In the fine movie “A Bronx Tale”, Calogero and his father Lorenzo are dedicated New York Yankees fans. Calogero is befriended by Sonny, the local crime boss who takes a shine to him when Calogero refuses to identify Sonny’s involvement in a revenge killing. A key scene in the movie is when Calogero tells Sonny that he is a big Mickey Mantle fan. Sonny snorts, “Why should I care about Mickey Mantle? Does Mickey Mantle care about me?” It forms a critical axis of the film where Calogero is torn between the outlaw (yet code-of-honor bound) lifestyle of Sonny and the honest-work, law-abiding model of his father Lorenzo. Why should Calogero care about someone who doesn’t even know him, let alone care about him?
Thus it is to be a fan, of any endeavor, whether baseball, or opera, or celebrity chefs. Those people who are involved at the highest levels move in circles unknown to most of us. Yet their actions, their accomplishments, even their failures hold our attention and touch our hearts. People who are “too smart for that”, who can’t be bothered with such things outside their personal spheres, think of themselves as “realists” perhaps, but really they live in a denatured and impoverished world. Better, I say, to care deeply about outcomes of contest and art in which we have no involvement, except that we care.
That’s what makes September baseball so compelling. Even if your team is no longer in the pennant chase, there are things you can savor and examine with wonder and delight. Perhaps your team can play “spoiler”, where a sudden recrudescence can fatally wound another team’s hopes; or perhaps a veteran is approaching a career milestone meaningful to the team or perhaps even the record book; possibly a rookie or September call-up is exhibiting potential that gives hope for the future. There is no shortage of factors that can still hold our attention and provide us with delight.
If your time is still in the pennant chase, of course, then the drama unfolds on a daily basis as the last three weeks of the season, 20 or so games loom large. Now every pitch, every inning, becomes fraught with tension that can become almost unbearable at times. Baseball, because every incident begins with the stillness of the pitcher’s hands coming together and the batter’s place being set, crystallizes that tension and gives it an explosive release with results that can be exhilarating or excruciating.
So it is in 2010 we have an unfolding of a tale in the Bronx, can the 2009 World Champion Yankees repeat? Can they stave off the upstart, fraction-of-their-payroll Tampa Bay Rays to win their division? Will they be able to overcome the valiant and implacable Minnesota Twins or newly-minted “Best of the AL West” Texas Rangers? These are the storylines in the AL, and if I’m offending any White Sox fans by discounting their chances, sorry about that. Oh, and you Red Sox fans are going to have to wait until next year, too. You Angels fans who grew accustomed to seeing your Halos in the post-season, not this year.
The outcomes are far less assured in the National League. Not only are the San Francisco Giants and suddenly-mortal San Diego Padres locked in an embrace atop the NL West, the Colorado Rockies, who seem to put on these heart-stopping runs in September on a regular basis, are now in the mix and will have to be considered. In the NL East, will it be the recent perennial Phillies or will the Atlanta Braves manage to give Bobby Cox a post-season send-off? Only in the NL Central, where the Cincinnati Reds appear to have a mortal lock over the surprisingly ineffective St. Louis Cardinals do the results seem forgone.
So I would tell Sonny, “I do care about it, because it’s bigger than me, and involves so much the hearts and hopes of so many, though it be just a game.”