Just One Game
I really try not to check the clock when I’m in an exercise class.
Look, I know what the perception is of a dude in an “exercise class,” and I can tell that’s the perception because I’m often one of only two or three dudes in a 25-person class. But the gym I go to puts together absurdly difficult classes. They grind the heck out of you for 60 minutes. It’s kinda the point.
And because it’s so hard, the temptation to keep peeking at the clock, wondering when you’ve gotten through just a few minutes more, hoping that there are just five minutes left, is overwhelming. I try not to check, because I know that it’s the whole that matters, and I know I’m gonna do the full 60 minutes one way or another, so why torture myself by constantly checking for time updates?
I try! I don’t always succeed, but man, it always feels better when my brain lets me go 30+ minutes without taking a look at that clock. Hey, I just did all that. There were a few moves that were especially horrible, but they’re done now. Sweet. And I feel like I’ve done some great stuff for my body and mood. Glad I did this.
Baseball, of course, does not afford us the seductive luxury of checking the clock, so to speak, every single minute. If you’re gonna follow the whole of a 162-game season, you’re necessarily going to be checking in every day. Every game. Heck, every inning. Every out. Every pitch! It is absolutely a beautiful torture.
We all know that baseball is best understood over a long horizon of many, many games. But we have to live it only one game at a time, starting with Opening Day. It’s a wonderful thing that we all choose to do, but it necessarily requires you to feel every damn one of the ups and downs in the moment you feel them. You can’t just look up at the clock and see that, oh, cool, 80 games have passed, and I wasn’t in emotional pain for any of that.
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I have felt this really specific tension this offseason, underscored best by the simple fact that Joe Maddon, one of the most successful managers in Cubs history, is heading into this season in the final year of his contract … and that’s just how it’s going to be. He seems to be fine with it. The front office is fine with it. I guess I’m fine with it.
The decision not to extend Maddon certainly meshes with the sense that this year, unlike the last two, will be driven by an added sense of urgency. The front office did not – or could not – make significant roster changes after last year’s disappointment, and instead, they are hanging their collective future on the core group that has already long been in place. They will ride or die with their guys, and if it happens to be die, then there will be significant changes to the roster and in the manager’s seat. Everyone knows it. I reckon everyone feels it. The urgency was already going to be there because of what happened last year and because competitive windows don’t last forever, but leaving Maddon to play out the last year of his deal just seems like it crystalizes that sense of urgency in a very tangible way. See how urgent things are? The Cubs probably have to go deep in the playoffs just for Maddon to keep his job.
Which yields the tension: Maddon’s style has always been about keeping things chill and even keeled on any given day so as to maximize the long-term performance of his clubs. One of his first Maddonisms in the door asked players not to let the pressure exceed the pleasure.
How do you square that kind of philosophy with a directive that things be considerably more urgent every day of the season?
I’m not sure I’ve got the right answer just yet. After all, all that can be won or lost today, Opening Day, is but one in 162 games. The Cubs can’t go 25-6 in a single day. The season has to play itself out.
Today’s game is the only one that can be played, and it just happens to be the first of 162 (or 163). The temptation to let this one game wear the weight of all that comes after it will be strong. That’s just the nature of Opening Day, and also the nature of a fan base’s temperature after a season like last year in a competitive window like this one.
It’s just one game. Today’s is just one game.
And yet just one game was the entire difference last year.
That’s the kind of mental and emotional balance we fans work through in a given baseball season, but it’s also one that these Cubs players will have to sort out on the fly over the coming weeks and months. Tomorrow’s game is another opportunity, but damn man, you gotta win today.
It is in this way that the offseason’s buzz word – urgency – stands in pretty start contrast to the mellow, pout-for-30-minutes-and-then-move-on, just R-E-L-A-X ethos of a Joe Maddon club. So much of what has made Maddon one of the most successful managers in history is his ability to keep players away from freaking too much about the day-to-day, staying in a process mindset, and winning over the long haul. It’s not so much that treating that day’s game with a sense of urgency is wholly incompatible with also optimizing for the long-term, it’s just that it’s not a balance this group – or this fan base – has really been charged with thinking much about in the Maddon era.
I’m not exactly sure how I’m gonna do it just yet. When it comes to baseball, unlike working out, I’d gotten pretty good at not checking the clock every two minutes with this group, knowing that when the final bell rang, the results would be there.
Bear with me. I’m probably gonna have to do some feeling out along the way.
Starting now, with a game that means absolutely everything today, and is also just one game.