseball flies somewhat under the radar in August. With the dawn of football training camps comes too the national obsession of the media to document every nook and cranny of what amounts to pretty much nothing. Baseball has much of July to itself. Come August and September, it has to share. And with that comes a certain laid-back approach to watching the game.
With August come memories of vacationing nights under the stars, listening to the game at Kathy’s Coffee Shop while enjoying a cone filled with frozen chocolate, watching it on the patio of the National Hotel, sipping on a Harpoon draft, sitting in Section 7 waiting for your Dad to flag down the hot dog vendor.
There’s a certain tranquility to August baseball, the building calm before the storm. Overshadowed by the infant stages of the football season, the game knows it’s about to be overcome in September. And despite the pennant races that are sure to enthrall us, they will have all but checked out in stadiums in Houston, Minnesota, and San Diego, leading to live TV shots of empty seats across the baseball nation. And that’s…well, depressing, isn’t it?
What we’ll enjoy in Boston in a race for first place in the AL East is a rarity, something we shouldn’t forget. It wasn’t that long ago, remember, when September baseball excitement here consisted of debating whether or not Reggie Jefferson deserved the batting title. Many teams are still in play, still living the dream of playing an extended season, even in Pittsburgh, where even a six-game losing streak can’t diminish the enthusiasm the surprise team of baseball has given the city. In four weeks time, more than half of those aspiring for the postseason will be playing out a string of meaningless games.
But not in August. It’s the month that can make or break a team, the month where you find out if the deadline deal you made is a hit (Orlando Cabrera) or a big-time waste of time (Gagne, Eric). But it’s not a month to fret about the end. It’s not a month spent debating who is All-Star worthy, but one when MVP debates begin to percolate. It’s not a month spent wondering whether that shiny, new left fielder is worth the money, but one in which you simply sit back and enjoy watching him play.
In August, baseball is there every night whether you watch it in the humidity of the city, or on your favorite island with a late-summer breeze filtering through the screen door, knowing that soon that the cowhide will be replaced by a welcome chill dominated by pigskin. We’re bi-partisan in New England. In Kansas City, Baltimore, and Seattle though it will be Chiefs, Ravens, and the defending NFC West champion Seahawks full-tilt. Baseball will die a quick 2011 death in most cities. But in August it doesn’t matter. It’s an excuse to enjoy the season, no matter how putrid your team may be.
This is baseball’s time. The frenzy will get here eventually, and we’ll welcome it. For now though, the game is just that, a game, with much, but not everything at stake. There’s a relaxed intrigue to August baseball, and that’s something that no other sport can offer.