As I sit down to write this on a Friday afternoon, the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs are preparing to play one another in a playoff game for the first time in Major League Baseball history.
I give you this context not to excuse whatever implications the first two games of the series might have had on the following column, but to give you an idea as to the frame of mind I'm currently in.
This has never happened before.
I'm fascinated to see how it all pans out. The Cardinals and Cubs are each coming off incredibly compelling seasons that forced them to survive perhaps the best division in baseball history. This is my hope for how the series goes:
Cardinals in two.
I kid, I kid. Well, mostly, anyway. Seeing the Cardinals somehow win a five-game series in two games would be pretty amazing and not just because they would miss Jake Arrieta. But my real hope for the series is that it establishes Cardinals-Cubs as truly one of the great rivalries in all of sports.
The rivalry gets a lot of guff from fans and media closer to large bodies of saltwater, and a bit of it is justified. The fanbases are typically friendly to one another, but that's easy to do when there's never really much on the line.
Still, most of the criticism boils down to an unfair stereotyping of Midwesterners. Many critiques of the rivalry reek of an indifferent and occasionally classist attitude toward flyover-state simpletons who wouldn't know a real rivalry if it hit them in their time zone.
That's garbage. The Cardinals-Cubs rivalry might embody a sense of Midwestern politeness, but what's wrong with that? What's wrong with a fan who can enjoy a game while sharing a beer with his or her enemy? What's wrong with fans who are indisputably passionate but still want to have a positive experience, win or lose? Why should we behave any differently?
Still, now is when the rivalry faces its biggest test. Can red and blue remain friendly with a trip to the NLCS on the line? And what happens when one of the teams is eliminated - especially, Baseball Heaven forbid, if it's the team that has grown accustomed to having the upper hand in the rivalry?
I won't pretend to tell you how to behave if the Cardinals lose. If there's one thing I've learned from being a Redbirds fan during their latest string of success it's that the most insufferable thing we do is prescribe a proper "way" of doing things.
But I will tell you what I'm going to do.
I will live and die with every pitch the next week. I will become irrationally emotional about strike zones. I will jump out of my chair if anyone so much as high-fives Yadier Molina's glove hand too hard. I will probably yell at Mike Matheny a lot.
But if the series ends with a Cubs victory, I will sit down, likely stunned, undoubtedly heartbroken, and I will smile. I will probably need the entire NLCS to process it, but I will smile. Or at the very least, I will do one of those stand-and-clap-for-the-other-team-after-a-good-play things that Busch Stadium crowds are so proud of, only in my head. And hey, unless the Cubbies take on the Royals in the World Series, I might even silently root on Chicago the rest of the way. (OK, maybe I'm being a little crazy.)
The Cardinals have been everything to me going back to my childhood, and hating the Cubs has long been a given. But I don't want to be the type of person who can't appreciate the unadulterated glee that might - maybe, if they're lucky; this is the Cubs we're talking about - be felt by people who have experienced nothing but misery and pain at the end of the last 106 seasons. People, by the way, we claim to be friendly with.
I want the Cardinals to win. Gosh darn, do I want the Cardinals to win. But I also want this to be a rivalry based on good will. I hope Cardinals and Cubs fans can prove it is exactly that, even when something is on the line.
Cardinal Nation loves to stake the claim of "Best Fans in Baseball." Now we have a chance to show it.
And hey, who knows? If the Cubs can compete for a championship, maybe the Blues can, too. OK, now I am being crazy.