BOSTON (CBS) – For most of us, there’s a certain bit of disappointment at the end of the baseball season as the local heroes clean out their lockers for the last time and head to the golf courses all too early. It means no playoffs, no chance to win more and more games on the way to (dare I say it) another World Series championship. The other guys are going to the dance and we all know who THEY are. The game of summer for us is over, there’s frost on the pumpkin so how far off is snow? It’ll be another long, chilly wait for that magical date in mid February when pitchers and catchers report down south. Reality for Red Sox fans sets in and we reluctantly accept that this one is over.
But something I heard during the last few games of the regular season bugged me. You and I have been subjected to a mindset most of our lives from pundits, writers, even some players and fans. It goes something like this: “They’re just playing out the string.” Or, “The season is over. They blew it.” Or, “These games are meaningless!” Would the umpires and/or official scorer check the call? Meaningless? Tell that to the ushers, security crew, parking lot attendants, souvenir hawkers and hotdog vendors who are showing up and giving it their all, just as they have for the past 80 home games. Tell it to the thousands of fans who have shelled out a good chunk of their paychecks for tickets to the last few games of the year, knowing that each and every baseball contest is unique and anything can happen, especially at Fenway Park. Ask the kids who land in Boston’s baseball cathedral for the first time, a seminal moment they’ll remember for the rest of their lives, if they agree with the notion of a “meaningless game.”
And there’s another reason why these last few regular season games were far from meaningless. The 2010 Red Sox, a team decimated by injuries, relied on rookies and journeymen ballplayers to keep them in the hunt. On those crisp October afternoons, we observed our baseball future take shape on the field with young prospects playing their hearts out. What we saw gave us hope as it should. Take comfort. There will be lots of reasons to root, root, and root for the home team come 2011.
In my estimation, baseball comes very close to mirroring our lives. Players thrive in their youth, make plenty of mistakes early, learn from some of them and move on. Some realize incredible success; others never quite get there. Some become iconic, most will not break records or be honored at the Hall of Fame. But nearly all will work hard, learn to rely on others and be there for their teammates when it counts. And like all mortals, baseball players age, lose a step or two or three, slow down and eventually head off into the clubhouse, making room for the next generation.
On a pretty early autumn weekend Red Sox Nation paid tribute to one such player, veteran Mike Lowell, the MVP of the 2007 World Series. Lowell played through the pain of several injuries in 2010 and did what he has done so often in a Red Sox uniform. Mike came through in the clutch. He was on the trading block more than once and went to the bench without bashing management or whining to the press. Mike took to the field and played his game with gentlemanly class. It is how he wrapped up his career on the final weekend. Let me give credit to the Red Sox organization that presented Mike’s charitable foundation with a check for $100,000 on “Mike Lowell Day.” The team exhibited dignity, generosity and appreciation for Mr. Lowell who capped off his very special day by nearly hitting one out, scraping the Green Monster with a line shot ten feet from the screen. In Boston we do love a storybook finish.
Another veteran with a fine track record is catcher and team captain Jason Varitek. We might have seen the 38-year old crouch behind the plate for the final time this past Sunday. Even though everyone knew it was coming, skipper Terry Francona managed to embarrass Jason by calling him back to the dugout during the final inning, allowing thirty-five thousand plus fans a chance to show their appreciation. Varitek turned the color of his socks, humbled by the lengthy ovation. His teammates lined up to hug him and offer their best wishes and thanks. It was another touching and memorable moment that made coming to the ballpark that day pretty special.
Oh, and lest we forget, the Sox took two of three from the Yankees last weekend, knocking the vaunted pin-stripers out of first place. If it were truly a meaningless series, Boston’s players might have mailed it in and we fans would have been okay with it. But as we know, around here that just doesn’t happen very often. Around here the game does mean something.