October 26, 2003

Just another year

2,467 games. A few wins, a few losses. A little joy, a little heartbreak, a lot of memories. And just like that, another baseball season is in the books.

I came into this season as a completely obsessed baseball fan. I watched baseball, I read about baseball, I talked about baseball, I played baseball, I dreamt about baseball. Heck, I even started a website so that I could write about baseball. I now leave the season having fallen even deeper in love with the greatest sport in the world.

As I write this, it is less than 48 hours since Josh Beckett picked up that slow-roller along the first base-line and tagged Jorge Posada, and I am already going through baseball withdrawal.

It makes me sad to think that there won't be a game for me to watch tonight. Or tomorrow night. It makes me sad that there won't be any teams to root for until next Spring. It makes me sad that there won't be a Tigers-Indians boxscore for me to check tomorrow morning.

It'll be a little while before I get a chance to listen to Joe Morgan and Jon Miller again, or even Tim McCarver and Joe Buck. I won't be able to see Barry Bonds hit bombs into McCovey Cove for a few months, and I won't even be able to watch Neifi Perez hit weak pop-ups to second base.

At the same time, it makes me smile when I think about next year. A whole new set of optimism (or pessimism, if you prefer). A whole new set of rookies, another year for all the veterans. A fresh schedule, a clean record, a glimmer of hope for every team. Yes, every team.

Because if the last few seasons have given us anything, it is the knowledge that almost anything can happen in baseball. The 2000 season gave us the New York Yankees as champions, their third straight World Series title, and their fourth in five years.

Now try to imagine yourself back then, less than 48 hours after the final out of that World Series was made. Imagine someone telling you that the next three championships would be won by the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Anaheim Angels and the Florida Marlins.

You can't tell me that doesn't fill you with hope for the future of your team. Even those of you in Detroit.

In 1998, the Florida Marlins went 54-108. In 1999, they went 64-98. In 2000, 2001 and 2002 combined, they won just 48% of their games, finishing below-.500 in all three seasons. In fact, prior to this season, the Marlins had exactly one winning season in their 10-year history as a franchise.

Coming into this season, you would have been hard-pressed to find a dozen relatively-sane people who thought the Marlins were a serious contender. Hell, Yours Truly predicted a last-place finish in the NL East for Florida and said, "If they don't finish in 5th place, I will be shocked."

Well, consider me shocked.

In that same preview of Florida's upcoming season, from March 24th, I said, "The Marlins aren't only bad, they are actually sad and depressing. They have some amazing young talent, but some equally amazingly bad people in charge of things that will probably ruin it all."

How quickly things can change. Out goes Jeff Torborg, in comes Jack McKeon. Out goes sad and depressing, in comes a World Series.

The start of the 2004 season seems much too far away for my taste, but it will be here eventually. And when it starts, odds are your team has at least as much of a shot at the 2004 World Series as the Florida Marlins had heading into this season. Or as the Anaheim Angels had heading into last season.

In 2001, the Anaheim Angels won 75 games. Along with the Angels, 19 other teams won at least 75 games that season. And the next year, the Angels were world champions.

This year's champions, the Florida Marlins, won 79 games last season. In addition to them, 15 other teams won at least 79 games, and a total of 23 teams won 70+.

In the season that just ended, 18 different teams won at least 79 games. 20 won at least 75. And a total of 23 teams won 70+.

If you are a fan of one of the teams that made it to the playoffs this year, including the Marlins, you know your team has a shot at winning it all next season. And even if your team is one of the many teams that finished this season above-.500 but fell short of the post-season, you should know that your team has a chance too.

But the interesting thing about the last two seasons is that there is reason for hope for almost every fan. It sounds too far-fetched to consider now, with the World Series still fresh in our minds, but why can't the Pittsburgh Pirates win the World Series next year? You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone, anywhere, who thinks that will happen, but why can't it? The Pirates won 75 games this season, the same amount the Angels won the year before their World Series title. And why not the Anaheim Angels again, who won just 77 games this year - two more than they won in 2001.

To take it a step further, the Texas Rangers won just 71 games this season, which is less than even the Marlins and Angels won the year before their championships. But really, what's keeping the Rangers from doing the same thing. Or the Indians or the Rockies or the Padres or the Orioles. Why not, what is so different about any of these teams than the Angels or Marlins, the year before they won it all?

As Fall and Winter arrive and the memories of this season gradually fade, think ahead to next year. No matter what team you root for or what city you live in, your team can do what the Angels and Marlins have done during the past two years. Looking at it now, that seems like an extremely unlikely scenario, but do you think Angels fans were thinking about the World Series during the off-season before their championship? Do you think Marlins fans were saving up for playoff-tickets last Winter?

A change at manager. A hot-shot prospect emerging after a callup from the minors. A hot-hand or two in the starting rotation to ride down the stretch. Some good defense. A little timely hitting. Maybe even some luck.

The beauty of baseball is that youneverknow. If the Marlins and Angels can do it, what exactly is keeping your team from doing it? Think about that this off-season, while trades and free agents are in the news, and think about how amazing it would feel this time next year, after your team just did the unthinkable.

And just remember, the off-season may be long and going cold-turkey from baseball may be tough, but pitchers and catchers report in 115 days, and the next unthinkable World Series champion may be just 363 days way.

The 2003 season was a great one and I want to thank each an every person who stopped by Aaron's Baseball Blog during the year. It's been incredibly fun documenting a season like this, from Opening Day to the final out of the World Series, and I can't wait to do it again next season.

In the meantime, it will be business as usual during the off-season. Just as I did last off-season, I will have a new entry for you to read each and every weekday. I'll talk about trades and free agents and prospects and injuries and retirements. I'll talk about the season that just ended, the season that is right around the corner, and the seasons that are ancient history.

I may even throw in a few thoughts on football or basketball or movies or television or music. And I'll probably share a few "interesting" stories from my life on the University of Minnesota campus.

I hope you will continue to come by every day and I hope you enjoy reading what I have to say about baseball even 1% as much as I love writing about it for you.

See you tomorrow.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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