When was the last time you woke up on the morning of the first day of the second half of the baseball season and your favorite team -- meaning my favorite team -- was a playoff contender?
For a few whippersnappers out there (Dude, I've been totally diehard since 2005!) the answer is never, but even for those who remember vividly the early 'aughts, the late '90s, 1993, and so forth, the sensation takes a little getting used to, something akin to the first bite of solid food after 72 hours of double-barreled stomach flu. You're wary. You're skeptical. But oh my God, if it's true...
Even if this fizzy brew eventually goes flat in the torpor of an August East Coast swing or dies on the warning track of Petco Park, the momentum will continue through the winter. This is what real baseball is like. It is back in our bones. Remember when Peter Gammons used to go ga-ga over the tiny number of meaningless games the Giants had played in the Brian Sabean Era? Gammons knew the difficulty of being relevant. We forgot quickly.
But now the Giants are extremely relevant to us, perhaps to Gammons, too, and at least on the radar screen of everyone who actually pays attention beyond the 11pm East Coast Sportscenter highlights. Sweeter still: Even if the wild card turns into a mirage, this team has already crammed the derision of the last few years back in its cage, a left-right combo of raised middle fingers for the writers and pundits who hoped the Bonds-Magowan Giants had eternally soiled the franchise's karmic underpants. Sorry, go find another scapegoat for everything that's wrong with society.
And it's happening at a time when other fans get to explain away their heroes' drug tests or revelations and remain happy to clap as their teams pile up wins. We blazed that trail, folks, and we were called sheep. You're getting off light.
I'm actually glad to see Dodger fans welcome back Manny. He did his crime, he served his time, now let's get on with it. I won't be able to bring myself to make steroid jokes when L.A. comes to visit. OK, maybe a few fertility treatment jokes. But I'm not going to hate on the guy for testing positive. Our guy -- hell, our guys were doing it for years. More and more names will come to light, some no doubt shocking. If you're among the shrinking pool of hand-wringers and soul-searchers, I ask you this: Are the innocent children who witnessed these blasphemies forever tainted? Are your fields of dreams filled with asterisks?
Thanks in part to Manny, the witch hunt is petering out. Performance enhancing drugs are no longer a vast cloud under which we wring our hands and search our souls. In a sense it's been bureaucratized: You did what? Ah, we have a penalty for that. You fucked up, now go away for a while, and let us get back to this glorious game.
And nothing exemplifies the game better than a team of young, talented players who struggle with their flaws, never let their daubers down, and always make it interesting. Welcome to the playoff chase. Can I get a Humm-Baby?