A week ago this morning, the butterflies were already building. I was nervous. The reality of winning two games in Boston with the Red Sox on the verge of a history-making win seemed slim. But hoping beyond reasonable hope is what sports fans do. Michael Wacha gave the Cardinals as good a chance as any, and the law of averages seemed to imply that the offense was “due,” as they say.
It could happen. Crazier things had.
That was then.
Now, I’m finding it gradually easier to look back. Just as fans hold out hope until the bitter end, they also feel the hurt when the fairytale ends. It’s not technically our loss, but it stings like it is. Our summer is invested in the success or failure of our team; we inhale and exhale — quite literally! — based on what our players do; attitudes and emotions can be swayed because our team is up … or down.
As I watched Game 6, as our team’s World Series hopes slipped further and further out of reach, I said aloud to my dad, “Sometimes I wish I didn’t care so much.”
Admittedly, I have a tendency to care too deeply about pretty much everything. Cardinals baseball is no exception. When they’re up, I’m up. When they’re down, I’m down. When they are confident (a la Adam Wainwright’s comments before heading back to Boston), I can be confident. When they’re disappointed, I’m devastated.
Like Michael Wacha last Wednesday night, I felt it was far too soon to reflect. Now, though, a week removed from the gut-wrenching loss, after coming so far and overcoming so much, it’s beginning to be easier to look back.
What a season 2013 was, wasn’t it?
First losing Chris Carpenter, then almost getting him back.
Losing Furcal and not replacing him, meaning all roads led to Pete Kozma.
Matt Adams forcing his way onto the Opening Day squad and blazing his own trail, bringing a whole new meaning to “power off the bench.”
Matt Carpenter doing more than even I imagined as he took over second base and the all-important lead-off spot.
I could go on and on from there — Adam Wainwright taking the mantle from Carpenter and leading an injury-riddled, rookie-rich staff with the help of the greatest catcher in all of baseball, Yadier Molina; Allen Craig pushing the statistical limits of “clutch-ness” as he hit his way to the top of the league, before missing out on much of the most important part of the season; Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha … again, it goes on and on.
Even the stories like Brock Peterson, career minor leaguer, finally getting his shot at the Big Leagues played a part in making this season so memorable.
There were times early in the year where it appeared the Cardinals would run away with the NL Central. If only those pesky Pirates would have faded a little sooner!
There were times when I was afraid the NL Central was ready to run away from the Cardinals! But,an even-keeled Mike Matheny held his rookies in check — and the division within reach.
When the playoffs came ’round, the Pirates gave it their best shot. The Dodgers presented a compelling case. And the Red Sox, well …
The toughest bit to swallow is how little the team that tried to hold off the Sox resembled the team that put together 97 wins in the regular season. The characteristics that made them successful all summer vanished as October rolled on. It wasn’t that they weren’t trying, that they weren’t giving it their all. It just wasn’t working. It just wasn’t enough.
To see my team — the players, the personalities I’d grown to love — struggle to play to their potential … Yep, that was the hard part.
No, the World Series didn’t go according to plan. But, that’s the risk you take. Only one team can win it all. Falling short hurts. But, a season that lasts until mid-October is one to be proud of every time.
“Sometimes I wish I didn’t care so much,” I said last week.
“That’s what it means to be a fan,” I was reminded.
Win or lose, I don’t suppose the rush will ever change.
Thank you, St. Louis, for another remarkable ride. Let’s do it again soon, shall we?
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on twitter @tarawellman.