The Washington Nationals and the Chicago Cubs played a decisive fifth game in the NL playoffs on Thursday night. There was an early lead for the star-crossed Nats, a Cubs comeback that included routing Max Scherzer, a Nats comeback that required the Cubs to use closer Wade Davis for seven outs, and a replay review to check if a runner’s cleat might have come off the base by a millimeter.
Add up all of this drama and it was one of most frightful viewing experiences a sports fan can hope to encounter. I would prefer watching Saturday’s football game between Minnesota-Crookston (0-6) and the University of Mary (0-6) to the nonsense in Nationals Park that was advertised as championship baseball.
The official game time was 4 hours, 37 minutes. It only seemed twice as long.
Major League Baseball has been in major trouble with younger generations for two decades. The Grand Old Game has been my No. 1 sports passion since a first game of catch.
Now, baseball — and particularly playoff baseball — is in trouble with me. I’m going to be 72 next week. I need my sleep.
Thanks to computerized evaluation of plate umpires squeezing strike zones, and a march of pitchers from the bullpen, and the constant scurry of catchers to the mound, and replays when a NASA telescope is needed to determine contact with the base, October baseball is the now the equivalent of cricket’s 6-Hour Test Match.
So, that takes care of the general disgruntlement with baseball. Then there’s the NFL. It also has a problem with golden agers.
Apparently, there is a good share of my generation viewing the non-disruptive actions taken by a modest number of players during the pregame anthem as a protest against the courageous men who stormed Omaha Beach and saved the world from tyranny.
That has nothing to do with it, of course, but the 45th president of our land has ignited a public outcry, and now the cowardly profit mongers who own teams are ready to feed the patriotic frenzy at a league meeting next week.
These scoundrels are sitting on franchises that are worth $2.5 billion-plus, and yet when they show up for a Super Bowl, they demand free hotel suites for their traveling parties, and numerous other expensive amenities.
Fortunately, we’re not the kind of saps here in Minneapolis to be blackmailed in such fashion.
Anthem protests, concussions and other gruesome injuries, an unjust disciplinary system with an autocrat for a commissioner, a complex rule book enforced by flag-throwing egomaniacs … that’s just a snapshot of fans’ disgruntlement with the NFL.
The NBA is hugely popular with its star power, and yet the playoffs are worse than baseball. It’s not the time of game, although a half-hour to play the last three minutes occurs on occasion.
The disgruntlement is that we know in October the identity of the teams that will be playing for the title in June. A year ago, we knew before season tipoff that eight months later it would be Golden State vs. Cleveland.
There’s more mystery this time. Yes, it’s going to be Golden State, but we can’t yet be sure if the Warriors are going to repeat by beating Cleveland or Boston next June.
That brings us to the NHL. The Wild opens its home schedule on Saturday night vs. Columbus. There will be a standing-room crowd in excess of 19,000.
A sports psychologist might theorize that the opener will be a cathartic experience for Wild loyalists still stung from the five-game upset suffered vs. St. Louis and coach Mike Yeo last April.
Except, it took Wild fans about five minutes to get over that, and season-ticket holders renewed at a rate of 98 percent. Ninety-eight.
The Wild has the happiest fans among the four major teams in the Twin Cities. The NHL also has the most contented fans in the four major leagues. The key word there is “contented,” not “most,” since hockey numbers still suffer in TV audiences compared to the NFL (as do all leagues) and the NBA.
The people that are hooked, though, have no complaints. The arenas and the ice sparkle, the action is rapid, the games are close, the playoff results are totally unpredictable (see Blues 4, Wild 1) and the players will stand in a fairly straight line not only for one but two anthems when necessary.
Hockey is back in St. Paul on Saturday night and the Woodbury families of four are rarin’ to go. And Mom, don’t forget the Visa card, because you’re going to need four of those new jerseys … a small, two mediums and an XL, $700 please, and thank you.