Wooden's World of Baseball

Friday, September 14, 2007

With Not Quite A Whimper...

It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, you rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then, just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops...and summer is over
— A. Bartlett Giamatti, The Green Fields of The Mind

For the third time in five seasons, I was on hand to witness the thrill of victory, the joy of winning a league championship. Twice it was a sweep. Once it went the distance.

But never did I get to see the North Shore Spirit win it all.

I remember very clearly the August day in 2002 when it was announced that Nick Lopardo would bringing a team to Fraser Field the following year. My wife bought the very first mini-plan that was ever sold in December of that year. I had been going to Nashua Pride games once or twice a year for the previous two years, enough that they would send me pocket schedules in the spring, so the prospect of going to games every weekend would be thrilling.

After I saw the Spirit take on the Rox in May of 2003, I was hooked. It didn't matter that I won an on-field contest that first night. I found something that I truly loved: Independent baseball.

It was a hearkening back to the olden days – Leagues of Their Own, as one writer put it. Young men playing for the love of the game, or the desperate hope that they might be one of the handful that gets back on the path towards major-league baseball. But it was also the quintessential element that makes college sports so powerful: Every game meant something. Players weren't there to be developed; the team was built to win. Now.

I ate it all up. Read every book I could find. Took a certain pride in learning the roots of the independent game, and a churlishness in defending my love of it online and offline. Truth be told: I'd trade the Red Sox title in 2004 for the Spirit to have won in Game 4 of the 2004 Northeast League Championship, as they should have. That may sound harsh, because I am indeed a die-hard Red Sox fan, but it's probably also a reflection that I knew, deep down, that someday, today would come. Because in the indys, it almost always does.

I suppose I should be happy that my angst and anxiety are to be finally relieved. It had been 18 months since I'd moved away from Lynn, and should have been emotionally divested, but Internet radio and fan blogs made it possible to root and follow from afar and the addition of Atlantic City into the league made it feasible to take a long drive to see them.

Now I can truly follow my Potomac Nationals because my North Shore Spirit are no more. I can stop feeling like I'm cheating, that I'm merely loving the one I'm with, or nearby.

But it still hurts. Maybe not like the first girlfriend who dumped you. Or the first time you were fired from a job. You get older, you get a bit more thick-skinned, but as "The Bart" alluded to, you hope against experience and logic that maybe this time it will be different, because, well, every now and then it is (see ALCS, 2004).

Tonight, it wasn't. But maybe next year — or next month — it will be.


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