That time of the year when the leaves start to fall and turn the world a beautiful mix of autumn reds and browns. That time of the year when the temperature drops to a beautifully brisk 55 degrees, just a tad on the chilly side. That time of year whose transcendent atmosphere can only be explained one way: October baseball.
The playoffs are a sort of month-long holiday of their own to the baseball world, and for good reason. No other postseason tournament in sports has the same character that October baseball has.
That character extends from the uniquely shiver-down-your-spine atmosphere at playoff games all the way to the little things in normal daily life.
Without meaning to do so, Major League Baseball has trademarked one thing that nothing can possibly tangibly trademark: that early autumn weather that screams playoff baseball.
When that chill comes down upon us at the beginning of October, you can just sense it’s that perfect point between the heat of a September pennant race and the lonely cold of the off season.
It’s that nippy atmosphere baseball fans automatically connect with the last 10 elite teams battling it out for a championship, that crisp air that speaks to us in ways we can’t comprehend yet fully understand. It carries the inherent drama of the postseason with it; when we feel that chill, we know unbelievable moments are coming.
And come October, there’s no place in America that feels that magic more than St. Louis. There are very few cities so united around a team, or around a sport for that matter.
For Cardinal Nation, October never seems to fail to grant great moments and amazing memories.
Yet here we are, in October 2016, and the Cardinals are in the heat of a race with the Giants for a Wild Card spot that guarantees us nothing except doubt and fear.
The postseason without the Cardinals? An October without playoff baseball in St. Louis? What kind of black magic is this?
The Cardinals and the playoffs are almost synonymous terms at this point, which would make it all the more tragic to not have the Cardinals there this year. This is a team that expects nothing short of championship contention year after year. Last year illustrates this perfectly; going down valiantly in the division series to a 97-win red hot Cubs team was our most disappointing result to a season in the last half decade.
But it’s not even that lust for a championship that would make a failure to reach the playoffs so heartbreaking to me and to this city.
It’s the fact that nothing puts more life and energy into the month of October than the playoffs.
This is the case for people of all ages, but especially for young diehard fans like myself. Childhood creates our most valuable memories, and my own childhood is stuffed with memories of playoff game days.
It’s a Thursday, Game 1 of the division series, and I’m decked out in Cardinal red at school, eagerly discussing the game’s pitching matchup and anticipating that 3:07 start time.
School ends, and I race home through the cool air, burst into my house and turn on the television just in time to hear the TBS postseason theme kick in while the camera pans over a massive sellout crowd at Busch Stadium, all 50,000 fans on their feet waving white rally towels.
The next day I’m a part of that red and white mass, unable to keep the silly grin off my face as I cheer and wave my own towel, both overwhelmed by the indescribable, electric atmosphere of the setting and in disbelief that my dad would get us tickets and check me out of school two hours early for my “dentist appointment.”
Then it’s a Friday night, a week later, and I’m in a friend’s driveway. A large group of us kids and our parents nervously watches the winner-take-all Game 5 on the large projector. None of us can sit still, due to both the suspense of the elimination game and that characteristic October chill that reminds us that something big is about to happen.
The playoffs aren’t just about winning a championship. They’re about the joy that they bring: that excitement at school, those home run territory tickets, those late night frigid watch parties. Nothing brings us together more than this time of year.
Plenty of people look at the games the Cardinals have been playing for the last week or so and say that these are all essentially playoff games. In importance they absolutely are, but not at all in character.
The game settings still house the emotion of a regular season game, and it’s not excitement at what’s to come that drifts through the air; it’s fear of what might not.
So for just a moment, allow me to be the greedy Cardinals fan that we all are, really.
There are two regular season games left. We’re still one game back of San Francisco. I know it’s been a real struggle to stay in contention this year Redbirds, but please, at the very least, do St. Louis this one favor: make it to the division series. Keep those d*** even-year Giants out of the playoffs, win the Wild Card game, and at least give this city its annual supplement of unifying playoff memories.
St. Louis needs them to stay healthy.
Because after all, it’s not October without Cardinal red.