I have high hopes for the 2012 Brewers, and I think most of these hopes are based on some sort of legitimacy. However, I'm slightly afraid that their success in 2011 sets a precedent too difficult to match, because for me, baseball seasons are remembered for its moments, not necessarily its results. I know that's a very my-hometeam-has-never-been-all-that-successful type of excuse, but I really believe it.
2011, the best Brewers regular season in history based on W/L, had several great moments: Fielder's 14th inning walk-off blast to knock off the Rockies, Lucroy's walk-off squeeze, Braun's pinch-hit game winning HR in Florida, and his division clincher on September the 23rd. Of course, none of which quite equate to Nyjer Morgan's walk-off single to win the deciding game of the NLDS. Let me explain why the 2012 season may never deliver like 2011 did for me, and why that really doesn't bother me . . .
Deer hunting is a season-encompassing activity in our family. We escape to northern Wisconsin, as many do, and operate our buck-facturing enterprise out of a small cabin plopped in the middle of the Nicolet Forest. As the years have gone by, the ancient relic has become increasingly difficult to maintain, so much of our hunting season is spent doing everything except hunting.
Fortunately, the cabin is electrified, and we've recently added the luxury of satellite television. Compared to what it used to be, it's the Taj Mahal; however, it still doesn't contain any plumbing - that's right, we crap in an outhouse.
Needless to say, we (and by we, I mean my Dad and his brothers - I don't do anything) often need to plan 2-4 weekends every fall to prepare the cabin for habitation; inventory, whacking weeds, disinfecting, cobweb clearing, and dead mouse removal being typical tasks. As anyone with family knows, organizing multiple free weekends among several hard-working people is a bastard. Just so happens, the second weekend of October worked for enough of us to be able to schedule a "Lakewood weekend", as we call it.
One can imagine our trepidation as we watched the Brewers fail to clinch the NLDS in Arizona, with a potential game 5 slated for that Friday evening.
For that was our evening of travel. Given the rarity of the get-together, my father wasn't about to cancel the weekend for a baseball game, no matter how meaningful it may be. I think our adoration of Bob Uecker was the unspoken breaking point of the argument - listening to Brewers baseball, as many of you likely know, is as enjoyable as radio can be. It would sure make the four-hour drive go faster . . . or so we mused.
In retrospect, I wonder if witnessing the game on television could have possibly matched the experience we had in the truck that night on Highway 41.
There are two innings in game 5 that stand out in my mind: obviously, the bottom of the 10th, and the top of the 8th. The top of the 8th itself wasn't exactly a do-or-die kind of situation, but was certainly intensified given the fact that the low-scoring affair had that every-run-is-worth-twenty feel to it, and that grand-slamming Paul Goldschmidt stepped to the plate opposite Francisco Rodriguez with runners on the corners and one out.
What really didn't help was the construction-induced stand-still traffic on northbound Highway 41 and the frequent AM-signal-blocking bridges crossing overhead.
A rough transcription of a moment in the longest 5-pitch sequence ever, the Paul Goldschmidt AB:
Dad: Another overpass. We're going to ****ing lose it. Should have stayed home.
Me (hand over face): God, I hate this so much.
Uecker: Two balls, no strikes. Postseason - this guy is hitting .500. And the pitch - SWING and a miss . . .
Me (hand over face): Oh, thank God. I hate this so much.
Dad: Fina****inglly, a strike. Aaand we're stopped again. Here it comes, getting closer. It's gonna go.
Me (hand over face): I hate this.
Dad: Should've stayed home - now we're ****ing moving. Any second now.
Uecker: . . . singled again in the sixth. Two balls and a strike. Now ready. Here it is - swing and a smashcckkckkkcckckckckckckchckchckck . . .
Me (hand over face): WHAT?! I HATE THIS!
Dad: WHAT THE - MOVE, PEOPLE, ****ING MOVE!
Me (hand over face): Never in my life have I ever hated anyth-
Dad: We're moving! Should have ****ing STAYED HOME -
Uecker: . . . ckckhkchckcFrankie ready!
Me (hands clenching dashboard): AGH!
Uecker: Here it is - HEEEEEEEY STRU-
You get the picture.
Thankfully, the rest of the inning went uninterrupted and K-Rod somehow wiggled his way out of the inning without allowing a run, an ability he's patented. The Win Probability chart for K-Rod's 8th (vintage Frankie - note that the red indicates high leverage):
The ninth inning's excitement was tarnished by a deflating effort from the middle of the Brewers order, and a leadoff double by Gerardo Parra. I don't think me or my father spoke a word in the whole inning; partially in frustration that we didn't feel justified in whining about John Axford blowing his first save in his last 100000 attempts, and partially in exhaustion from the previous inning.
The traffic got moving again, and as the Brewers went quietly in the ninth, we settled into a relative calm - extra innings always feel inevitable in torturous games like this one. We finally exited the freeway, and the calm frustration persisted onto a rural highway, and into the bottom of 10th inning. I got the impression that the outcome of the game would significantly impact the morale of our crew at the cabin over the weekend.
Our attitude throughout the 10th was much like the 9th - I don't think either of us wanted to get too excited in any direction until something extremely consequential happened. It seems silly looking back on it now, but I think we were both so drained from the stress of the previous 9 1/2 innings, we just didn't have the energy to stress any longer.
Cue Carlos Gomez.
As soon as he stole second base, we both fidgeted in our seats - thank God dad didn't have to worry about traffic congestion any longer - all he had to worry for now was this miserable game, and the deer poking their heads out of the woods on either side of the road every three minutes. I swear, I have no idea how he did it.
What's great about Carlos Gomez in this situation is this: the listener knows as soon as a base hit is confirmed, the game is over. When Nyjer tickled Putz's 2-2 delivery over second base, and Uecker exclaimed "BASE HIT TO CENTER!", we both did that ridiculous screaming-while-half-listening thing; Dad, with the fury of Hades, clenched the wheel with both hands, while I frantically clutched his shoulder with my left, gripping the dashboard maniacally with the right.
Somewhere in the chaos we heard " . . . AND THE BREWERS WIN!"
I screamed long, drawn-out screams; screams as long and loud as my lungs and vocal chords could allow. Dad, on the other hand, screamed shorter, more pointed screams, like gunshots. I probably looked like an idiot, limbs flailing in elation while stomping my feet - but the vision in my head of my dad's reaction, two hands wringing the wheel while violently screaming in repetition, is downright iconic, like Gibson's fist pump, Jordan's juke on Russell, or Elway's helicopter-spinny-thing.
I have a hard time believing that in any moment of time I will ever exhibit that much enthusiasm about anything, ever. Usually, I stubbornly deny that sports affect me emotionally, but I'm just not sure that anything can top that experience.
Sure, I was irritated as any Brewers fan when the Cardinals took the NLCS and eventually the World Series, but I have this memory, and it was absolutely worth it.
Good luck, 2012.