“What do you think I thought about it? Huge.”
When Justin Smoak hit that ninth inning, game-tying home run last night, the television broadcast cut away from the action to the dugout for a few fun, animated moments.
Darwin Barney was mid-snack when the ball sailed out of the park, his mouth full of what I assume were sunflower seeds as he gazed out towards the wall and then towards the camera. Kevin Pillar leaned on the railing, barely registering a reaction at all, while Aaron Sanchez gleefully glanced around at his teammates with an expression can only be translated as “did you guys see that?”
But it was JA Happ’s reaction that was my absolute favourite, and the one that felt the most like my own. Standing there in the centre of the tableau, his mouth slowly gaping open in a comical gasp, he barely moved as Jose Bautista bounced around behind him.
Basically, he was all of us remembering what it felt like to be thrilled by Blue Jays baseball.
Both the cruelest and kindest thing about this game is the fact that hope is ever present for so damn long. There’s at-bats and innings and days and weeks and months of it, long stretches where it’s early and anything can happen. Sometimes you may think hope has disappeared, and then it pops up mockingly at an unlikely moment and waves hello. And then, all of a sudden, it’s totally absolutely gone until the spring, leaving you beaten up in its dust.
For a very long time, last night’s win against the Athletics felt like it could have been yet another mundane loss to add to the pile, until a few (pretty major) things happened in only a handful of short minutes. It was one of those games you’d be kicking yourself over if you left early, or turned off the television to get an early night. It felt like a reward for the faithful, the devoted, and the naïve believers among us. It was a gift to those who try so hard to just live in and enjoy the moment—those of us who haven’t yet (understandably) walked away. (And my god, Josh Donaldson looked really happy.)
Despite this demoralizing season, it has often been really hard for many to shake that faint, faraway, and perhaps stupid idea that they could come back. Whether during a game, or a series, or the entire season as a whole, it’s been hard to declare things dead, hard to call for a rebuild or a fire sale, because there has always been this tiny, shiny, shred of possibility that things could go back to the way they were. It’s a tease, but teams have gone on incredible streaks before, right?
Of course, when it comes to this season turning into anything, we’re in miracle territory now. Any turnaround would be the stuff of Hollywood drama, and would have to be necessitated by a number of perfect circumstances that are just on this side of impossible. But after three wins in a row, three runs in the bottom of the ninth, and a dramatic Kendrys Morales walk off home run, it’s hard not to enjoy—and believe in—this incredible feeling of possibility, however fleeting it may be.
In some ways I envy those fans that threw up their hands and surrendered long before the All-Star game, the ones who believed there was no way/no how for their team, and just had nothing left to invest. On July 11, Kate Feldman wrote a eulogy for her Mets, telling readers “we probably should have done this a while ago,” and adding, “it’s time to say goodbye.” In a lot of ways, I’m jealous of that kind certainty, that lack of perhaps false hope, that lack of chronic masochism.
Last September, when the circumstances of this team were very different, I write the following; “Baseball offers you just enough examples where hoping pays off to push you to keep the faith, even when, like right now, it’s really, really hard.” And even though, back then, the Jays were destined for a Wild Card spot, I’m struck by how true that remains today. “It’s hard not to admit that the game is actually at its very best and most exhilarating when the unlikeliest things happen.”
Sure. Maybe it’s silly to be so excited about a few minutes of one game from a team that is in last place and has been virtually all year, but maybe I don’t really care. Maybe, after so many dismal months, I want more of what happened last night even if it doesn’t really get us anywhere. This season has been hard, and I’ve found the only way to get through it, the only way to enjoy it, is to relish in the very few moments where baseball looks the way it’s supposed to. In those few moments of precious hope.
And maybe the most important reason I’m not ready to give up entirely just yet is because, well, where would be the fun in that?