The national pastime becomes a time machine

I'm playing hooky. It's Thursday around noon, and a column is due, but it's 1970 and I'm playing hooky.

I'm watching baseball. Gloriously sunny, rapturously dramatic, midweek playoff baseball. I'm sitting in my living room in the middle of the day watching the San Francisco Giants playing in the divisional series in Cincinnati, right down the road from the Louisville, Ky., classroom where I once played baseball hooky on a playground.

Kids get tired of hearing these stories, but they really happened. When I was in seventh grade at St. Albert the Great, I would excuse myself for a restroom visit, then escape to the basketball courts to listen to the first innings of the World Series games between the Reds and the Baltimore Orioles, thus missing most of English composition class.

Maybe that explains the short paragraphs.

I sneaked away Thursday, more than four decades later, called the boss and told him I wasn't leaving my television, my tray table and my tweeting.

For a second day in row, it was hooky heaven, baseball's revamped wild-card schedule stocking our televisions with the heaviest yet brightest postseason baseball we've seen in years. Four games Wednesday. Four games Thursday. Three of them won by walk-off hits. Another one won on a walk-away strikeout. All of them filled with not only the usual deliciousness of postseason stress, but also some of the vagaries of its sunlight and shadows.

One moment I'm watching the buzz-cut Joe Girardi tighten his jaw and make one of the toughest and most solemn decisions in modern postseason history. The next minute I'm watching the Afro-shaking Coco Crisp endure the unprecedented double play of being smacked in the face with a shaving cream pie before being doused with a cooler of Gatorade.

The beauty of baseball's wide spectrum of humanity is that both men were heroes. Girardi's choice to pinch-hit for the once-great Alex Rodriguez led to Raul Ibanez's two home runs and a New York Yankees comeback 12th-inning victory over the Orioles. Crisp's single in the bottom of the ninth gave the Oakland Athletics a comeback victory over the Detroit Tigers.

Most sports would be lucky to experience two such moments in a season. On Wednesday, the two walk-off wins happened in a matter of hours.

The biggest hit in all of this has been struck by baseball. Despite initial criticism, baseball got it right this October by stacking the final three games of each division series in one place, on three straight days, in the middle of the week and as far from football as possible. It was March Madness become Midday Madness. All that was missing was a pool, but if they do this again next year, I'm in.

Rooted in front of my television for many of the 12 hours of coverage on Wednesday and Thursday, I was reminded of the days when October really rocked, when the players didn't wear ski masks because of the cold, when the fans didn't leave early because it was midnight, and when your eye wasn't continually drifting to some football game on some other channel. This week, if only for this week, baseball became our national pastime again.

Only in baseball, it seems, could I be driven crazy by some fan standing behind home plate spinning his arms with every pitch. It was in Cincinnati, the guy was wearing a Reds sweatshirt, and as long as he spun, the Reds rallied. When he finally stopped after his arms apparently grew tired, Scott Rolen struck out to end the game and give the Giants a series victory.

But only in baseball, it seems, could I admire that same spinning motion when it's done by the Oakland Coliseum bleacher bums who do a rage dance to welcome Athletics closer Grant Balfour. I know only a smattering of fans show up during the regular season, and I know there are tarps stretched across an empty upper deck, but the constant dance party that has accompanied the A's unlikely run has made the Coliseum fans this postseason's MVPs.

For two days, I've jealously marveled at the sturdiness of the Giants, who became the first National League team in history to rebound from a two-games-to-none deficit to win a five-game division series, with all three wins coming in Cincinnati. If they were issuing a postage stamp honoring baseball managers, the model for the face would have to be Bruce Bochy, right? And if they were doing the same for catchers, Buster Posey?

For two days, I have not jealously marveled at the Washington Nationals, not even after shaggy former Dodger Jayson Werth finished a marvelous 13-pitch at-bat with a walk-off homer against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday. I still think Nationals management betrayed their fans by benching star pitcher Stephen Strasburg to save his arm for ... what? They think they will have a chance to win the World Series every year? Next season is the 25th anniversary of the Dodgers' last championship, OK? Strasburg's absence has already forced them into a deciding Game 5 against an average Cardinals team. If it doesn't burn them now, it will burn them later.

I've watched it all, from Tim Lincecum freakishly saving a game in middle relief, to Crisp literally saving a game with a leaping catch, to that cool retro Orioles bird logo filling the screen and reminding me of Brooks and Boog. I was watching it when the mailman rolled up around noon. I was watching it when the neighbor kids clattered home from school around four. I have even fallen asleep watching the TBS postgame show late at night, although, to be honest, I completely blame the lameness of the show.

I've watched so much old-fashioned baseball that I felt like I was watching myself, all those years ago, a wide-eyed kid learning about a sport he would spend a lifetime trying to love, a kid stealing away to hang out with a dear old friend. Forty-two years later, the hooky is still worth it.

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