From the Cheap Seats

MizzouCard has a new missive for us after his two-month hibernation. You see, he could not pour out his passion again after the March mauling he and other Cardinalmaniacs™ suffered. It hurts too much to love like that and then have your heart puréed. But somehow these darned diamond dandies have inspired new hope. The baseball bandwagon is just too compelling, even for the most hardened of Stanford souls...

Is it time to hope again?

I don't know about you, but for me, it is time to crawl out of this cave.

You know the one, I presume. I crawled into it on a certain Saturday evening (afternoon on the West Coast presumably) and I have pretty much been here ever since.

"How could you let it happen, you fool?" That is the question I have been asking myself over and over. "You, of all people. The one who claims to be a pessimist. You, who can always point to dozens of reasons why Stanford simply cannot win a national championship." As the country song says, "I know what you were feeling. But what were you thinking?"

Though these message board community is loaded with pessimists, there are a few of you out there who, bless your hearts, still do not understand us. Let me try a quick explanation.

When we fire off a post outlining the pending doom that is just around the corner, we are not really trying to convince you or the other readers of The Bootleg. We are trying to convince ourselves. Because darn it, it just hurts too much to let yourself believe "this really could be the year."

It has not been "the year" for an awfully long time. Because we know how it is (almost certainly) going to end, we want to cushion our fall. When it is not enough to simply tell ourselves why we are doomed, we try broadcasting our concerns to the world. To be more precise, we broadcast it to that corner of the world that counts – our fellow Stanford sports nuts. [Who cares what anyone else thinks?]

"If I put it on The Bootleg," we tell ourselves, "then I will have to believe it." After all, once it is posted, it is there for all to blast away at. Therefore, we think, once we put ourselves on a limb, we will be firmly committed to our pessimism.

But, alas, it does not work. Try as we might, we cannot help ourselves. Oh, sometimes we can. [Sadly, it has not been too difficult during recent football seasons.] But when one of our teams gets on a roll, that thought we try so hard to suppress ("maybe, just maybe, this year") gets on its own roll.

Our heads try to stifle that thought. If it was just "a thought," our heads might win the battle. But, of course, it is not just a thought. It is a feeling. And our heads are no match for our hearts. Because, in the end, it comes down to this: We care.

As I have said before, many people believe we should stop wasting our time and energy. Maybe they are right. Maybe we should not care. But we care. [In fact, it is our strange curse that we even care that others do not care! Why can't other Stanford "fans" show some of our passion?]

Sadly, passion cannot maintain itself without hope. So we hope against hope that maybe, somehow, some way, it could work out this year.

It does not help, of course, when our team gives us reason to hope. And there was so much reason to hope this winter. We loved that team, without a doubt. We desperately wanted it for them, because they are such great guys and their team represented everything we wanted sports in general, and Stanford sports specifically, to be about. But let's be honest. We wanted it for us, too.

Then it was over in an instant. Okay, not an instant, exactly, but pretty darn quickly (maybe five minutes of game clock?). Some would say it always seems to end quickly, and I suppose they are right, in a sense. But we went all the way from "much as I want to try to talk myself out of it, this really could be the year!" to "it is over" in nothing flat. From stealing every ten minutes we could find to check up on the latest tidbit of news Mike Eubanks squeezed out for us to trying to avoid any news about the Tournament.

Those ten minute excursions may not seem like much, but they can get a person through some otherwise discouraging times. As noted earlier, I will be eternally grateful to our 2003-2004 basketball team for the fun I had and I refuse to complain about them. I am disappointed in how it all ended, but I choose not to direct my anger at them, but at the fates (and the zebras, but let's stay away from that territory for the moment).

Those little excursions are now so far in the past that we have almost forgotten them and the fun we had this winter. Of course, the women's team helped by giving us some hope for a while. But let's be honest there, too. We felt a little guilty leaning on them for good news after, let's face it, not paying as much attention to them as we usually do, because the men's team dominated our time this year.

Of course, that ended badly, too, so we again had to do the "hope" to "it's over" thing in an instant. [That time it was less than five seconds of game clock. Due to an endless series of time outs, it took about five minutes of real time, though.] In fact, the endings of the men's and women's seasons (i.e., the last moment of each game) were almost eerily similar. The women's ending just pushed me further back into the cave.

While I will once again admit that this stuff should not matter as much as it does, I have another admission to make. This one has really hurt. Even more than most. [I am not unfamiliar with the pain of "I thought we had a shot" at the end of a sports season. Our family's teams are the Red Sox, the Broncos, and Stanford. Admittedly, we got a taste of the good times with the Broncos a few years back, and it was great fun. But I know well what "I guess this wasn't the year after all" feels like. Even still, this one has been worse than usual.] And that hurt has lasted quite a while.

I have told myself that I am not coming out of the cave this time. No more hope for this guy. I will continue to care, I have been telling myself, but I am done hoping and believing.

But, darn it, right there, just outside the cave, stands our brilliant baseball team. I know that some of you say you do not care about college baseball. That is, of course, your right. But I have been a college baseball fan for longer than I have been a fan of any other sport. Also, it is my ten-year-old son's favorite sport. Last summer, he asked me which of "our teams" I would most like to see win it all. As I contemplated that question, he told me that his choice was Stanford baseball. If he ever sees that day he is hoping for most of all, he has certainly earned it.

That team has done its best to lure me out of the cave, but I have stayed inside, thank you very much. Sure, they are piling up wins. But I am deep into the cave, I tell myself. What's more, I have been down that road too often to get burned again. [Nathaniel and I have taken trips to Omaha for five straight years, with each one ending in that awful pain of "almost," just like the last.] There is only so much a guy (and his son) can take.

"Sorry, guys," I say from that cranny deep in the cave. "Not this time. I would really like to come out, but I just cannot stand the light. I care about you, of course. But I cannot hope. I will just stay back here and wish you the best of luck."

But this bunch is merciless. You try like hell to keep from hoping, but if you care, you have to watch. And then they have got you. Have you looked at their record? They just keep winning and winning and winning. Go ahead and try to care but not hope. When you care enough to watch, they start giving you reasons to hope.

And there you go again. You know the drill, of course. Convince yourself it cannot happen. Memorize Teejers' thread about our starting pitching being below that needed to get to Omaha. [When you are as familiar with this effort to talk yourself out of hope as I am, you just gotta love a fellow traveler like Teejers! I love the extra ammunition he provides me, but I bet it ultimately does not convince him any more than it (and my stuff) convinces me. But keep it up, Teej. I need all the help I can get.] Write your own post about how we tend to swing for the fences too often. Fret about Sacramento State, for chrimeny sakes. We all know how many sleepless nights Sacramento State has induced for Stanford fans over the years.

But there they are, still right outside the cave, and still piling up the wins. Back to the #1 ranking in both polls this week, no less. [By the way, is there any group of college fans that gets as little joy out of a #1 ranking as we do?] And they just keep pounding out hits and runs.

Fine, guys, have it your way. It is too much work to fight it. Make some room out there. I am busting out of this dark, damp place.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I will keep trying. At the next stumble by our guys, I will do everything I can to convince myself that there is no chance this year. But, try as I might, it is not going to work. These guys are just too good.

Of course, I should know better (and, yes, I am quite familiar with "only one team ends the season happy, so the odds are stacked"). But it just does not work. If you have passion, you have to keep alive at least the possibility of hope. When that gasoline vapor of the possibility of hope is hit by the spark of a winning team, the flame is inevitable.

For those of you trying to stay in the cave, please know that I am sympathetic. But I bet you are not really there anymore, either. Here is my test: In your heart of hearts (not what you post here or what you tell other people or even what you try to tell yourself, but what you really think and feel), who do you think is going to win this weekend's series? It is okay to try to convince yourself otherwise (after all, I have been working on myself this week, too, and I have not completely given up), but I know what you really think.

If you are thinking what I think you are thinking, you actually believe that things are going to go okay for a Stanford team in Seattle, of all places. And if you think that, you (like me) are beyond saving.

So come on out of the cave. It is time.

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