PnP Conversations: Playoff Talk Pt. II

The ambling dialogue continues between Ted and I. This time, with reflections on the sloppy first day of action, the nature of fanhood, Cliff Lee’s divine assistance, and Ted’s fascinating hatred of the Cardinals.

Eric: Ted, we like to think of postseason play as existing on an elevated plane. These are the best teams, the best players, the brightest lights. But from the clips I saw, and the one full game I watched, the first day of postseason baseball was hardly exceptional. The Dodgers and Cardinals left a postseason record of 30 (30!) runners on base. Mark De Rosa launched a ball from third base to right field. Matt Kemp (praise be him) looked positively 2007 on a pair of short fly balls. Carlos Gonzalez had a painfully awkward looking encounter with the left field wall in Philly. Sure, Jeter was Jeter and Cliff Lee pitched like a Cy Young winner. But overall the quality of play left me flatter than the brim of Brendan Ryan’s cap. So the question is this: Am I still hung over from that Twins-Tigers masterpiece on Tuesday, or were today’s games just a sputtering start to this postseason?

Ted: There did certainly to be a surfeit of ugliness around the playoffs. In Philly, the forty-plus replays of the stadium flags I saw on the other TV while watching the Dodgers-Cards matchup at the bar taught me that greater forces worked against any efforts towards fine glovework and sound paths to the ball. This only furthers my theory of Cliff Lee’s divine support. My first prediction of the postseason came true: Lee reprimanded the Rockies like little Salem schoolchildren, with some help from the great schoolmaster in the sky.

In LA, there weren’t such simple answers. Despite his putrid play in the field, Matt Kemp slugged a home run early. It’s my belief that sluggish bats are the worst curse that can befall a playoff team. Furcal and Kemp took care of that early, as did America’s Most Watched playoffer, Alex Rodriguez, who rapped a couple of slump busters. I will commit a little sacrilege here: I think the Yankees are an interesting postseason team. Yes, I am not repulsed by them. It’s been almost a decade since they dominated the scene, and this year I want to see what happens, whether Jeter and Posada and Rivera can recapture their former invincibility, whether A-Rod can shake his rep and carry the mantle of the greatest player of his generation(*) for real. If there is a storyline in there, it’s the reclamation of heroism after the hero’s been cast out of the kingdom.

So what do you think? Does the mere suggestion of not hating the Yankees throw your humors all to hell? Was last night’s victory a little too easy, or are we ready for a playoffs in which the Yankees are underdogs, or at the very least a compelling and enjoyable part of the equation?

Eric: Alright, I’m going to ignore what you said about Cliff Lee, because I can’t find a compelling argument to disprove your point. Cliff Lee is probably a direct descendant of Mayflower settlers.

Onto your broader point: The Yankees. I not only tolerate your sentiment, but completely echo it. In the years since Boston won its curse-breaking World Series, I’ve slowly found myself shifting my hatred from one over-exposed AL East franchise to the other. I’ve also got an inexplicable personal affection for Alex Rodriguez (I tried to work through it on the early days of the blog through the A-Rod as Tragic Hero series). So I think the Yankees are extremely compelling, yes. How do guys like Sabathia and Burnett perform under real pressure? Why isn’t Jorge Posada catching every freaking game? There’s a great deal of reclamation, but there’s also a lot on the table for the guys who have yet to achieve anything — and that’s most of the Yankees. Whither Hideki Matsui? Nick Swisher? Robinson Cano?

The thing about the Yankees is that they aren’t underdogs. Their lineup is stupid good. They have Mariano Rivera. I still want the Twins to win. But this time the idea of a Yankee World Series does not repulse me like it once did. It doesn’t even bother me really. An Angels or a Red Sox title bothers me way more. Perhaps it’s the general silence from the Steinbrenners this season. Perhaps it’s the whole A-Rod thing. Perhaps it’s just the intellectual understanding that yes, they are an excellent team, and no it won’t be the end of the world if they win a World Series. After all, my emotional investment in the playoffs is entirely wrapped up in the Dodgers. I don’t have the spirit energy to get all carried away about the other games going on.

That brings me to my next question. How differently do we watch a postseason when our favorite teams are involved? What do we do when they aren’t? I’ve definitely got experience picking random teams or players I want to see win, and just rooting for them for the hell of it, for the sake of having some investment. As an Astros fan, how do you view the playoffs? Do your NL Central biases get involved, or do you just try and appreciate the baseball for baseball, the games for games, the story lines for however they play out?

Ted: How differently do we watch a postseason when our favorite teams are involved? What do we do when they aren’t?

I am so glad that you asked this question, as it was one that I was thinking on just last night, as I watched the Cards-Dodgers. I don’t have a dog in this fight, clearly, and so for me this year the nature of the game-watching is based more on a sense of what’s around me and broader context. First off, I was rooting for the Dodgers because you like the Dodgers, and I’m always a sucker to root for whatever team those around me, especially good friends. The year the Angels won the WS, I dug in for victory with and on behalf of my buddy Prescott, a massive Halos fan. I’d like to see the Cubs win a WS because it would make my buddy Paul a gentler person. Et cetera.

Then there is the broader context of teams and players that populate the games. I don’t want to say that I “hate” any particular team–I try too hard to watch the game as a whole to use such extremes. But if there is a team that rankles me to the point that I can’t help it, it is the Cardinals. There’s really only one specific incident I can refer to, it is the one in which “Death Star” Pujols destroyed the confidence of Brad Lidge, which led to his decline with the team and then his trading away and then his total domination with Philly (his return to fragility this season has perhaps confirmed that the Pujols incident was but one fissure in his unstable mental architecture). Beyond that, there is just this general sense that they are just really competent, studious and logical, the kid in lit class that you can’t quite catch up to, whose comment on Emerson’s insight into the nature of the soul is just too fucking smart to be real. It’s a helluva a time battling a team like that every year, as they seem fueled by motherboards rather than beating hearts (we’re pushing this Pujols-as-machine conceit as far as it will go, eh?). Point being, I am watching this series hoping more than anything that I don’t have to watch the Cards play anymore. That’s old news, and teams like the Dodgers and the Rockies are fresh meat, with stories that I haven’t heard yet.

I also wanted to touch on the biggest difference between watching your team in the playoffs and watching any team in the playoffs, and for this I draw from my experience watching the Astros go to the WS in 2005. That year, in the playoffs and especially in the later rounds, with every single pitch it felt like the walls of the stadium would either a) burst forth with plumes of daisies and firecrackers and vestal virgins or b) darken and spiral into oblivion. Every, single, damn, pitch. Not since Call of Duty 4 have I narrowed in so intensely on each and every sliver of the game. That’s also the most welcomed offseason I’ve had. I was just totally drained, and physically exhausted. A dynasty would be too much on the ticker.

It’s a long journey, and right now we can be glad to watch the first few strides. For some–the Twins, the Rockies–a stumble, for others–Dodgers–a stumbling walk. My mantra is that waking up the bats is the hardest thing about playing in the playoffs. When you can’t hit, the game quickly skips away. The Dodgers unstuck the bats quick last night.

With your eyes intensely focused on the Dodgers, how do you watch the rest of the field? Constantly tabulating possible opponents? Couldn’t care less?

Eric: That’s a good question. As much as I wish I was that confident, I think it would be forward to constantly tabulate possible opponents at this point. The future is so fragile in these tense times, is it not? I suppose in the NL I’d rather play the Rockies, but I’m too focused on the Dodgers to invest in something so distant. As far as the AL goes, it’s not a case of not caring, just a case of less caring. I’m a baseball fan before a Dodger fan (I think that’s a necessary condition right?), so the games still interest me a great deal, just not with a rooting interest. I’m more invested in the quality of the play, in the story lines. Dodgers-Yankees would be cool right? Dodgers-Angels too.

I admire your graciousness as a baseball fan — the desire to see your friends’ teams win big — but I wonder if I share it completely. Sometimes I’m just drawn to the aesthetic of a team, the names, the narratives, the players,te scene surrounding their performance good or bad. I think the playoffs allow you to really embrace those other factors in ways you can’t during the regular season, especially if the team you are tied to for sentimental/geographic reasons is no longer involved. I read an interview with Bethlehem Shoals the other day where he said the following:

You shouldn’t just root for your team because it’s in your city. You should root for a team because something that they are doing is resonating with you, and when they stop doing that, you have no reason to keep rooting for them if you don’t want to.

For many intangible reasons, that’s impossible to do for me to do fulltime. Ignoring any constitutional differences between baseball and basketball teams, I think the playoffs allow us an opportunity to reassess a little, and maybe embrace those ideas. Why not jump on the bandwagon that speaks to you when your team is out of it?

6 Responses to “PnP Conversations: Playoff Talk Pt. II”

  • Ted, what is your gamertag if you play on 360?

  • I’m a ps3 man, myself, unfortunately.

  • The part that caught my eye was the part about an Angels championship being less welcome than the Yankees title. I don’t follow the Angels at all, so am pretty apathetic to how they do, but it reminded me of a question I had last night watching commercials during Twins-Yankees; possibly inappropriate, but let’s push some boundaries.

    The commercial detailed the Angels’ success in response to Nick Adenhart’s death (This is beyond devotion; this is beyond baseball). And it made me wonder–if Adenhart /hadn’t/ died, would they be slacking off or something? Inappropriate, irreverent, but I want to know.

  • Inappropriate? We believe not in boundaries here sir. I’m glad you went there.

    If you’ve ever taken a college English class, you’ll know that people have a tendency to read their own meaning into places where others might not see it. Santiago in Hemingway’s the Old Man and the Sea represents Christ, one scholar might say. He’s just an old man, the author might (did) respond. The fish is just a fish.

    I think a commercial like that, detailing the Angels’ success as “in response” to Adenhart’s sad death, is probably oversimplifying a little bit. It’s attaching a narrative to one that might not previously exist. There’s obviously no way to say whether the success of the Angels is a reaction to the tragedy, or whether it’s actually beyond devotion or beyond baseball (whatever that means).

    There’s no way to know what would have happened if Adenhart /hadn’t/ died. He did die. And the Angels had an excellent season. It’s unfair and probably a little dishonest spiritually and intellectually to try and claim that their success was spurred on by a new feeling “beyond devotion” or that their success came despite the emotional toll of something so devastating.

    Basically what I’m getting at is that the commercial is making something big and sweeping and very very clear out of an event whose implications are in fact impossible to define. It’s ascribing meaning where it may or may not be.

  • My question is: how do you go “beyond devotion”? What does that actually mean? Beyond devotion would seem to imply obligation. What that might mean is beyond me, and gets creepy quickly.

    It is emotionally compelling to see a team carry on after a teammate falls, the archetype of which we’ve seen in war movies immemorial. It’s a charged thing. That said, it’s all in the delivery. The voiceover guy has a PR kind of tone, which we’re used to hearing in those half-hour pseudo documentaries that follow the decline of some murdered celebrity. I don’t trust voices like that, and I don’t believe them. They’re reading a script. For that quick moment hearing the Angels teammate speak, though, I believed it, and it held more authenticity than all of the rest of it combined.

    Some motivations are best left told by the motivated, without mediation (although mediation is pretty difficult to avoid in at least some form).

  • What that might mean is beyond me <- It's beyond Ted. It's beyond bloggery.

    "It’s unfair and probably a little dishonest spiritually and intellectually to try and claim that their success was spurred on by a new feeling “beyond devotion” or that their success came despite the emotional toll of something so devastating." <- The latter potential strikes me as true on the face of it. Presumably, there was an emotional toll, and not a fundamentally good one. So I think it's simplistic, though not "unfair" per se, to claim that the success came /in spite of/ Adenhart's death. What I would dispute is the claim that the success /was due to/ it. I'd assume the season has a different feel in the players' own minds than it otherwise would have. But if they wouldn't have had the motivation to win the division otherwise, something is wrong.

    Oh, and I had the "college English class" experience a bit early, taking Advanced Placement Literature in high school. If I got nothing else out of that class, I did learn that things that don't seem to represent Jesus may actually be doing so. I "found" a Jesus allusion on the test, so maybe my teacher was on to something, despite the fact that I couldn't stand him.

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