Wednesday, October 08, 2014


If there is anything that comes close to bringing an atheist into the 'flock', it's baseball.

First, let's agree that it's a game of physics. If you're looking for a way to teach physics to a kid, use baseball. It's a game of millimeters. With a pretty small bat and that tiny ball, the slightest adjustment of aim results in a vast change in elevation. The smallest adjustment of force makes the difference between the ball finding the glove of the shortstop, or the bleachers in the outfield.

Two people come to mind who can vouch for that tiny margin of error: Neil Armstrong and Clayton Kershaw.

Today, as the Los Angeles Dodgers fly home, the victims of what from the outside seems like the 'team of destiny' St. Louis Cardinals, they are undoubtedly overlooking those physical laws. They are more likely thinking of a superstar named Puig, and the biggest meltdown of his career. They are considering the inability of Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw to fool men named Matt. The befuddled Dodgers are thinking of goats, curses, and gods.

They fail to consider that the air was still warm when Matt Adams came to bat - a ball carries further in warm air than cool. They are not thinking about the trajectory of the bat, or the exact position of the pitch, or the force of the swing. They are thinking that Matt Adams has Kershaw's number, or that Kershaw is somehow vexed by Busch Stadium. Maybe there is some kind of 7th inning curse, a point at which it becomes impossible to rein in the Cardinals. Maybe they think the Cardinals, with the fewest homers in the National League, was due to somehow right a cosmic imbalance.

Surely that's all wrong, because there's no circumventing natural law. They lost, plain and simple, because of physics. Right?

Maybe. There is a compelling argument that most Cardinals fans (the most hated in baseball) understand well. It goes something like this: When September rolls around, in the House that Stan Built, laws of physics take a back seat to things like heart, hope, teamwork, and destiny. That men like Big City can swing bats in a special way and move the ball with more than just physics. That a strange bond extends between players, lending support... unseen and mysterious.

Fans of the Cardinals know that on cold nights far away from home, before an unfriendly crowd, with backs against the wall, down to a final out, even a final strike, and against all known laws of physics, something more is afoot. Something that pushes the ball a little farther and deeper than physics would dictate. It's almost as if a piece of Curt Flood, Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith, "Mad Dash" Slaughter, Dizzy Dean, Bob Gibson and others become transplanted into whatever ragtag hero stands at the plate.

The Cardinals have had plenty of failures, but in the most unlikely of circumstances, and against the greatest of odds, they've surprised, shocked, and silenced their most ardent critics. They have rendered speechless the Brewers faithful, fans of the Cubs, and haters who are just gonna hate. They dig deep and find a way. One might think it's more than physics. It's soul.

Another set of natural rules that gets tossed aside this time of year - mathematics. Sometimes 235 million dollars in payroll means nothing. Baseball's post-season stage is the great equalizer, where players like David Freese, Clayton Kershaw, David Eckstein, Albert Pujols, Kolten Wong, Adrian Gonzales, and pick-any-KC-Royal, stand on even ground. Where a soul, a spirit, and an attitude, surpass any and all monetary advantage.

Natural laws are real, there's no debate. But, on one warm night at Busch Stadium, with Big City's mighty swing of the bat, maybe the temperature didn't matter. Maybe the bat's trajectory wasn't so important. Maybe grit won out over gravity. Intuition beat inertia. Spirit overcame substance.

Maybe that inch beyond the wall was as good as a mile. It's enough to make you wonder.