Baseball: Feeding Hope Against All Odds

Hope Spring Eternal! So Does George Springer!

Hope Springs Eternal!
So Does George Springer!

What is it about this baseball game of ours that helps us all to never give up hope? If we were all Yankee or Cardinal fans, we probably wouldn’t need to ask that question so much, but who knows, maybe even those far more frequent fan winners are as human as the rest of us – and also battling uphill constantly against the odds of being the one team each year to win the World Series.

Personally, we think it starts with the fact that hope feeds far more on conditions and qualities that are not about being the only team to win World Series annually. If it were, there would be no rational explanation for the ongoing existence of Cub fans, whose family chain hasn’t seen the NL Chicagoans win it all since 1908 – back in their great-great grandfather’s day.  No, hope has to be based upon something as wildly against the odds as buying a power ball winning lottery ticket worth millions.

It’s about our desire to believe in the possible – and our need to disregard the issue of probability that always says that we are all, at best, only 30 to 1 shot favorites to win the World Series in a perfectly balanced universe of evenly distributed talent that, of course, never occurs because it never exists. Especially in this age of free agency and player’s union control of a player’s rights to move easily to the biggest paydays possible, a few very wealthy clubs will always begin each year a probability of winning it all that is much better than 30 to 1 – and vice-verse for the ascending odds against the always larger group of low payroll budget rebuilding clubs of winning big.

Much of the hope springs eternally from the long season of 162 regular schedule games and the little “seconds and inches” plays that continue to breathe hope or despair into our lives on an almost daily basis. Te difference most often seems to be the fact that we are able to put everyday despairing events on “short memory” and then nurture a whole month into the future on the happening of a one play that snared “victory from the jaws of defeat” in an everyday game. And, of course, the earlier these things happen in the season, the earlier it is for us to bank on the possibility of hope.

A beautiful example happened In Sunday’s game between the Astros and Rangers at Arlington – one that framed “seconds and inches” together as the difference-maker as the talented George Springer of Houston raced back on a long fly ball to right field that was headed over the fence off the bat of Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin and would have given Texas an 8-4 walk-off grand slam memory, except for one thing. – After a long race to the wall, Springer timed his jump and caught the ball on the other side of the fence, pulling it back for a third out that saved the game for Hank Conger’s two-run homer in the 14th and an Astros win.

Even at home, you could feel the electricity of the moment as an Astros fan. There was pitcher Tony Sipp, smiling and pumping a fist in celebration of hope’s survival as right fielder Springer trotted in to the club’s third baseline dugout as though it was just another day at the office. Pitcher Sipp put a stop to nonchalance by greeting a now smiling Springer with a chest bump as he reached the dugout steps.

Did the play increase the probability that the Astros will win the World Series this year? Not to any appreciable degree, no, it did not. Did it kindle the possibility of hope in the hearts of Astros fans? You bet it did!

The long season of baseball is upon us. And, even if some of us are Cubs fans, we will find something hopeful to get us through the summer with our favorite team.

As a kid in Houston during the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Mutual Game of the Day and The Sporting News allowed many of us from my generation to keep up with all 16 of the teams that then made up the entire map of the major leagues. I was once able to order the pennants of all 16 teams through a special offer I found in TSN – and that worked out great. With thumb tacks, I placed the 8 pennants of the AL near the ceiling of two contiguous walls. The other two walls held the 8 NL team flags. And each morning, if there were a change in the standings, I would change the position of the pennants accordingly.

The movement of my pennants did not improve the probability that clubs like the Browns or Senators in the AL – or that  the Pirates or Cubs in the NL would move up as “probable” World Series contenders, but it was a testimonial of hope to the “possibility” of upward movement.

It wasn’t too long before I came to the realization that hope for a club like the Pittsburgh Pirates did not hinge upon a wild chance of reaching the World Series. After all, at that time, Pittsburgh had not been to a World series in 22 years, the time of their first unpleasant meeting with the 1927 version of the New York Yankees. Things would work out better for the Pirates In their next World Series appearance in 1960, when their foe would again be the Yankees, but with a much better result.

In 1949, the Pirates had a guy named Ralph Kiner playing for them. On his way to his 4th of seven consecutive seasons with the Pirates as the NL’s leader in season home runs, Kiner would bag 54 in 1949. For Pirate fans, the possibility of hope for something better came up every time Ralph Kiner stepped up to the plate.

Nothing says “hope” sweeter than the sound and sight of your own guy’s big bat contact with a baseball that sends it soaring into the summer sky on its way to a pea-size disappearing act upon the farthest visual horizon.

Baseballs soar. And so does hope. All good things are possible. We simply have to believe and fight back from adversity over time – but always one day a time – with the possibilities that are available to us. And that course, friends, is hope in action.

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