For several years, my college roommate was Ben, a kid from Oakland who was a diehard A's fan. Every fall when we got back to school, his beloved Athletics were already storming into the post-season, only to inevitably lose in the first round, usually to the Yankees. I would watch Ben through these runs, support him in his support — but the thing is, he never looked happy. Sure, he was excited and, after a win, positively giddy, but the physical toll that such close baseball games took left him an absolute wreck, a trembling pile of frayed nerves and over-stretched emotions, seemingly always on the brink of collapse. I remember one time in particular when the A's were facing elimination, and we watched the first few innings at our house and then headed to a bar, dragging Ben along with us. This was a Wednesday night, after all, we were in college, and there were girls to be hollered at. But Ben did no holler-hollering whatsoever. Instead, he sat at the bar, beer in hand, eyes glued to the television screen, taut like a tightrope. And when the final out was recorded and his A's knocked out of the playoffs, Ben simply put down his unfinished beer, ignored our back pats of consolation and walked the three miles home, alone in the dark. Then he was sick for two weeks straight.
I saw Red Sox fans looking similarly strung out during Boston's historic run in 2004, and I never understood it. If their teams were winning, how come these super-fans looked and felt so fucking horrible?
Now I get it.
Baseball, more than any other sport, eats away at you. Through its sheer stop-and-go nature, every pitch comes with a heightened sense of anticipation, of buildup, of drama. You don't notice this when your team isn't in contention, because then it's just kind of boring. Then it's all, "Well, that was strike three, but fuck it, we're eliminated, anyway. Hey, Jim, tell me again about your record-breaking sales day at Qwest while I pedantically talk football to this vendor to try and convince him that I'm not the elitist prick that I really am." But in a playoff push, there's no time for such frivolities; every moment is treated with a gravity that I have not experienced watching any other sport. The result is that after a game, you are utterly spent. And after a game like Monday night's thirteen-inning dogfight to lift the Colorado Rockies into the wild-card spot, I think I might have needed a vascular surgeon. By the time this whole playoff push is over, I'll be a fucking mess. I'm going to check in at an even 93 pounds, and though I will want to smile, people will beg me not to, because when I smile they'll be able to see my sternum through the back of my throat. And then I'll win America's Next Top Model.
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There was a point during the eleventh inning of Monday's historic game — a point when the rest of the fans at Coors Field were probably just as physically and emotionally exhausted as I was — when I thought, "Well, at least if we lose, I can get off this roller-coaster ride." I didn't know if that thought made me happy or sad. And that made me feel like a woman on Cops, being torn away from my beloved baby-daddy by the police whom I'd actually called. But then the young man next to me looked over and said, "They've come too far to disappoint us now."
Then, what seemed like three seconds later, a thirteenth-inning miracle occurred and the Rockies were in the playoffs.
And so the beautiful anguish of the baseball post-season continues here at What's So Funny corporate headquarters. In order to mask the devastating physical toll this experience is taking, though, I have already begun a project that I encourage every man in Denver to undertake as well: growing a playoff beard. As an act of faith, I started growing mine about two weeks ago, during the Rockies' eleven-game winning streak. We did screw up last Friday and lose to the Diamondbacks, but I did not shave, because technically we weren't out of the running, so the beard remained. And so today, here it is, swarthy and Brillo-y, luminescent like a moon-lit prairie field, ready to push my face and my Rockies deep into October.
But first, a few final thoughts on that push. Clint Hurdle, never play Jorge Julio again. Coors Field, when you put up those red Circle K "K"s to indicate the number of strikeouts a pitcher has, always turn the third one backwards. That way, we're not subtly endorsing the KKK and looking like hick, racist Colorado on national television. Rockies, keep doing what you're doing, you badasses, you. Major League Baseball, ditch Dane Cook as your spokesman, like fucking yesterday. And men of Denver — hey, even a few of you ladies out there, too — let's get those playoff beards going strong. Because real fans know how to celebrate their glorious, glorious suffering.