Fall: A Baseball Season's Days Are Numbered

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From the Cuyahoga to the Charles to the Hudson, baseball fans focus on the complex calculus of playoff chances. But as the weather turns, we find ourselves reaching for turtlenecks and thinking of football.


Here's a problem that has minds reeling: all the possibilities presented this year by the American League race for the playoffs. Most of them may be resolved by Sunday. Under certain circumstances, it could take until Monday or even Tuesday to resolve the wild-card berth. I actually could explain why, but since I don't have to, I won't. The combinations and permutations have been much discussed around water coolers from the Cuyahoga to the Charles to the Hudson, even down here on the banks of the mighty Potomac. In our fair city, it is a relief to think of the complications of getting to the playoffs and not about the politics of placing justices on the Supreme Court or the alleged perfidy of congressional leaders or the continuing difficulties of adequately ministering to the people of the Gulf states.

Baseball at a critical moment is not diverting because it's relaxing. It's diverting precisely because it is so complex. Powerful brains, as they begin to think about it, find they're fully engaged in baseball right now to the temporary exclusion of other matters, mundane or heartbreaking. Consider the possibility of ties in the American League race. Counting a three-way tie, there are five possibilities, plan A all the way down to alternate plan E. Again, I could explain it. I have always secretly believed that the masculine nature of careers in math and science is rooted in baseball. The numbers of male children of my generation who performed complicated calculations from the age of seven to keep their baseball statistics up to date could explain the numbers of men in math and science of my generation--lots--vs. the numbers of women--some.

I suspect that after this weekend or this Monday--or Tuesday, depending--interest in baseball may begin to fade. The playoffs seem endless. By the time we get to the series, many Americans have moved on. And even in this part of the country--east of the Cuyahoga, way south of the Charles--we're beginning to have intimations of football weather, which brings me to another area where sports meets life: fashion. When there's a snap in the air at noon and the night's are downright cold and we grab a parka to go to the game, `take me out to the ball game' just doesn't feel right. Despite the efforts of networks and franchise owners to merge seasons and play all sports all the time, deep in our guts we know what works. And it's Friday night under the lights in a small mining town in the West or Sunday in a city-sized stadium--if we're digging around for turtlenecks, we're already leaving the field of dreams. It's October. We're thinking smash-mouth football.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) The falling leaves drift by the window, the autumn leaves of red and gold. I see your lips, the summer kisses, the sunburned hands I used to hold. Since you went away...

WERTHEIMER: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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