This week, I had my first pumpkin-flavored treat. It was a deliciously exciting moment. I went with an iced latte from Dunkin Donuts, thinking that the pumpkin says “I’ve succumbed to the idea of cooler weather,” but the ice says “I’m not ready to let summer go.”
But, as I waited in line for my order to be filled, I noticed that Dunkin now has a New York Giants themed donut. (No Jets spotted in Southampton, sorry Gang Green.) Vanilla frosted with a blue drizzle, it got me thinking that there’s another reason, aside from the abundance of pumpkin fudge, pumpkin beer and pumpkin coffee, to look forward to September: It’s arguably the most exciting month of sports.
Like my iced autumn drink, the fact that the Boys of Summer (re: baseball players) vie for a spot in the Fall Classic (re: the World Series) provides a chance for us summer-lovers to ease into the prospect of shorter days. And to all of the haters who complain that the baseball season is too long, that the outcome of one game out of 162 does not make or break any team’s chances, I say: Watch September baseball. While I personally disagree with the idea that there can ever be too much baseball, I can understand the sheer exhaustion others might feel while watching nine innings of 0-0 play. But, September baseball is second only to playoff baseball in its level of excitement. And I say this as a Mets fan—at press time, my team is a comfortable 22 games out of first place in the NL East. However, in a solid non-Mets fashion, the team has even given its faithful something to root for this month—journeyman knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has a chance to win 20 games this season, a milestone few achieve, and just maybe the Cy Young Award.
Still, with absolutely no plans to join the controversial “Mets Fans for Yankees” church championed by Craig on WFAN’s “Boomer and Carton,” I’ve consistently turned to the Tampa Bay Rays as my playoff team.
And it looks like Tampa is going to give me the excitement I crave, their energetic style of play fueled this year by the race to nab the extra playoff spot added during the 2011 offseason. (Or, dare I dream? The AL East title. Take it from the Yankees purely for bragging rights.)
The 2012 season marks the beginning of an era when 10 total teams will make it to the postseason, up from eight in previous seasons. Now, in addition to the three division champions and the one wild card winner (the team with the next-best record), there will be a second wild card. The wild card teams will advance in the playoffs by way of a one-game sudden death match (my words, not MLB’s).
This paves the way for a team that finished third place in the regular season to grab that second wild card spot and, in true underdog fashion, win the World Series title.
And here’s where it’s thrilling to root for the Rays. Right now, two games separate first, second and third place in the AL East. If September 29, 2011 taught us anything, it’s still very much any team’s season. On that day, the course of 2011 postseason baseball was changed as, within a matter of minutes, the Red Sox completed a most epic collapse (destroyed by the then-lowly Baltimore Orioles), the Rays beat the Yankees to nab the one wild card spot and, over in the National League, the Braves’ equally astounding path to ruin paved the way for St. Louis to play October ball.
Had the two-team wild card format been installed, the Braves and Sox would have had one more chance to stage their demise.
Every game truly counts right now. I’ll be watching. And when that’s over, I’ll head on over to Dunkin, grab my Giants donut and ease into some football.