As I watched the World Series unfold this year, I saw a design for an upset that I’d witnessed firsthand already.
Two years ago, I was pumping my fist in the air at Dodger Stadium inside a sea of blue. My shoe was red from having kicked Goliath in the mouth in his own backyard.
Today, my mouth is bleeding after returning from Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, where the Houston Astros lost to the Washington Nationals 7-2.
Some other fan of the underdog home team made a last minute plane trip into enemy territory, just like I did in 2017. They walked into the lion’s den hoping for an unlikely fairy tale win and got it in a sea of orange. And their shoe is red from kicking Houston in its mouth in our own backyard.
Such is life. It switches you places. One day you’re David and the next you’re Goliath.
What does it mean to be either of those characters in a baseball story?
I think there are some obvious traits for David. Vegas betting odds are stacked against you. The general public doesn’t expect you to win. You don’t have the best record in baseball – the other team does. That’s your underdog starter kit. That was the Astros in 2017. That was the Nationals in 2019.
Then there are the traits I observed, but I didn’t dare talk about. The telltale signs that infected my gut early on with the intuition that a second World Series championship wasn’t in the cards.
The Nationals displayed the early ability to take our best punch and smile. In Games 2, 6 and 7 they came back from behind and beat us dramatically. We did the same to the Dodgers in Games 2 and 5 two years ago.
But before that, the Nationals felt destined with their history of comeback wins slaying giants, post-season mainstays and storied baseball programs, like the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals, on the way to the World Series. We did the same in 2017, beating the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
And probably most blaring to me, the Nationals lacked the pomp and circumstance and celebrity we flaunted as a city.
Houston boasted its fair share of celebrity in 2017, but we paled in comparison to Los Angeles. Sitting inside Dodger stadium for Games 6 and 7, I never felt more like a small town kid from Texas. In between innings, they had promo drops from A-list television and movie stars, as well as legendary hip-hop artists. It was IMDB’s top ten profiles on their Jumbotron. Their kiss cam might as well have been a re-run of Friends. Their song selection in between innings belonged to Los Angeles artists whose work defined your lifetime and mine.
For the love of God, at Minute Maid, we play “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas to get us pumped up.
They’re also a band from Los Angeles.
You see what I mean? Whether intended or not, it delivers this perception of “our” city is better than “yours.” You’re small. We’re big. You don’t belong here. We have a richer history. World titles live here and collect dust – you dream about them. You have a couple of NBA Championships during Michael Jordan’s first retirement and you still wear jerseys from a team that lost the biggest lead in NFL history.
Goliath is a cocky, loud, entitled and flashy mother lover.
But history and Chandler Bing couldn’t play and win the Fall Classic for the Dodgers in 2017, nor could our nostalgic glory in 2019.
In the 2006 Rose Bowl and the 2017 World Series, Los Angeles learned that celebrities in the stands and on the sidelines don’t make you a better team on the field and could indicate a premature celebration of sorts. And I wonder if we learned the same thing this year.
Stack up this World Series teams’ ceremonial first pitch rosters and you can tell who was about past glory and who was about business.
Let’s start with the Astros: World Champions Brian McCann, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Clyde Drexler; baseball hall of famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell; and Olympic medalist Simone Biles, who did a black flip before launching the first pitch in route to a 12-3 Astros loss.
Pepper in those who called “play ball” – the beloved and national heartthrob J.J. Watt, our country’s first-ever women’s Olympic boxing medalist, Marlen Esparza, and freaking Matthew McConaughey, the ambassador of Texas culture, man culture and global cool.
If I’m a Nationals fan, I’m looking at my first pitch roster of Chad Cordero, a youth baseball academy and Jose Andres and wondering if anyone in Houston knows who in the hell they are. We don’t.
I’m not saying ceremonial first pitch selections lost us the series, only that the framework for the Astros’ 2017 World Series narrative “in reverse” was at play in 2019 and I spotted it. David was about to knockout “flashy” Goliath and that’s what happened.
But it made me wonder, “Why do we feel the need to flex?” Why do we send out past champions to the mound? The intention is good. We want to make the crowd louder and to remind the city and its fans that we’re worth it, but it also sends a message that we have it in the bag, because our history tells us so. Symbolism is important in sports, or else, why do we do it?
There’s this saying in boxing that sleeping in silk pajamas too long makes it hard to fight the hungry man swinging for his next meal. For as long as newspapers have been around covering sports, coaches talk about not reading your own news clippings because you start believing your own hype. I don’t think it should be any different with pre-game ceremonies. Is our nostalgia our silk pajamas?
You might argue with me and tell me that these parallels to a biblical story and World Series coincidences are all external decoration. They don’t have any bearing on the game that was played a few days ago. To them I say, leave me alone. I’m a fan who can’t swing a bat or throw a 100 mph fastball and all I have are my observations and superstitions.
But in my heart, I know you’re right. Two years ago, I penned a piece called “What the Astros Taught Me About Fairy Tales” and in it I wrote, “I don’t have any misconceived notions about fairy tales. They happen for grander reasons and it doesn’t always work out with your timing.”
Meaning ritual doesn’t matter if you believe in destiny, whether it works out in your favor or not.
So, f-it. Let’s get Hollywood. The next time we’re in the World Series, add Houston’s Lizzo to the first pitch roster. I’ll bring the flute.