The long winter begins.

So, my beloved St. Louis Cardinals lost the World Series to the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday. Though I’d like to believe differently, it probably couldn’t have ended any other way — the odds, as fans of The Hunger Games say, were ever in their favor. The people of Boston have been through a lot this year; they deserve a World Series win at home.

Every team we’ve faced in the postseason has been formidable, from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the LA Dodgers to the Boston Red Sox. Every series has been a nail-biter with emotional highs and lows. Unwarranted bat flips, monster home runs, grand slam robbings, cracked ribs, bruised ribs, weird errors, filthy pitching, obstruction calls. It’s been a crazy postseason.

***

I should admit here that I’m a relatively new fan. I officially fell in love with the Cardinals during the 2009 postseason, when we got swept by the Dodgers in the National League Division Series. I was starting my second year of graduate school, teaching my first semester of Composition, and the academic grind had just begun its work on scrubbing the shine off my newbie optimism. My relationship with my boyfriend was new, too. He is a lifelong, die-hard Cardinals fan; I began watching the Cardinals with him, learning the language and rules of baseball. When the Cards made it to the NLDS, we decided at the last minute to drive to St. Louis on the day of Game 3. We didn’t have tickets for Game 3, so we took a chance and bought them from a man who was, for lack of a better term, a “street ticket vendor.”

Going to my first Major League baseball game was an incredible experience.  I was the only person in our section wearing a leather jacket and no Cardinals gear (I wasn’t even wearing red). There was a Dodgers fan sitting behind us. That night, the crowd was excited but subdued. We were losing, but winning the game wasn’t out of our reach. All around us, Cardinals fans were grumbling about Tony La Russa‘s managing, our lifeless bats. Someone in front of us would mark his scorecard after every play and then cross his arms over his chest, never saying a word.  During our last out, we had men on base; this was our moment, our chance to either tie the game and put it into extra innings, or win it. Tony La Russa put in Rick Ankiel to bat. A man sitting next to us shook his head and said, “He’s going to destroy that poor kid all over again.” (For those who don’t know about Rick Ankiel, read this and this.)

We ended up losing, getting swept (and embarrassed) by the Dodgers. Despite that, I fell in love. It might have been the way the entire city loved their team. It might have been the feeling of being a part of something much, much bigger than me.  It might have been the way the man sitting next to us talked about Rick Ankiel. It even might have been the way that the Cardinals fans congratulated the one Dodgers fan in our section on winning the series. It might have been the first time I was in a huge crowd and I didn’t feel alone.

****

I’ve never been a team sports person. I’ve never been against team sports — I’ve just never experienced them. My little brothers are five and seven years younger than me. We lived 30 minutes away from town. I rarely had friends over for sleepovers, and I rarely went to others’ houses. I spent my weekends lost in books and writing myself into worlds where I lived in a town and had next door neighbors and went over to friends’ houses all the time.

So, I grew up and didn’t understand what it meant to be part of a team, or what it meant to be a fan of a team. Five years into being a St. Louis fan, and I’m discovering things about myself that I never knew and I’m discovering what makes a good and mindful human. I plan to elaborate on the various “lessons” I’ve learned in a series of posts because each “lesson” is its own beast and deserves a thoughtful write-up.

What I’m trying to say here is that this postseason for Cardinals fans was a nail-biter. I know 28 other teams would have loved to be in our position, but they weren’t. It was us and the Red Sox, and the Sox were the better team this series. Better managed, better hitting.

What makes me sad is not that we lost the World Series. It’s that there isn’t another baseball game to watch tonight. Wednesday night’s game might have been David Freese‘s last as a Cardinal. It might have been Lance Lynn‘s last night, and Jon Jay‘s too. I can’t even talk objectively about the looming possible departure of Carlos Beltran. In these empty days after the World Series, you realize how much time you’ve spent with your team — you’ve spent nearly every day since April watching their every move, talking to them through the television screen, screaming at the manager to take out the pitcher already. And now, at the end of October, they are gone. There’s no easing into it — one day you’re watching them, and the next day you aren’t. And the next day, and the next day.

Now, I have my life back. I’m washing and putting away the lucky shirt for next year. I can read all I want, work out all I want, write all I want. I have no baseball games to watch. It’s good to have my life back, but it feels a little bit like biding my time. Watching trade rumors, who’s leaving us and who’s staying. Predicting what our team will look like at the beginning of the season. Getting excited about our young players. Waiting for the first day of spring training (117 days), then Opening Day (150 days).

I’ll do whatever the hell I want for the next 117 days, but I’ll keep my eye on the beginning of spring. To the St. Louis Cardinals, thank you for a tremendous and incredible season. We didn’t win this one, but the future is bright. Here’s to our young guns and our grinders, our veterans and our future base stealers. The long winter and the countdown begins… #12in14.

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