OK, as a brief pause in my reportage of woeful tidings from the world, on the forefront of my mind today are events taking place in two nearby cities: the Mets against the Florida Marlins at Shea Stadium, and the Philadelphia Phillies against the Washington Nationals in Philadelphia. Going into the final game of the regular season, the Mets and the Phillies are tied for first place in the National League East. If both win or both lose, a one game playoff between the two teams will need to be played. If both teams win and San Diego loses (which at the moment has a one game lead in the race for the wild card spot in the National League), the loser of the Mets-Phillies playoff would have to play another one-game playoff against the Padres to determine the last playoff spot. And if the Colorado Rockies win, there would be a three team playoff for the wild card spot. Not since 1978, when the Yanks played the Red Sox (and Bucky Dent re-broke the oft-broken hearts in Red Sox Nation) has the last day of the season meant so much.
Much of modern sports is despicable: as with our overall culture, we produce too much money and too much of it leads to unbridled greed and corruption. I can't watch college football anymore, fully cognizant that the players are often barely literate and that universities regularly permit fraud and corruption to take place in the hopes a football program can produce victories (see Margaret Soltan's website, University Diaries, for a daily drumbeat of scandal). College basketball is barely better, perhaps appearing slightly less corrupt because of the smaller scale of the operation. These major "college" sports - corrupted especially by the role of television, a medium that exists to peddle products that are almost always not very good for us - have thoroughly lost their connection to their original purpose of affording the opportunity of the integration of athletics and academics. They are minor league farm systems financed by media conglomerates and a beer-and-circus public and enabled by Universities that have forgotten what they are supposed to be doing, a satanic combination that corrupts the University system but from which it can hardly be imagined they can extricate themselves.
Indeed (ok, I can't write a post without being somewhat gloomy), the enabler of the vast quantities of wealth generated by sport, and its attendant corruption, is the petroleum wealth of the United States of the past 50 years. One can trace the same rise of sports wealth with the rise of the suburbs and industrial farming and the trucking industry and the airline industry: cheap and plentiful oil allowed what were once sleepy regional leisure activities to become international dollar-generating bonanzas. Baseball was an East Coast urban escape, providing a small patch of green in brown and grey cities to which grey men in grey suits and grey fedoras could slip out of work for a few hours to enjoy some yellow midsummer sunshine and a golden cup of locally-produced beer. Hockey was the sport they played in Canada and Maine because there was nothing else to do. Football was a sport played in Northeast colleges because young men do stupid things. But, with the coming of the oil age in the latter half of the twentieth century, baseball moved to California and hockey ever more southward, as planes replaced rickety buses and humans used fossil fuel energy to create ice anywhere they damn well pleased. Television forced stadiums to install lights, and fans became audiences. A potentially positive consequence of our energy constrained future is a return to local and regional forms of sport, including, possibly, teams consisting of players who actually could give a damn about the places where they play or college teams consisting of student-athletes, not unpaid mercenaries.
And yet, in spite of it all, sports can't fail sometimes to produce great moments, and today may be one. I grew up almost equidistant between New York City and Boston (in the wonderful small town of Windsor Connecticut, one of those towns Tocqueville was describing as a result of his visit to New England, and undoubtedly the source of my communitarian leanings), with a father who was a Yankees fan and a mother who leaned toward the Red Sox. And so naturally I did the rational thing: became a Mets fan. Circumstance has arranged that my adopted team, the Nats, could knock out the Phillies (or at least force a one-game playoff), so it's all the sweeter to be rooting for two division rivals (the Mets and the Nats) who both have a place in my heart. Go Mets, go Nats, and let us be grateful for these moments of autumnal magic.
Addendum, 7 p.m.: Sigh. Well, the eternal cry applies - wait til next year... Good luck to the Phillies. They took advantage of the Mets' collapse, and deserve to be in the postseason. We get that wild-card playoff after all. And, who knows, the Red Sox and Yankees could meet again in the AL championship - speaking of regional rivalries...