A family celebration with which I was happily occupied on Sunday meant that I had no opportunity to pay attention to sports that day. But one of the relatives familiar with my line of work assumed that I'd somehow managed to stay current on all matters sports, and asked me Sunday evening how the football games had come out.
"How should I know?" I said. "It's still baseball season."
For a brief and precious time, it was.
For some baseball fans, the season ends when the team they follow packs up the bats and locks down the gate at the local ballyard. But for the rest of us, baseball continues until the final play of the World Series, no matter whose untouchable third strike, routine ground ball, or two-footed leap onto home plate accounts for it. Baseball in almost November, baseball when only a few college football teams remain undefeated and the fall's first failed N.F.L. coaches are about to be fired...this, it can be argued, is baseball at its sweetest...not because the quality of play in the final round is necessarily brilliant, but because when the Series is over, the game is gone.
The "summer game" starts so early that it sometimes gets snowed out, and most of the leaves have fallen before it determines a champion, but the feeling of "over" that comes with the end of the baseball season is no less powerful for those inconvenient details. This is in part because baseball is the only game constant enough to provide background sound and chatter almost all the time during its long season. As a constant, it is missed as nothing that occurs only a couple of times a week can be missed. Beyond that, when baseball is gone, there is no distraction between us and the knowledge that the sky is dark when we get up in the morning, and dark, again, before we come home.
It has been said before, and said far more poetically by Bart Giamatti, the professor of poetry who became the commissioner of the game he celebrated, but it's no less true again each fall for that. With the last game of the World Series, the sport that stubbornly remains in the mind one season's own, no matter what the calendar and the thermometer say, shuts down and leaves us with nothing but games played indoors or in the cold; games constantly interrupted by shrill whistles for fouls and penalties; games determined by the clock; games that, for all their noise and mania, are not baseball.