Friday, July 31, 2009

Hope and hopelessness

Today the official trade deadline ends for professional baseball. This deadline generates its own season within the seasons of baseball. For weeks up to the deadline, teams and fans calibrate whether their team has a chance to make the playoffs. They debate about whether they should seeks a trade to "go for it" and trade prospects for sure fire veterans in order to stay competitive. Each team and fan base goes through the same gyrations. If one team acts, it creates a domino effect where others must keep up or give up.

It matters to fans because of the symbolic importance. If a team decides to sell, like the hopeless Pirates who are unloading their wonderful infield, it essentially throws in the towel for this year--for some teams this is already done given how far back they are. But for others on the cusp of competing or staying in a race, it matters profoundly for attendance, fan interest and fan hope or sinking into hopeless, maybe next year.

"Maybe next year" is critical to sport as it is to life. It offers the hope of things getting better. It assumes that some people are thinking long term rather than how to win in the short term. It invites hope, but it also can induce hopelessness. If waiting for next year goes on forever, say 17 years in the Pirates' case, "wait til next year" becomes waiting for Godot.

So the frenzied season of obscure prospects being traded among obscure teams, or hot veterans traded to be the last piece of the puzzle, usually for other obscure and maybe some day famous players continues. It offers hope for some, but reminds others that being committed to a team in sport is as much an act of faith and identity as hope.

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