Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer games

I’ve had more than my fill of articles written in the past week or two from the perspective of someone who is really excited that the Olympics are starting today. Not that they like sports enough to have a rooting interest in any particular team, or really get sports in general. But the Olympics are different! This, to me, is only slightly less annoying than the people who loudly declaim that they only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials, and those people are more annoying primarily because they trot out their anti-sports stance every February instead of only every four years.

Well, nerts to all that. I like the Olympics, but I also like regular everyday sports. And so even though the opening ceremonies are today’s big news item, I want to talk about Major League Baseball.

98, 99 games into the regular season and the Yankees are playing .600 ball, which is nothing to sneeze at considering it represents the best record in the AL (and tied in the majors only by the NL-leading Washington nationals, which is bizarre in and of itself.) Of course, a team has to be playing at least .700 ball to have a chance at any of the record-breaking regular season winning percentages, and that’s pretty much out of reach at this point. With 64 games left the Yankees would have to go 54-and-10 to break .700, which even I will admit seems unlikely.

Obligatory random anecdote: I remember having a conversation with my uncle (my dad’s brother, and thus another native New Yorker and lifelong Yankees fan) back around Christmas of 1998, which was a couple of months after the Yankees won the World Series to cap off setting the modern record for best regular season record at 114-and-48. (That record has subsequently been broken, by the Mariners in 2001, by two wins.) My uncle was curious what the experience had been like for me, watching the Yankees set that record while living in a non-New York market. (Not only that, but practically a non-market, since the Nats were still the Expos back then.) I had to admit to him that it had only been on the periphery of my awareness for much of the season, because I didn’t have access to the New York press and the Yankees boosters therein (the late 20th century! I didn’t even have an internet hookup in my apartment!) and in the local coverage there wasn’t anyone terribly invested in rooting against the Yankees, either. I checked the box scores and the standings intermittently at best. My uncle was a little flabbergasted: how could I not have kept close tabs on the team than that? And my answer to him was that it just felt like I didn’t have to. I knew without looking in the paper that the Yankees were in first place basically every day, and that there was something approaching a three out of four chance that they had won the night before. And in that moment, I could tell by my uncle’s silence in response that he had never quite thought about it in those terms before.

So, to all the baseball fans who live and die by teams other than the Yankees, who contend that it’s not as much fun (or not the same kind of fun) to root for New York, I do have to make that slight concession. Sometimes there’s a grain of truth to that. When a team seems unstoppable, it no longer feels like they need you to stay awake and will them to come back in the bottom of the ninth. You can turn in early and know if they lose tonight, they’ll definitely get ‘em next time.

I say that not to gloat … well, maybe to gloat a little, since my wife has insisted that “IT’S ON!” with regards to our marital baseball rivalry but so far she’s been getting in most of the digs. And to be fair, the Orioles are totally still in it, hanging tough in second place in the AL East, within a game and a half of the wildcard berth (and even if the wildcard rules hadn’t changed this year, and there were only one slot per league instead of two, the O’s would be within two games of that). My wife claims that August is the traditional month that the O’d break her heart. I could have sworn that even at the beginning of this season she was saying that the O’s tend to get off to a promising start in April and then break her heart in May, so August seems like a significant improvement overall.

The Yankees and O’s are not playing each other this weekend – New York is hosting the last place (nope, pointing that out has not gotten old!) Red Sox and Baltimore is hosting the A’s. But the A’s are one of the teams currently occupying an AL wildcard slot, so the Orioles can increase their own chances to make the playoffs dramatically with a good series. Aaaand then it’s Yankees vs. Orioles Monday through Wednesday. If we can make it through the next week or so without someone smashing a tv remote, I think we’re doing pretty well all told.

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