Regular Season vs. Post Season

Post season baseball is just so different than during the regular season. That statement confuses a lot of people who do not follow baseball. How can the game be different? It is the same rules and mostly the same players. It doesn’t make sense that it would be different. Some of the difference may be the impending doom of the play-offs. Every decision and every juncture within the game takes on greater importance and is magnified. During the regular season if you happen to make a mistake there is always tomorrow. You just brush yourself off, shrug off the mistake and move on as if it didn’t happen. With a 162-game schedule it is easy and often times advantageous to think that way. In the play-offs the number of tomorrows is greatly condensed making each play seem like it is the most important thing in the world. This importance gets even greater as a series goes on. Prior to tonight’s game the pressure was spread evenly. With the Diamondbacks taking game 1 the pressure increases on the Cubs. They do not want to go back to Chicago facing an elimination game so each play in tomorrow night’s game will be magnified as to whether it helps or hurts the Cubs chances. It’s not just the on the field action that is different between the regular season and the post season. There are differences outside the foul lines as well. Take tonight for example.

As I approached the stadium I knew there was something different. It might have been the fact that parking had risen over 400 percent since the last game of the regular season. Or it could have been that there were substantially more people downtown than I had seen for quite some time. Neither of these prepared me for the sights and sounds outside the gates to Chase Field. There was the old guy singing the program song to get you to buy the cheap knock-off program that has plagued Chase Field since 1998. The scalpers were there in force pestering you every 2 feet asking if you needed tickets or if you had extra tickets to sell. Then there was the vampire. Yes you heard me right, the vampire. There was a guy who must have been 6 foot 4 inches tall dressed like a vampire. He was leading around a goat on a leash. The goat was wearing a Chicago Cubs hat but no clothes. I have no idea how a vampire is connected to a goat. That seemed like a stretch even to my imagination. Sure I could have understood if the guy was dressed like the Grim Reaper or something but a vampire? That’s just plain weird. There were also a few assorted people dressed up either like prostitutes or voodoo witch doctors (it is a sad day when I can’t tell the difference between a prostitute and a voodoo witch doctor; it is definitely time I renew my HBO subscription). Sliders bar was packed to capacity. It was so full you could not even see the semi-exotic dancing beer girls.

There were lines backed up waiting to pass through security checkpoints to get into the stadium. All carry-on items must be checked before you enter. This is not new; it is like that all the time. What is new was the length of the lines. For tonight’s game I brought Dakota. This would be his first play-off game. He has been excited for 3 days since he found out that he won the family ticket lottery and would be accompanying me to game one. He was especially excited that we were playing the Cubs because it gave him a chance to bring back his “D-backs Rule, Cubbies Drool!” sign that he made on Mark Grace bobble head night. Dakota had neatly rolled up his sign and was carrying it. When we got to the front of the security line the guard looked through our bags. He then told Dakota that he needed to look at his sign to make sure it was appropriate. As Dakota unrolled the sign the guard asked him if it contained any bad words. Dakota stopped unrolling the sign and looked at the officer in a most serious expression and stated, “Yes my sign does have a bad word on it, it says Cubbies.” The guard had to turn away he was laughing too hard to do his job. We were motioned through the checkpoint and into the stadium.

Chase Field was packed and I was somewhat concerned about the number of Cubs jerseys I was seeing on the concourse. Dakota on the other hand saw this as an opportunity and stood inside the door holding his sign up for every Cubs fan to see. I figured it was in his best survival interests if we got to our seats as quickly as possible. The crowd was electric beginning in batting practice. It was obvious they were here to be heard and they were very pro Diamondbacks. Phoenix fans get a lot of grief about how they are not passionate but I can attest that this is an unfair portrayal. The crowd was definitely into the game and even more into Dakota’s sign. At every break in the action the fans in section 132 would challenge Dakota to stand up and hold his sign. When he did they would loudly cheer. He was featured on the JumboTron on three occasions and one of the kids at home called to say they thought they saw Dakota on the TBS broadcast. Even the Arizona Republic newspaper caught wind of Dakota’s sign and took his photo to be included in their online photo slideshow.

Besides being loud, the crowd was large. The game was a sell-out (as it should be). This has several positive effects. First it brings electricity to the game and the players feed from that. Second it gives you an opportunity to meet other baseball fans and share in a common interest. Third and most importantly, it minimizes the amount of empty space in the upper deck so that Rally Sally has no room to stand up and make a spectacle of herself. Or at least that is what I thought. I was thoroughly enjoying myself and the ambiance of the game when Dakota broke my peace when he exclaimed, “Dad, I think I saw Rally Sally waving a flag!” He may as well have turned on an air raid siren. I grabbed the binoculars and prayed that as I scanned the skyline I would not see the enemy approaching. I had not felt any disturbances in the force so I thought perhaps Dakota was having a nightmare (just like Cubs pitcher Carlos Marmol). But in the ninth inning as Jose Valverde entered the game amongst a standing ovation there high in the upper deck was Rally Sally waving that stupid flag of hers. That same flag that five months ago nearly took out my eye. I try to be positive and hold no ill will towards anyone but I really hate that flag. As if all of this was not bad enough, my cell phone rings and it is Trina telling me she is watching the game and that they just showed Rally Sally on the television broadcast to a national audience. I don’t think I could have felt any worse than if she would have told me that my daughter was marrying Satan and that Derek Jeter would be coming to my house. All that was lacking was for me to get a call from my mother some 2000 miles away asking why I was not on television and why couldn’t I be more of a fan like that nice old lady with the flags. This is so messed up.

The game ended with the home team triumphant and Diamondbacks fans roared their approval standing on their feet and cheering (which caused Rally Sally to be lost in a sea of humanity). I was gathering up the stuff around my seat waiting for the crowds to thin out so that we could make our way out of the stadium. I turned to Dakota and asked how he liked his first play-off experience. His answer was priceless, “It was really cool, it is kind of like the Boston Red Sox series without all the crappy fans.” Out of the mouth of babes…

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