Today is opening day in baseball, a moment for hope and promise for fans across the country. The preseason predictions may have rendered their verdict, but as we see each year, a 162-game season has other plans than simply confirming the overconfident understandings of our ordered minds. Even teams with the highest expectations must slog through six months of unknowable obstacles to reach the promised land.
It’s a particularly disorienting opening day for me as a long-time, unrequited fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I became a fan of the team a half-decade after their last championship in 1988. Although the Dodgers have generally been a strong, entertaining, competitive team over the last twenty-five years, it was not until last season that they succeeded in returning to the World Series. After a succession of playoff heartbreaks, the 2017 Dodgers won a league-best 104 games and ran through two rounds of National League playoffs to reach a decisive Game 7 of the Fall Classic. Although they lost that game and the sport’s highest honor to the Houston Astros, the team accomplished nearly every other milestone for which a fan could hope. For those wedded to a championship-or-bust mindset, the season was a letdown. But for me, it was a seven month odyssey of pure pleasure—sports at its absolute best. The Dodgers were the best team in all of baseball in the regular season, they won more games than any team in thirteen years, and at one point they won an astonishing 44 of 51 games. From start to finish, last year’s run was the greatest of my life. And yet, at the beginning of a new season, looking back on the last one, I’m forced to conclude that my most powerful memory of that time is the darkest.
From August 26th to September 11th, the Dodgers inexplicably lost 16 of 17 games. It was stupefying, confounding, unnerving, and ultimately meaningless. The team posted a sparkling 91-36 record in its first 127 games before the losing streak, recovered after it in time to win the National League West comfortably, and then shined in the playoffs, coming one game from the sport’s ultimate prize. It was the least consequential collapse in the history of baseball in every respect. And yet, I’m forced to admit, it was my defining baseball experience of 2017. Continue reading