The streets are empty and the business centers quiet in Baseballtown. MLBTradeRumors has the feel of a classified ad section in a small town newspaper. This just in, the Pirates are still searching for middle relief! The contrast between the doldrums and, say, the last month of the season is so dramatic that the respite must be necessary. The European soccer schedule seems to have about a week off between seasons, but that’s possible when games (or matches, if you prefer) are spread a bit and the pace of change is manageable for the average fan. Soccer, structurally, ebbs and flows, with various tournaments and champions leagues, and without playoffs in some cases. Baseball, structurally, is a tsunami of daily games, news, highlights, and such madness.
So we get a solid break.
Recent complaints about the conversations-slash-rants about the harshness of the HOF voting discussion have come to mirror those in the political arena, e.g. Palin and her crosshairs (or surveyors marks, depending upon which side of the aisle you side with). But I still think the HOF debate comes at a perfect offseason, when thoughts turn, like the reminiscences of old retired ballplayers to their rookie seasons and their last seasons, to the beginnings and the endings of great careers. The beauty of a Hall of Fame career is that nobody saw it coming, because you aren’t allowed to. We hedge our bets and claim that, barring injury, this guy could be the next one.
These quiet times, though, are best spent imagining those HOF careers as we witness their beginnings. Close your eyes, allow yourself a flight of fancy. In these doldrums, its okay to let yourself believe that Buster Posey and Matt Wieters will clasp fists on the podium together in Cooperstown as the dominant catchers of their era. Evan Longoria dons a Rays cap in his carved image on the plaque. This is more than hoping for a good season from a fading veteran, or the stereotypical optimism of spring training. These are the forbidden thoughts, the taboo projections, well into the future, that eschew probability. Most of us are deprived of sunlight and trudging through the slop of a snowy winter. Give yourself a shot of dopamine: let yourself believe, on this mid-January day, that Lincecum and Cain will pitcher their way to immortality, together. Don’t tell anybody about it, don’t blog about, just think it while drawing in a deep breath.
These are the private moments that we have as baseball fans. There’s a lot of emphasis on publicly proclaiming the quantitative value of one move or player over another. But every pundit has those moments when the data-driven armor falls away, and every Bill James and Dave Cameron recalls for a moment the adrenaline rush of a foul ball headed their way, or the juvenile hope that their favorite player will beat the odds and play their way into the Hall of Fame. Not arguing for it, mind, but simply and quietly knowing it to be true, if only for one cold January day.