Tuesday, July 14, 2009

'A Midsummer Night's Dream': The Beautiful Performance of Major League Baseball

The All-Star Game is hours away and fans everywhere are anxious to see the game's best go at it tonight on what promises to be a warm, cloudy summer night in St. Louis. But fans should not despair at the game's conclusion. Second half baseball is about to begin.

The baseball season works like a Shakespearean play. The first half of the season acts as a preamble, a sampling of what's to come as all the teams and characters are put into place. We are introduced to the year's contenders, the pretenders and the hopeless fools. It's the exposition, the first act.

The All-Star Game is a sort of intermission before the second half begins. We can take a few minutes to breathe and enjoy a refreshment or two without worrying if a loss tonight would put our team further back in the standings.

Act Two commences with the start of the second half. Division races begin to heat up. Every division game is crucial. Every series victory deepens the plot. The second half is the buildup towards the season's climax. Every swing of the bat, every out and every missed opportunity plays into the drama. This is the rising action.

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The postseason is the climax of the MLB season. The Division Series and the League Championship Series are the Third Act. It's where everything changes. This is where Romeo kills Tybalt. It's where the Boston Red Sox come from three games back to take down the King of Baseball, the New York Yankees. It's where Florida Marlins defy expectations and advance through the ranks in only their fifth season of existence. It's where the Tampa Bay Rays continue their yearlong saga through the ALDS and ALCS, but just as in a Shakespearean play, sometimes things end in tragedy.

The World Series then is the falling action and the conclusion. In acts four and five, everything unfolds and we will soon have a champion of baseball. It's here that the protagonist (underdog- Rays, Marlins, Rockies) and antagonist (favorite- Yankees, Red Sox) duel it out to see who will reign supreme when all is said and done. It's the final battle. It's Brutus' and Cassius' last stands. Act Five is Game 6 or Game 7. The final outcome is revealed and one team rejoices while the other laments. Unlike a Shakespearean play, however, the folding team can make things right the next season.

Other parallels also exist between the great English playwright's body of work and America's pastime. You just have to look hard enough.

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Just as Shakespeare teases us, Major League Baseball does the same. Shakespeare gave us fleeting hope that Cordelia would survive in 'King Lear', when Lear cried out, "This feather stirs; she lives!", only to reveal her death shortly thereafter. In the Majors, the Tampa Bay Rays made us believe in a worst to first finish. It proved to be only a tease. The Rays finished with a league worse .409 winning percentage in 2007 only to win the AL Pennant in 2008 before falling just short of the ultimate prize as they were defeated by a hungrier Philadelphia Phillies team.

At the season's intermission, it's hard to say what Act Two has in store. The contenders and pretenders have been named. The Dodgers are so far the number one contender out of the National League while the Red Sox lead things in the American League. The title of pretender in the National League has to go to either the Astros or the Mets. In the American League, it goes to the Blue Jays, who started the season hot, or the Mariners only because of their uninspiring offense.

As alluded to earlier, every series against a divisional opponent has the potential to make or break a team's chances of making it to Act Three. A clean sweep of a tough divisional opponent can act as the dagger that sends the team into the third act and thickens the plot. So who will be the surprise team in the second half? Will the Giants give the Dodgers a run for their money out West? Will the Marlins shock the defending champs and take the NL East? Will the Red Sox win their third World Series title in six years? Will the Nationals finish with a sub-.300 winning percentage? Will Albert Pujols make a run at 62 homeruns? And would that make him the single season homerun champion? Intrigue, surprise, suspense, tragedy, comedy, history; this show has got it all!

Written By Danny Hobrock

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