By: Bryan Peach, KCOU Sports
As a sports fan, there are few events that are more exciting than baseball in October. The World Series Title and a place in the history of the sport are at stake, along with bragging rights for players and organizations. Postseason baseball features some of the biggest series of the year, so it stands to reason that the atmosphere in and out of the ballpark is palpable. It is safe to say that postseason baseball is a big deal, but amidst all the pressure to win, the true spirit of the game sometimes finds itself lost. Yes, the focus of baseball, and all sports for that matter, is to win. However, there is something more to the game that occasionally takes a backseat to the competitiveness of the postseason, the fun.
Not to say that postseason baseball isn’t fun. On the contrary, it is one of the most exciting times of the season. The implications that each game holds within in its series is rather astounding. But every now and then, both fans and players need to take a step back and remember the reasons that we love baseball. We love it because of the emotions it invokes in us. It is genuinely exciting to see a player from your team make a ridiculous play in the field or have a game changing at bat; it is heartbreaking to see your team come so close and still fall short; and it is maddeningly frustrating to watch your team perform below their level of ability. As fans we also love living vicariously through our teams. When the Cardinals won the World Series in 2006 and 2011, for just a moment after each game it felt as if I had just won the World Series too. That is a pretty wonderful feeling. Similarly, after the Cardinals lost game 5 of the NLCS to the San Francisco Giants, I felt disappointment as if I had just lost in the NLCS. The pain of a loss and the joy of a win are things that all fans feel and are part of the reason that people love baseball so much.
Currently, the baseball world is focused on the Kansas City Royals, a team that has been all but irrelevant for the last 29 years. Their focus is rightly deserved, for the Royals are in the midst of an impressive season that will be momentous if capped by a World Series victory. However, there was an event that took place this postseason that was overlooked, and it deserves a little bit of attention. That event was Tony Cruz’s at bat in the ninth inning of game 5 of the NLCS. In the top of the ninth, with two outs, men on first and second, and the score tied at three, Tony Cruz came to the plate. He was in almost precisely the situation that every person that ever played baseball dreamed about: bottom ninth, two outs, and bases loaded. The outcome of Cruz’s at bat was anything but spectacular, Cruz drew a walk, but what was spectacular was Cruz’s face. The Cardinal’s backup catcher had one of the biggest smiles on his face that I had ever seen. Cruz grinned from ear to ear throughout the entirety of the at bat and smiled as he trotted down to first base. We are accustomed to seeing players scowl or look solemn at the plate, Cruz’s smiled seemed out of place.
As fans, it is easy to become frustrated with our teams from time to time. We expect them to go out every game and play flawlessly, they are professionals after all. However, fans forget too often why these athletes play sports for a living, and every now and then we need a reminder. Most of these athletes play 162 games a season because they love the sport, they play because it is fun. Often, fans get so caught up in wanting to see their team win that they forget to enjoy the game itself. Cruz gave us a subtle reminder that baseball is not simply about winning, but rather about playing hard, having fun, and loving every minute of it.