The leaves are changing, the air is cooling, and playoff baseball is here again! Though yesterday's events ensured there would be no one-game playoffs to reach tomorrow and Wednesday's Wild Card one-game playoff, the excitement begins in earnest tomorrow, and I'm in a strange position.
The Red Sox are out of it (and have been for what feels like forever), and I'd be pretty much okay if any of the remaining playoff teams won the whole thing. Sure, I have a preference for the Nationals - I spent six weeks this summer covering them. Watching from the press box and interacting in the clubhouse, I discovered that the Nats are an easy group to like - plus, the franchise hasn't ever won it all, in Washington or Montreal.
But I can find a reason to root for nearly every team involved - except perhaps the Cardinals, mostly because I'm over shenanigans like these.
Just out of the teams playing in the Wild Card games tomorrow and Wednesday, there's no bad choice. Sure, I'm rooting for the A's over the Royals, but mostly because Jon Lester is on the mound for Oakland, and I want to see more Jonny Gomes postseason antics. Plus, the A's are like a Red Sox alumni club: Lester, Gomes, Jed Lowrie, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss, and Nick Punto are all on the active roster.
But if the Royals come out on top, I'll have to be happy for their fans: they haven't had anything to cheer for in October in almost thirty years.
On the National League side of things, the Pirates have an edge in my heart. Partly because Pittsburgh fans have endured years of futility, but also for a more personal/regional reason. One of the Pirates starting pitchers, Jeff Locke, hails from my home town. We're used to Olympic skiers up here in New Hampshire, but a professional baseball player is much more exciting for us - we've all been converted Pirates fans since he was traded to Pittsburgh in 2009.
But I became a (casual) Giants fan during their 2012 World Series run. Marco Scutaro is no longer in San Francisco, but they have former Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy, as well as their own unique cast of characters - how can you root against a guy who's nicknamed Kung Fu Panda?
It's kind of nice to know that no matter which teams make it out of the Wild Card round, I won't be crushed by the outcome. Sure, I have my preferences, but I can find it in my heart to be happy for whichever team wins. Nothing that happens in the next month will measure up to last year - but it's time for the playoffs! With or without the Red Sox, October is the most wonderful time of the year.