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Volume 69, Issue 18, Thursday, September 18, 2003


Win, lose or last, baseball is beautiful 

National League Central race between Astros, Cubs and Cards captivating

Mendoza Line

Ernest Salas

When I was a child, I was given to childish pursuits. I dug holes in the backyard in a vain effort to reach China. I doodled in my notebooks instead of listening in class.

As a result, if you ever need someone to draw Superman, I'm your man. Just don't ask me to solve an equation.

But aside from bringing in countless strays, drinking Coke with Pop-Rocks, imitating Bruce Lee and pretending to be the Incredible Hulk, I honestly believed that I had a direct influence on whether or not the Astros made it to the World Series in 1986. When they fell in Game 6, I was sure it was my fault. I didn't believe enough; I hadn't sent enough positive energy to Kevin Bass, Glenn Davis and Billy Doran.

But the only thing that's changed since then is that I don't dig holes anymore. Well, unless I want to hide something.

There's nothing quite like a pennant race to get your heart pumping. You can't go to sleep until you see the last out of a late Astros game, or catch the highlights of the Cubs and Cardinals. Not that you like seeing someone else suffer, but if it means your team's one step closer to the playoffs, what's wrong with a little sprained ankle or pulled groin? All's fair in love and baseball. But Moises Alou picks this season to stay healthy.

Every day is like Christmas. Sometimes you get a Transformer, other times it's a pair of socks. Sometimes Jeriome Robertson makes it past the fifth inning, other times Kerry Wood strikes out 20.

You wake up early just to check the standings. You study them, look at them to make sure they're right and memorize them so you'll know who has to lose that night. You look at that wonderful, mystical, magical number. The smaller it gets, the more beautiful it is. You look at the schedule. An entire 162-game schedule has been whittled down to just 14 games. It's enough to make a fan go insane.

Why do we care so much? Why is a baseball game suddenly more important than war in Iraq? Why can you suddenly put up with ESPN anchors?

Baseball is the greatest game in the world. Unlike the 16-game football season or the seemingly endless NBA playoff format, baseball is the one game that most resembles real life. 

In baseball, all teams, win or lose, frontrunner or cellar-dweller, play 162 games. The Detroit Tigers were out of the race before the season started, but they still play. In baseball, one bad hop can mean the difference between Barry Bonds striking postseason gold or Anaheim finally making Gene Autry proud. The best team doesn't necessarily win; it's the team that fights the hardest, the one that scrapes for everything it gets.

If life were perfect, St. Louis would be running away with the division. Instead, it would take a miracle to get the Cardinals back into contention. It's why fans can put up with countless first-round losses to the Braves. The worm has to turn some year. Eventually, the Cubs have to stop playing for next year. Eventually, they'll make Harry Caray proud.

There is nothing better than getting home in time to see Richard Hidalgo smack three home runs in one game, or Mark Prior establish himself as the best young pitcher in baseball. As painful as a pennant race can be to watch, you don't really want it to end.

I never reached China. I'd still be trying if I weren't afraid of causing an international crisis. But I still try to will the Astros toward the playoffs. If they don't make it, you can lay all the blame on me.

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