When I was growing up, I always thought a World Series between the Cardinals and Rangers would be a no-lose prospect for me. I lived in St. Louis. I was born in Dallas. Either way, a team I liked would win.
Back in 2011, I found out my childhood impression was badly mistaken. It wasn’t fun at all.
While I am fond of the Rangers and, all things being equal, would rather see them take the American League than any other team, the 2011 World Series put me in a peculiarly painful spot. When it looked as if the Rangers would win, I was genuinely happy for them and for Dallas.
But being happy for them felt like committing baseball treason. The Cardinals are my top team, and I wanted to see them win. The ninth inning of game six was agonizing. When the Cards were down to their last strike, I was watching. I nearly woke up my kids yelling when David Freese tied the game.
I couldn’t do it again in the 10th. When the Rangers went up by two again, I went to bed. I just couldn’t take those competing loyalties any longer. So I missed Lance Berkman’s game-tying hit and Freese’s game-winning home run in the 11th.
The next night I watched the entire game and celebrated when the Cardinals brought home their 11th title. (Yes, Cubbies, double-digits are allowed.)
I had never been able to watch those missed innings until this week, when one of the stations replayed the 2011 series. I was glued to game six, much to my wife’s dismay. Even knowing how it would end, it was still tense.
The flashback games replaced what should have been several nights of regular-season play. Who knows when, or if, games will begin this year.
The week has been a tangle of memories. Being at opening day in 1996, when the Cardinals played their first game on grass at home since the 1960s. It was Tony LaRussa’s first game in St. Louis as manager, and I was chanting right along with the rest of the crowd when the umps blew an obvious interference call to hand the Expos the win. I can’t print what we were chanting, though you’ll see plenty of on the ground it if you drive past a cattle pasture.
There are games I went to as a kid with my father. Watching the 1980s Cardinals rely on speed and smarts to swipe games. Getting out of a student government meeting just minutes too late to see Mark McGwire hit a home run in college. The game I took my dad and my daughter to during Bush II’s last season.
It’s odd that something that, in the final analysis, matters so little means so much. It is and remains a game. But the ache right now is almost physical.
Even as I typed that, though, I realized I was wrong. It’s not really odd. Because what I’m missing isn’t the game itself. It’s the times I’ve had with people who mean a lot to me. It’s the bond of fandom and the experience of being part of a larger group. When the most important instructions today are “stay home,” it’s probably natural to miss the games more than I otherwise would.
Eventually, they will be back. Whether this year or next year, at some point there will be games played. And, again, they will be less important than the memories they create.