Nine games back with about twenty-five yet to play is indeed about as deep in the basement of playoff baseball as one can get. A total player payroll of 41 million dollars and having to play one team with a 200 million dollar payroll and another with a payroll of 171 million in order to gain entry into the post-season playoffs approximately fifteen times in the final month is indeed the “depths” of baseball’s challenges. Living with the fact (or so I am told and I have no personal knowledge of this) that even the Las Vegas oddsmakers were unwilling to give this baseball club any odds to make the playoffs and the wisdom of the nation’s baseball writers and commentators were too busy with the high payroll teams to even include our team in the discussions is about as low as one can get.
Then on one night, seven runs behind going into the eighth inning our boys of late summer and early fall scratched and clawed their way into the final four of the American League by one reprise home run while standing at baseball death’s doorway and a second by one of the best baseball players I have ever seen play the game to win it all. And I was there when history was made, when our Tampa Bay Rays cried out from the depths of a nine game deficit for the wild card position in the playoffs and brought the playoffs home once again for a team that in many quarters never gets a lot of respect. Wow. Those of you who stayed up till the end saw me on television, I am told, pumping my fists and applauding joyously for the little team that could.
On Tuesday before the penultimate game, I wrote a letter to Matthew Silverman, President of the Tampa Bay Rays. I wanted to write him before we knew whether we were in or out of the playoffs. There is a second wonderful Latin phrase to describe the moment when I wrote and mailed my letter: tempore non suspectu which means “in non-suspect times”. I wrote him to thank he and the whole organization for what they have given to our community, to formerly tepid baseball fans like myself and to baseball. Like in the Gospels, it sometimes proves harder for the richest team to pass through the playoff portal than the poorest. I told him that I have been hooked on this team since its inception and seldom have had as much fun and satisfaction in sports as this month.
“Try to remember the kind of September and oh so mellow” will these last few weeks be. No team in baseball history has come back from a nine game deficit at the beginning of September to make it to the playoffs. No band of brothers have shown more resilience than our Rays. If Joe Madden does not get Major League Manager of the Year again this year for a second time then it will be a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance. I am satisfied, thrilled and grateful. While I wish them well in the coming weeks in the playoffs, I have a surfeit of memories to last me the rest of my life on earth. “Out of the depths we cried to you, O Lord” and you heard us. (Well, I am sure He has better things to do than manipulate major league baseball, but you know what I mean.)
Finally, I have resurrected the episcopal miter from the previous three of the last four years we have been in the playoffs, and it is on display in our reception area. I bet their Excellencies Dolan, Chaput, Farrell, Vann, Vigneron, Carlson, Listecki, and Olmsted don’t have a treasure like this (if they get wind of this and see it, they will probably be saying “Thank God”). Go Rays! And thanks!
Six of my best friends are from St. Louis and the author of the “mother of all ecclesial blogs” will be rooting for the Phillies once again, so my tone for this reverie has been more one of gratitude than gloat. We all love football but there is something very special about baseball, isn’t there?