The Pain of the Off-Season

By: Mike Carter

Hornsby was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1942.

Now, the Rajah, as he was known, played 23 major league baseball seasons and compiled a career .358 batting average. An excellent ballplayer; a curmudgeon of a human. Hornsby was to say the least a cranky and irascible man, and was difficult to get along with for long periods of time, leading to many abrupt terminations from management positions in major league baseball. While I have worked in the same place for twenty-three years, I too am a cranky and irascible man these days with no baseball for more than 100 days I hate it.

This is no joke: the day after the World Series ended last week, a maple tree outside my office decided to drop all of its leaves in an eight hour period. It was as if nature, and the world here in the Midwest, decided to shut down since the games were over. A chill north wind came out of nowhere and took with it the last vestiges of summer from the landscape. Maybe the world joins baseball fans in an annual grieving process for the loss of our pastime for several months. I hung my head and thought about this at the time.

I had the pleasure of joining my local Moose Lodge on the last day of the baseball season, the seventh game of this year’s amazingly fun World Series. Thanks to my friend and fellow baseball nut Josh for the sponsorship!  He’s forgotten more than I know about the game. Joining the Lodge brought me some unprecedented joy, as I have wanted to for years, and I had a great time there that night. But I was also filled with sadness knowing this was it for baseball in 2017. We had another unbelievably odd yet lovable season, one that came down to the last possible game on the last possible day. Game Sevens are just the best. I had no horse in this race, yet spent the playoff weeks on the edge of my seat watching the drama of every inning unfold before me. Happens every year; you think you have seen it all, and then baseball reveals itself again, and shows you something you have never seen before. A Game One played in less than two and one-half hours. Seven home runs in extra innings in Game Five.  Twenty-five home runs total in the series.Power and finesse. An outfielder sporting blue hair. A racially insensitive remark in Game Three. Forgiveness of that remark. Complaints about a slick ball and perhaps a juiced ball. More complaints about umpiring. This series had it all; baseball, in its very essence, captures the worst and best of us each year. Let’s face it; it reflects us as a society. It’s diverse, it’s split along odd fault lines; it has s bunch of unwritten rules that are interpreted by each person in a different fashion. Yet the underlying piece of it all, the fabric that unites us, is that the game is ever-changing and ever-enthralling and will never stop changing. This is us as people. This is a true reflection of our culture and I feel this is something to be embraced rather than fear. Baseball is just like America. Let that sink in on this cold, dreary late fall day.

And so what do we do now?  Like Hornsby, I get moody and cranky and wait for February and signs of nature’s rebirth. I love football and hockey, but they aren’t in my blood like baseball. Yes, we have the Winter Meetings, and the fun speculation of which superstar player is being traded to a contender and which player will sign the next insane contract (hint: it’s probably J.D. Martinez). I love listening to the amateur rumors flying around us this time of year. I love thinking about how my team can improve; it’s fun to play amateur general manager and spend someone else’s money, isn’t it? That might get us through Thanksgiving, which comes next week. I’m staring out the window now thinking of who might be next year’s Chris Taylor.

Around mid-December, I’ll start some very basic fantasy baseball preparation. Thumbing through some projections, I’ll come up with some loose plans and try to find next year’s gem before anyone else.  I’ll put on some hockey and watch it out of the corner of my eye. I’ll read my Baseball Forecaster and look at the information on Fangraphs. I’ll call and pester my old friend about keepers for next year’s fantasy roster (I think Jose Ramirez might do it for me). I’ll do some Christmas shopping and dream about Yoan Moncada becoming the next Robinson Cano. And then I’ll snap out of it to go shovel and put up Christmas lights on the house.

In January I will begin my countdown in earnest to report dates for pitchers and catchers. This generally falls around February 15th. If I can make it through college bowl season, I know that the report date is looming in another six weeks. If past experience is any indicator for me, and it usually is, I can do anything for six weeks. So I will button up my Marmot jacket, take a deep breath and venture out into the confused and fast-paced world we live in, and start the countdown back to summer, to my first love, to the thing that I wish to study ad nauseam. And then when mid-February rolls around again, my smile and pace will be back, and we can start the discussion all over again. Funny, I have done this around thirty-five years in a row now, and I never grow tired of it. The process never ages for me. Baseball perpetually makes me feel like a giddy eight-year old being on the float for my first Opening Day.

Thanks for reading if you made it this far. And happy holidays to you and yours. In spite of the crazy world we live in each day, there is much to be thankful for this year. Count your blessings and not your losses, friends.