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October magic mirrors but doesn’t reflect October madness


This fall, it was a great pleasure to be a Minnesota Twins fan. My husband, kids and I succumbed mindlessly and happily to the allure of our team’s presence in the American League Championship playoffs. We carried on with our normal lives, but it was only a façade -- homework, piano, dance class, our torn up bathroom awaiting walls, floor tile, and new fixtures all took the back seat to each at-bat and every nuanced pitch. We screamed ourselves hoarse, waved our “homer hankies” from nosebleed seats at our incomparable Metrodome, paid too much for “Dome Dogs” and Cokes, and felt butterflies in our stomachs during a few ninth-inning nail biters.

Baseball is a beautiful game, made sweeter by the fact that the playoff teams were by and large Davids to the Goliath of corporate professional baseball. In fact, the Twins are the fourth-lowest-paid roster in the league, even slated for “contraction,” a fancy word for elimination, just before the season started. Instead, our team advanced to the Central Division playoff series against Oakland: winning three of five gut-wrenching games allowed us to advance to the American League Championship Series against the Anaheim Angels and the hope -- now crushed -- of playing in the World Series. The Angels, owned by the Disney Company, had previously knocked off the mighty New York Yankees. It’s classic Americana indeed, and it’s so much fun to spend these golden days of fall basking in the best of our can-do culture and our love affair with the gutsy underdog. October magic, the media dubs it.

Baseball news was also, for us, a welcome respite from the uglier game going on in Washington. The high drama and never-ending surprise of October baseball were oddly mirrored by the predictable dramatics of the Congressional debate on whether to grant President Bush carte blanche to invade Iraq. Only it’s a fun house mirror that distorts the simple battle in the infield to a prospective bloodbath in a battlefield on the other side of the world. Hey, no Bronx Bombers this year! -- only bombers.

As told to me by an eighth-grader: Say, have you heard the one about Rumsfeld and Cheney at the bar? Seems the two of them were overheard chatting about an invasion that would kill a million Iraqis and one blonde. The guy sitting next to them asks, “Why one blonde?” and Cheney turns to Rumsfeld and says, “See, I told you nobody would ask about a million Iraqis.”

America’s pastime may also be a sublimation of all that swirls around us. We crave the heightened emotions, the posturing, the clamor for a win, the certainty of rules. But in baseball, everyone knows it’s just a game after all. At the White House and in the halls of Congress, they’re playing for much higher stakes -- life or death for Iraqi men, women and children and for our own soldiers, not to mention international peace and humanitarian concerns. October madness, I’m calling it.

Bush seems to think that warmongering is as American as rooting for the home team. But America’s no underdog; we’re the Yankees of the world stage. We’ve got the deepest pockets, and, some would say, the most arrogance around; and now, thanks to the approval of an election-minded Congress, instead of counting strikeouts Bush can now count on launching a first strike against Iraq, no umpire needed. So, instead of watching groups of young men play a game with a ball, we may soon be watching young men and women at war with an opponent that our president seems to think of in the same facile terms a Twins fan regards Adam Kennedy, Francisco Rodriguez or Troy Percival, an adversary to be outsmarted and overpowered.

Is Saddam a bad guy? Yeah, he pretty much stinks up the place. But I’ve been listening to conversations and radio programs and reading the papers, and it seems to me that few ordinary citizens or even elected representatives are convinced of the credibility of Bush’s position that the United States is in imminent danger from a terrorist attack initiated by Saddam. Heck, for what it’s worth, even the CIA downplays the likelihood that Saddam, unprovoked, would order the use of weapons of mass destruction against us. Nor does the average American seem to buy the idea of putting Saddam Hussein in for Osama bin Laden as if a southpaw reliever were coming to the mound and you needed a left-handed batter.

In October baseball, you want to take some risks: You may need to steal a base in an early inning, or fake a bunt to draw the infield in a bit, wave the runner home in a close game rather than stop him safe at third. In October madness or any other kind of war, your risks have moral consequences, not just business outcomes or dejected fans. Under the circumstances, launching military operations against Iraq is like taking the field in a pro game without a scouting report on the other team: ultimately, a losing proposition.

Kris Berggren writes from Minneapolis. She can be reached by e-mail at krisberggren@msn.com

National Catholic Reporter, October 25, 2002