I headed from the airport to the office Friday afternoon, greeted by a neglected desk and my secretary's notification that I looked more exhausted than usual.
After a few hours of work, I left to go to Max's baseball practice, and when I got there, he was in the middle of a flyball drill, minutes after which he headed to the dugout to grab a bat and a pair of batting gloves and a helmet. It was 20 degrees warmer and 20 shades brighter than what I'd left behind in Detroit, and I leaned back on the bleachers and watched a bunch of first- and third-graders work on becoming better baseball players.
A deep breath, and I remembered it's just a game.
It's the Greatest Game, but it is a game. Caught up in the intensity and the glare and the scrutiny over swinging at a first pitch or a questionable intentional walk or a ball bouncing off a bag, it's easy to forget what draws us to baseball in the first place.
These guys who will take the field for Game Six tonight were once seven years old, once nine, learning to catch and throw and swing a bat and play as a team, counting the elementary school hours each week leading up to those times when they got to put the uniform on and there was an umpire and another team in the opposite dugout and Moms and Dads and brothers and sisters and grandparents cheering them on and drinks and snacks afterwards. When they got to go out and play.
It's what an unassuming lefthander did in the Ohio Little Leagues and at Newark High and for Wallace State Community College, and later in a extraordinary year that started in Clinton, Iowa, and moved to Bakersfield, California, and finally to Frisco, Texas.
There's a baseball game tonight. It's what Derek Holland has prepared for since he was my kid's age. It's a baseball game, and he's prepared.
If you were told on November 2 or on March 1 or on July 20 or September 29 that Texas would have two chances at home to win one baseball game in order to return to the World Series, you would have taken that in an instant. The Rangers will have to beat one of two very good starting pitchers to get that done, but they've necessarily had to beat good pitching all year to earn the position they find themselves in now.
My instinct is to say that Holland just needs to take care of business tonight, but what he really needs to do is just play the game that he's devoted a lifetime to. He's one of the most talented baseball players in the world, capable on some nights of being a whole lot better than the hitters who step in against him.
In Game Two of this series, Holland was guilty of overthrowing and maybe overthinking things and getting too amped up. We could all see that he needed to slow things back down that day.
Maybe there was an added lesson there. I figured out watching a Little League baseball practice yesterday that it might be useful for me try slowing things down myself.
It's just a game. Derek Holland is really good at it, and he gets the chance tonight to do what he does, in front of lots of Moms and Dads and brothers and sisters and grandparents.
Just slow down, and we'll all have more fun tonight.