We’ve survived it. “The Decade from Hell,” as Time called it. The 2000s — or Aughts, or Double-O’s, or whatever you want to call them — were not for the faint of heart. Sparkling towers felled by manned missiles; a pair of wars foisted with thought to cost neither fiscal or physical; a hurricane turning America’s soul, New Orleans, into a watery, ransacked shell.
No, it wasn’t for the faint. And it sure as hell took long enough.
But that’s that. That time is past, relegated to the Facebooks, er, history books of future students, the YouTube trend-hoppers who will wonder and marvel at just how screwed up, and how exploratory, the time truly was. The decade was sour-faced and petulant, tragic and trying, but here we are — one week into the new decade. One week into another stab at this thing called civilization.
What’s that? You claim we’re three months in? Ah, I suppose I should back up for a second. See, within the pages of this sports section; there are no Gregorian or Julian calendars to stand by. We don’t mark our days by the turns of the moon or the rise of the sun. No, we set our watches to the Ruthian clock, the Doubleday dips of time — to the season of baseball.
And it makes sense, if you think about it. A writer far wiser than myself once noted that baseball mirrors the seasons our ancestors witnessed — the hope, springing eternal, of a bright spring day; the slow waxing of the balmy summer months; the rush and the scramble of the fall, a time to reap what is sown during sunnier times; and the dormancy of winter, when you can’t but pine for both the year past and the year to come.
So here it is. Opening Week. Another shot at getting it right, at planting ourselves on grounds of trust and hope and optimism. On trying this whole fandom thing out, one more time
Because last decade was just as hard on baseball fans, and probably harder, than any other demographic littering the census forms. Now, I’m not saying that our struggles surpassed those in the post-Katrina tribes or those treading the Afghani cliffs. They weren’t, and it’s ridiculous to think otherwise. But check out what we went through.
We had Mark McGwire’s tears, Rafael Palmeiro’s finger and Sammy Sosa’s stutter turning their circular logic into a circus of steroids. Barry Bonds unleashed all that is arrogant and unholy on the most sacred number in the record books, against the most distinguished character the game has ever seen. The Red Sox and the Yankees, the two top-shelf-selfish teams in the league, combined for four titles in 10 years. It was enough to make you wonder if the baseball gods had gone Rumpelstiltskin on us, snoozing through the decade.
The game … fell. Our heroes turned into impostors. Our glories turned into goats, turned into ghosts, turning the national pastime into a national shame. The implosion of the Expos. The secrets of the Oakland A’s put on display for big-market clubs to gobble up. The trust we held in the nation’s heartbeat turned inside-out by cheats and liars and frauds.
I came of age in a time of weighty egos, inflated numbers and watered-down talent. I came to know this game, to understand its nuance and identity, in a decade that tried its damnedest to push us out. It tried, and it failed, because we are here in the millions, reveling in the pollen and the sunshine and the breeze — reveling in Opening Week.
So let’s forget about the past. Let’s forget about all the times we were misled and disappointed and screwed over. Let’s forget about the 19 seasons of disaster accrued by the Pittsburgh Pirates, the injuries that tore down one of the game’s greats, the underhanded way teams vacuum up impoverished Latin American talent. And let’s look to the new decade for what it’s worth — a fresh start. A chance to make up for lost time.
Someday, and someday soon, baseball fans will gasp and gawk and giggle at the surreality of the Steroid Era, of the ignorance feigned by reporters and fans alike, of the haughtiness, the “well, duh” moments that always crop up when the revelations start to cascade. And then, I hope, they’ll look at the time that followed — the time we’re about to embark on. The expansion of international talent. The spread of advanced metrics, both within fandom and, hopefully, within the Astros’ front office. The reining in of money-whoring clubs through either salary caps or increased luxury taxes. They’ll see how and why we took the lessons from the Aughts and put them to use.
Where will we be 10 years from now? Shit, I don’t know. Maybe there will be an MLB league in Japan. Maybe the Mitchell Report will be made public, finally tamping down the lingering questions from the bygone era. Maybe — hopefully — the Yankees will finally taste the bottom rung of the American League ladder.
This week, we start down that path.
Much can, and will, change this decade. But odds are, the peaks and valleys won’t be quite as vertiginous as the last one. We’ve slogged through the worst of it, and we’re teetering, but we’re still here.
The Decade from Hell is over. Bring on what’s next.