There’s something about that first love. Or maybe it’s that first loss.
I remember a girl I loved, and the spark of hope that burned in me until the day I found out there was no chance, that she would be with someone else. And I grieved the loss of something which had never come to pass.
It was a time of intense sadness and lament. But I suppose old hopes must die, so that new hopes might live — and be fulfilled.
New joys come, years pass, life transforms but in some long-forgotten place, that loss lingers. A sensitive place. A ticklish place that gets a reaction if you touch it.
In my case, music does it. I’m a sucker for really good break-up albums and songs. It’s not that they resurrect a memory. Rather, the raw pain of the songwriter resonates with me, taps into my own little vein of sadness. I empathize and feel their righteous anger.
Does it work that way with baseball, too? I guess that it does.
Just as someone can remember their first love, I can remember when I first followed the St. Louis Cardinals of my own accord. When I began to collect and trade baseball cards, clip out newspaper articles, memorize stats. It was the early 1990s, and the Cardinals were not very good — but that never matters.
Then came 1996. The year the Cardinals hired Tony La Russa as their manager. The year they got back into the playoffs. The year they were one win away from reaching the World Series.
But then the unthinkable happened. The team unraveled with successive losses — 14-0, 3-1, 15-0 — and missed their opportunity.
As a kid, you grieve. But with baseball hope arises again each spring. There would be false starts along the way, but ultimately the Cardinals did get back into the World Series. Three times. They won it twice, including last year’s mind-blowing comebacks.
This year, the magic somehow seemed to be continuing. A miraculous Game 5 comeback in the division series made me believe it was meant to be. I was excited because my kids were getting into it. Jadzia was beginning to get the arcane rules of the game; Joseph was swinging any bat-like object he could find. Ludi was drawing circles on papers and pretending to keep score.
So when the Cardinals went up 3-1 in the NLCS, just one win away from reaching the World Series again, my heart soared. This was my team, on the verge of winning it all. Destiny.
But tonight it came crashing down. The Cardinals lost their third straight game to the Giants, and their opportunity is gone. It was painful, physically painful to watch. The churning in my stomach would not stop.
I had seen it, lived it before. It was 1996 again, and I mourned the loss of something that never happened. The loss of a dream. It was listening to a breakup album, feeling a resonance with past pain.
A girl. A team. Young loves. Young losses. You get over them, even forget them.
“It’s just a game.” “She’s just a girl.” “There’s always next year.” “There’s plenty of fish in the sea.”
Yes, yes, yes, and yes. My heart has already moved on to next spring.
But there’s something about loss. “I need my pain,” a wise fictional character once said.
Maybe we do, Captain. Maybe we do.