After a long, grinding season, baseball’s postseason has finally arrived. Gone are the protracted dog-days of summer, when games seem to last forever and the end of the season seems so far away. Over the next few weeks, games will have a palpable intensity markedly different from most of the other 162 just played. It’s that intensity that makes playoff baseball so enjoyable after such a long season.
This year’s playoffs are a dream come true for Major League Baseball. Not only are almost all the major television markets represented, but most of the best young players are as well. In the Naitonal League, the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs provide tantalizing matchups. The Mets have two of the most dominant young pitchers in the game in Jacob DeGrom and Matt Harvey, and are matched up against the Dodgers, who have their own young duo in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. In the other NL Divisional Series, the Cubs’ young trio of superstars in Jake Arrieta, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant will face off against the playoffs veterans from the Cardinals led by Matt Carpenter, Matt Holiday and John Lackey.
While the National League matchups feature major-market teams with young talent, the two American League Divisional Series present 4 of the top 7 run-scoring teams in all of baseball. The offensive juggernaut known as the Toronto Blue Jays, led by mashers Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista square off against the surprising Texas Rangers and their mix of wily veterans and young upstarts like Rougned Odor. In the other AL Divisional Series, the Houston Astros trio of Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and Dallas Keuchel matchup against last year’s playoff darlings, the Kansas City Royals, and their stars Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer.
All of the matchups provide excellent studies in both contrast and similarity, as all teams have a mix of youth and experience and all teams employ analytics along with traditional baseball strategy. The one thing that unites all playoff baseball games, though, is the edge-of-your-seat intensity that comes with each pitch.
It’s common parlance in the playoffs to hear commentators and announcers say “now the games really matter” in an attempt to imbue even more meaning than already exists. Many fans, too, carry this same kind of thought-process into October baseball, turning from casual observers to die-hard fans “now that the games matter”.
This duality of thinking marks fans and the professionals who cover the game, but it doesn’t permeate the players. The best players know that, while yes, playoff games are certainly more intense, all games throughout the year are meaningful. No team makes the playoffs without winning an enormous amount of games in the regular season, and the only way to win that many games is to approach each game with the same focus.
The best players have the same approach to both playoff and regular season games, even though the stakes may be higher in the playoffs. They know that all of the games matter, and that consistency in approach builds a foundation of habits that provide success in the playoffs.
In life we often live with a creeping dualism much like the regular season/playoff mentality, only our duality has to do with the sacred versus the secular. We see it in our culture, too, when people espouse the idea that you should leave your religion to little more than a weekend pursuit. We like to categorize our lives, segmenting them into areas that we think we can better manage.
But the truth is that all of life is important, and every day is significant. We must learn to live with spiritual awareness of God’s grace, mercy, and goodness every day, not just on Sundays. It’s tempting to think that God only cares about the big decisions we make, but he cares about all of our lives. There is not one square inch of our lives that he does not claim lordship over.
C.S. Lewis in his famous sermon The Weight of Glory, said that we have never met an ordinary person. All people and all situations are sacred because God cares about us all, and as we grow as Christians, our maturity in faith is linked inseparably with our awareness of God’s activity around and within us.