Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rivalry run riot

If you were the type of person who notices the absence of things, you might have been wondering about the dearth of posts about our national pastime so far this spring. Please do not mistake this for an indication that I have not been avidly following the goings-on in the AL East specifically or the MLB as a whole; I have in fact been riveted because the goings-on have been pretty dang nuts. As always, please assume my usual disclaimers, about not particularly wanting to sound like a pompous jerk but realizing I inevitably will anyway and am thus just going to plow on ahead come what may, apply.

We are in uncharted territory here, and by “we” of course I mean my wife and I. Developments through the first sixty games of the season have actually been more or less par for the course for most Yankees fans; surely we’d have nothing against establishing a wide early lead for first place in our division and slowly pulling away, gradually allowing the conversation to pivot from “will New York make the playoffs?” to “will New York break the record for most wins in the regular season?” BUT there’s also nothing wrong and nothing alarming about playing above-.500 ball and fighting it out for the top spot. It keeps things interesting. The differentiator this season is that the Yankees are not battling for first place against the despised Red Sox, or an energized Rays team, or a tenacious Blue Jays squad, but rather an Orioles line-up that seems to finally have everything coming together all at once.

From my wife’s perspective, of course, this completely flips the script. Many a baseball season past I have seen her optimism about the O’s chances slowly dwindle over the first quarter of the season or so, adjusting her hopes from “staying in contention” to “staying above .500” and then “just staying healthy and/or staying out of the clutches of other teams’ poaching so they can try again next year.” But this year she had every reason to maintain a steady level of enthusiasm for her beloved and no longer beleaguered Baltimore. A few scant weeks out from the All-Star break and it does not appear as if the O’s record is a fluke, the product of a soft stretch in the schedule, or anything else easily dismissed. The Orioles have logged some serious time leading the pack all season, and it’s with good reason, as they’ve been playing with impressive determination; the number of extra-inning and come-from-behind wins they’ve notched is already approaching mind-blowing.

The American League East, I’ve said before and will say again, is the toughest division in baseball. (Bring on the expansion teams and the four-division realignment!) This season especially has proven just how tough, as there have been moments here and there where all five teams were boasting winning records at the same time, which is SICK. My wife and I are usually in complete agreement about this point, too, because both of our teams have to reckon with the same number of in-division games every season. We still agree this year (how could we not?) but that is one of the few safe topics at this point. Usually by mid-June I am grumbling about how the Yankees need to string together a few two-out-of-three series and put some distance between themselves and the Rays/Jays/Sox, upon whom I wish nagging minor injuries and locker room discord and whatever else might feed into a serious skid. The formulation this year would sub in the O’s, of course, but that’s not a very diplomatic thing to say to one’s Orioles-cheering spouse. And, truth be told, I do NOT wish injuries or in-fighting on Baltimore, because not only am I happy for my wife’s investment in them but I’ve become somewhat fond of them myself. So I’m weirdly conflicted, and struck appropriately mute.

If anyone ever produced 'Jeter & Jones' as a running tv series, it would be the highest-rated show in my household by a country mile.

For my wife, a big factor has been not wanting to jinx the Orioles, which in this case I do kind of understand (and know that I may in fact get in serious trouble if some kind of tailspin begins shortly after bringing all this up here). I caught one of the O’s announcers just the other day commenting on the fact that Baltimore’s skipper Buck Showalter only recently started making even vague statements about “if we’re going to have a shot in September/October” and basically it’s his job to balance the optimism with the realism, so clearly my wife is following a reasonable example there. And she has the same kind of affection-transferral inner turmoil as I do; I love the Yankees, she loves me, ergo she hates the Yankees a little bit less than she otherwise might. As our relationship has evolved she’s reached the point where, if she can’t be happy for the O’s, she can at least be happy for me. She’s never had to choose between the two with both as viable options, nor have I faced that dilemma with her. Until now!

So there’s been an odd baseball-conversation embargo in the household, propped up by our mutual lack of desire to smacktalk one another. It’s a luxury we can easily afford in June, of course; we’ll see if tensions mount in the fall. If the playoffs started today, both our teams would be in; the Yankees and Rays would have to go to some kind of tie-breaker to determine who got the pennant and who was the first wildcard, and the O’s would be the newly-inaugurated second wildcard (which means, yes, both AL wildcards would be coming out of the East, see above re: SICK). The mind fairly reels. Fortunately we still have some very stable common ground in looking down on the Red Sox, who are currently bottom-dwelling with the lone losing record in the division. (You didn’t think I would let the whole post go by without indulging in some schadenfreude over that, did you? Come ON.)

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