Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rooting interest

I'm in the Memphis airport waiting for my flight to Kansas City to depart in about an hour. The airport authorities have thoughtfully tuned all the TVs in the terminal -- the ones normally blaring CNN -- to game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

Now my team, the Braves, was eliminated in the National League Division Series, after putting up a heck of a fight despite the heart of the All-Star lineup being sidelined by injuries. So I don't have a team to root for in either league championship or the World Series.

But sometimes it's enough to have teams to root against. And there they are in both leagues: the Yankees and the Phillies. The team battling the Yankees, with their obscene payroll and 900-pound-gorilla attitude, suddenly becomes a David that easily captures the heart of any baseball fan except the privileged New Yorkers. And this year it's the Rangers, a team that before this series had never won a playoff game at all. Their offensive explosions in the last three games have been both flabbergasting and highly satisfying, considering they occur at the expense of the vaunted (but aging) Yankees pitching staff. As I type they appear to be on their way to lose this one, extending the series to a sixth game. I hope it's just the inevitable bump on the way to victory, and not the start of a distressing Yankee comeback. If the Yankees won, it would be expected, boring, and a little bit evil, like the Empire crushing the Rebellion.

The Phillies aren't nearly so insidious; in fact, with their tradition of scrappy blue-collar hitters, they're kind of likeable, at least historically. But for the past few years, they've been a powerhouse that's run roughshod over the dreams of other denizens of the National League East. They are direct competitors for postseason slots against the Braves, and therefore our rivals, and it's hard to break the habit of rooting for them to lose all season long. And so I find myself in the odd position of rooting for the suddenly underdog Giants, a team that we all loved to revile during the Barry Bonds era, when their bandbox ballpark and freakishly 'roided hitters made them a run-scoring factory and a symbol of raw, amoral power.

Should both my teams win, I'll be in a pickle. The National League has a severe deficit of Series wins, so it will be hard not to root for the senior circuit and the honor of the games' oldest traditions. But the Rangers have won my heart, and what a joy it would be to see them and their fans celebrate a championship they've never been able to fathom before..

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