Baseball, Love, & Shakespeare

If Shakespeare were alive and well and writing today, he’d be writing about baseball. He’d scrap tired manuscripts about Oedipal princes and spoiled princesses, and pen epic plays about pine tarred bats, about no-hitters, about Bill Buckner, Rick Monday, Steve Bartman, Kirk Gibson, Jack Buck, Vin Scully, and game 6 of this year’s World Series. Sometime late last night, or early this morning depending on where you were, St. Louis Cardinals’ third baseman David Freese hit a walk-off homerun in the bottom of the 11th inning to beat the Texas Rangers and cap what was arguably the greatest Fall Classic game ever played. It was the kind of ending Billy would have stolen for himself, and provided that rare live drama that a ball fan hopes for every time they tune in. Drama, heartbreak, villains, heroes, comedy, tragedy, raging ups, and mournful downs.  Busch Stadium was Elizabethan last night.

A high hope for a low heaven.

Shakespeare would have loved baseball. It’s grand mythology. It’s theatre-like stadia. Its obsession with tradition. Its pageantry. The way its history interacts so beautifully with that of the United States. Baseball is truly America’s pastime. It belongs to Americans like no other sport. Both its modern failings and victories have been mirrored by the sport’s. It is their oldest child, perhaps their favourite. Maybe they invented it, maybe not, but though Shakespeare didn’t invent theatre, he may have perfected it. The same could be said for St. Louis, where baseball is lived and breathed, where summers are judged by not by weather or economy, but rather the success of the Cardinals.

So foul and fair a day I have not seen.

No other sport lends itself to narrative like baseball, and game 6 had everything. Scoring nearly every inning. Two go-ahead extra inning homeruns. Pitchers pinch-hit for pitchers. Double switches. Ophelia’s suicide. Dropped balls and opportunistic moments that suggested divine interference. Nelson Cruz, the Rangers right fielder committed a Buckneresque mistake in playing too shallow and allowing Freese’s 9th inning triple to sail just beyond his reach. And then Freese, who had given up on baseball after high school, whose major league career had an auspicious start, who was revived only when he was traded to his hometown team, who was counseled by Cards’ hitting coach and tainted star Mark McGwire, who had committed one error earlier in the game, and missed another catchable ball, stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th, and cranked a Mark Lowe pitch over the centrefield fence to force a game 7. Redemption and victory, what makes for better tales?

Good night, sweet friend: thy love ne’er alter, till thy sweet life end.

And then, there’s the heartbreak. The Texas Rangers were within one strike of their first championship twice. If not for Cruz’s poor positioning, the team would be waking up this morning reeking of champagne and victory, not beer and defeat. If manager Ron Washington had brought in C.J. Wilson in relief instead of Lowe. If the collective held breath of the St. Louis faithful had exhaled at once and blown Freese’s ball back. If, if, if. The Rangers were as close as you can get without actually getting there. So close that the team’s families had been brought down to a room in the depths of Busch Stadium so that they could celebrate with the team. So close that plastic sheeting had been hung in the Rangers’ clubhouse in anticipation of champagne showers. Those awful World Champions 2011 hats had been unpacked. Nolan Ryan was smiling. Parade routes were being planned. And then, in a stunning moment, gone. You have to feel for the Rangers, for Cruz, for Washington. If they don’t win tonight, the heartbreak will be multiplied ten fold.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

It’s difficult to quantify the heartbreak of sport, and most certainly more difficult to explain heartbreak in baseball. It is unlike any other sport, in that it unfolds at a slower than slow pace, and yet can end in the blink of an eye. And in that manner, baseball is more like love than any other sport, something Bill Shakespeare would have dug. When love ends its dénouement is inexplicable, sudden, often violent, and rarely faithful.  It is not unlike David Freese’s shot to centre. One moment anything is possible, the next it’s gone. There are two sides at play, but multiple parties with vested interest. There’s a fair amount of drinking involved. Victory is a ring, losing can break the best of men. Afterwards, there’s nothing to do but watch the game tape, learn from your mistakes, drink yourself stupid, and hope you get a second chance. Tonight, the Rangers are getting that second chance most never do. Most of us don’t have to face hard breaking curveballs, though. Enter Chris Carpenter, stage right.

There are few things better than love. Game 7s come close.