The Final Season: Close It Out

Atlanta 4 – Pittsburgh 0; CJ: 1-1, R

Final Season Stats: .287/.377/.455, 14 HR, 62 RBI, 111 H, 58 R

Final Career Stats: .303/.401/.529, 468 HR, 1623 RBI, 2725 H, 1618 R

It happened. The regular season ended. It always seems to do that, though, no matter how much I protest. At least this year Atlanta will see the postseason, even if only for a brief few hours.

But this last game also means the last day of blogging for me in this epic marathon gauntlet I voluntarily ran into. Today’s post will mark the 162nd time I have posted in the last 6+ months. That’s… a lot. Even I can acknowledge that. I can also acknowledge that it is not a pace I can maintain. In fact, I imagine this being the last post for at least a few days, if not a week or more. I need a little break.

But instead of waxing philosophical about what the last six months have meant to me or shown me, what I got out of all this, if anything, I’m going to finish like I started – writing about baseball. And not writing about what I feel when the season ends or how I long for baseball during the winter (and I do), but writing about a completely random thought I’ve had about this game I love.

Cue the closers (which is fitting as it is my last post).

I had this great conversation with my dad, as I often due, while watching a baseball game recently. Actually, it was a highlight MLB or ESPN or whoever chose to show during the game we were watching, and it was of Tampa Bay Rays closer Fernando Rodney finishing off a game for the team. And if you know anything about Rodney, you know he seems like kind of an intense, yet animated dude. He cocks his hat to one side, has a long-ish, unkempt beard, and makes large gestures with his arms when he completes a save.

This display of, what I assume to be, machoness prompted a comment to my dad about how all closers are crazy. His response: “Well, they need to be.” This led to me saying the expected, ‘Go on.’

It’s my father’s theory that, to be an effective closer, you have to be a little left of center. His reasoning is that it takes a special kind of person to get amped up for coming in with the game on the line. Typically, when closers get the ball, their team is up by only a run or two, and they are tasked with making sure it stays that way. Their team has battled for eight innings to force themselves out in front with only one half inning standing between them and victory. “So, here’s the ball, closer, and don’t screw it up for the rest of us.’

Being a closer is a high pressure job, for sure. Your sole purpose is to ensure wins. No matter how good the batters are that you’re facing and no matter what the situation as far as men on base threatening to score, you are to come in and close the door. The stress, the adrenaline, the nerves, the sense of control. I could see how some players would enjoy all that. I, personally, not so much. I’m non-confrontational. Put me in for some long relief early in the game with the team down seven because the starter blew up. That I can do. But close? I’d have a stress-induced asthma, panic, and heart attack all at once. But those guys that do it and are good at it seem to love it. Obsess over it. ‘Give me the ball, coach! I’m ready.’

That sort of reckless disregard for anxiety is probably where the tattoos, beards and antics come from. They let loose both literally, with their pitches, and figuratively, with their emotions and, possibly, self-control.

Don’t get me wrong. I love closers. The Braves have one of the best in the game in Craig Kimbrel, and he is certainly a big part of their success. So definitely love closers. I just think it’s funny how so many of them fit into that characterization. Crazy guy with long hair, wild gestures and Technicolor tattoos. The kind of guy that looks prone to getting into bar fights with bikers. And I realize while Kimbrel may not look that way, he does look as intense as any of them when he’s out there.

The best exception I can think of, to offer a counterpoint, is Mariano Rivera. He was, for what seems like decades, the Yankees’ closer. (He’s hurt now but looking to make a comeback.) He is a guy that calmly goes out to the mound, void of all tattoos and piercing holes and flashy gestures, and mows opponents down like they’re blades of grass, just sitting and waiting to be chopped up. But he seems like the exception much more so than the rule.

But, hey, if it’s late in a game and the team needs to shut the door, I don’t mind a guy with a questionable appearance or behavior. As long as he’s effective, we’re good. Again – as long as he’s effective. If he is, I’ll wear as many fake beards in as many fake colors as I can find.