Welcome to the playground of heroes. Welcome to the garden of legends. Why, hello, Tampa Bay. And welcome to the World Series. Speak the phrase slowly, reverently. Repeat the words, taste them, savor them. Treat them as if they were the stuff of classic poetry because, let's face it, they are. Test their weight, and invite the memories they evoke. The … World … Series.
Even now, and especially now, it means as much as ever. Even here, and especially here, it is something to be treasured.
Rays' manager Joe Maddon puts it like this: "The World Series is right up there with Christmas."
As sporting events go, there is something lyrical, something global, something eternal about the World Series. There are those who will argue over what happened in Series games of 100 years ago. And 100 years from now, there will be those who will debate what is going to happen over the next eight days.
In other words, remember that sweet little season of the Tampa Bay Rays?
While you weren't paying attention, it turned into history.
This is what the World Series does. It takes the names of very good baseball players, and it carves them into lore. No other sporting event is quite as good at the making of legend. No one sporting event can gild a player's name as completely.
Even now, you cannot help but think of the names. Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson and Kirk Gibson. And Evan Longoria? Brooks Robinson and Bill Mazeroski and Joe Carter. And B.J. Upton? Don Larsen and Jack Morris and Christy Mathewson. And Scott Kazmir?
Following the drama to come, we will see.
Four victories from now, by either the Rays or the Phillies, and some players will never be looked at the same.
Such is the beauty of the World Series. It has always been there. No matter how old you are, the Series has been a signpost in your life. When you think about what you were like as a 12-year-old, or as a 22-year-old, or as a 52-year-old, one of the easiest ways to remember has been to think of which particular player was taking over that particular October.
For Americans, the World Series has been a thread through the fabric of a nation. It does not matter who was running the White House, or what the economy was, or with whom we were at war. The Series endured the Black Sox scandal, and it survived the Great Depression, and it stayed strong through the Disco Generation. Even in the seasons of 1904 and 1994 — when the morons seized control and the games were not played — the World Series remained a fixture of our nation.
If you are asking, yes, it means as much in 2008 as it has ever meant. Oh, the Super Bowl is bigger and glitzier, but there is an element to it that it is as much of a science-fiction movie as it is a sporting event. Yes, March Madness is fun, and the Olympics are wonderful, but there is something simpler, something American, about the World Series.
And now, it is here.
Can you believe it?
In the moments after the Rays' Game 7 victory over the Red Sox, even Maddon expressed a bit of wonder at the notion. He wandered around the field, saying to everyone he ran into: "We're in the World Series. Can you believe it?"
How big is this? Maddon can tell you. From the age of 6, he wanted to be in the big leagues. Maddon was talking about his late father Wednesday, and he said that if his dad could talk to him now, he would probably say: "I still think you were a better football player. You shouldn't have quit football."
Maddon smiled. Yeah, this is bigger.
What is the World Series? It's the reason for Cubs fans to invent curses. Think about it: The Cubs have had 40 winning seasons out of the past 100, and they've had Hall of Famers and postseason appearances and MVPs. The one thing they have not done is win a World Series. Poor them.
What is the World Series? It's getting stuck with goat horns for all of eternity. History has been a bit kinder to Bill Buckner, the former Red Sox great, lately. For a while, however, nothing seemed to matter about Buckner except that the ball went between his legs. It's umpire Don Deckinger blowing a call. It's the Braves' Lonnie Smith wandering aimlessly around the basepaths against the Twins. It's Mickey Owen's dropped third strike.
What is the World Series? It's a job application to immortality. It is three swings by Jackson, and a called shot by Ruth and the bloody sock of Curt Schilling. It is Gibson hobbling around the bases and Jimmy Leyritz turning a series around with a home run and Willie Mays making an impossible catch.
Over the next eight days, this team of humble origins has a chance to make history of such magnitude. Who knows? Maybe Carlos Pena calls his shot. Maybe Carl Crawford makes an impossible catch. Maybe Matt Garza's sock gets blood on it. Given the global expansion of baseball — the Series has never been more worldly — how about the notion of Akinori Iwamura as Series MVP?
After all, the World is watching.
2008 World Series Game 1
8:35 p.m. | Tropicana Field | Ch. 13, 1250-AM