Friday, February 24, 2012

7-Game Series Are For Weenies (by Josh)

In an age of doubts and cynicism about the nature of playoff series, when some contend that seven, or even five-game playoff series are drawn out, it's nice to know that somewhere, someone is bucking the trend.  Or at the very least, they just don't give a damn.
A few weeks ago, Santiago was firmly in the grips of baseball fever, lunacy even.  The Aguilas had miraculously come back from the basement of the Dominican League standings, winning six games in a row against all the right teams and placing themselves firmly in the running for the championship series.  It was at this point that Jesse and I decided we should jump on the bandwagon.  Actually, we were so oblivious that we had no idea the magnitude of the age in which we were living, we just wanted to see a ball game before the season was over.  So, we headed off to Estadio del Cibao with Max and our friend Kelvin, ready for some excitement.  Once we got there, Kelvin excitedly informed us of the importance of the game we'd gone to see, which got Max fired up, and in the meantime we noted that Dominicans had grown tired of letting other sports have all the fun objectifying women.
"Daddy, why don't those ladies have clothes?"
(Photo Credit: sabanaiglesia.net)
Yes, that's supposed to be an assault rifle in
his hand.  This is the only mascot I've
ever seen Max get weirded out by, given
that he ran away like a startled crackhead
when Max tried to hug him.
(Photo Credit: 7dias7noches.net)
One of his tamer outfits.  Jesse's
favorite was the Grim Reaper.
(Photo Credit: eljacaguero.com)
We quickly noticed another stark difference from American ballparks: we bought a mini Domino's pizza from a vendor and realized that the food was actually cheaper than it was outside the stadium!  This was apparently something the owner coordinated a few years back to help out the fans. Kelvin also promptly bought Max a noise maker (euphemistically named a trumpet) and it was on.  The Aguilas truly put on a show for us, coming back from behind to set up a tie-breaker with their arch-rivals for a chance to play for the championship.  The crowd went absolutely insane as the two teams battled into the ninth inning, spurred on by the mentally deranged cheering, complete with disturbing outfits, of the Aguilas mascot.  As the last out was clinched in the mitt, we danced around with our neighbors until I noticed the beer bottles flying down from the stands above.
"It's okay!" yelled Kelvin above the din.  "They make them out of plastic now!"
We also managed to make a trip to the gift shop (also cheaper), and with new hats on our heads we all walked out of the stadium, officially "Aguiluchos". 
I don't think Max's Great Grandpa would have approved of the
decibel level, but it sure was fun!
(Photo Credit: caobadigital.com)
In the days to come, every kid in town was on the corner playing ball, and wearing my new hat around the city. I was suddenly part of a new fraternity.
"Oye!  You think we'll win tomorrow?!" (Oh, I hadn't realized I'd been signed by the team.  How much is my paycheck?)
"Hey! Aguilucho!"
"Go Aguilas!" 
I'd hear all this just walking down the street or strolling through the supermarket, and realized that just by wearing that hat (poser that I am), I could meet tons of new people.  It also reminded me of just how dang friendly folks here are.

So, the Aguilas managed to beat their arch-rivals (Licey) in the tie-breaker, evoking mass-insanity in the local populace and all night parties all over the city.  We could hear people everywhere screaming and honking and otherwise going nuts for their beloved ball club.
Thus it was that the Aguilas were thrust into the championship series with the overall favorite, Escogido (the Chosen Ones).  When I asked Kelvin to explain about the playoffs, he told me that it was now down to the two teams to fight it out in a 9-GAME SERIES.  NINE GAMES.  Not only that, there would be only one day of rest during the entire series as the teams bounced back and forth between Santo Domingo and Santiago (a 2 1/2 hour drive), playing not just for their own glory, but for the hopes and aspirations of their fans.  Escogido, as I understand, had not won in decades, though they'd had a great run at the time of the dictator, who stacked that team with the best players (gives "free-agent" a whole new meaning, eh?).  The Aguilas, on the other hand, had won more recently, but it had been a while, and their fans are beyond loyal, giving their team their entire heart and soul.
Each and every night we could tell exactly how the games were going, whether our internet connection allowed us to watch the game or not, just by listening to the moans or the screams of our neighbors.  The Aguilas were nearly swept, but suddenly came back, as before, and pushed the series all the way to the ninth game.  
People were ready to party, and although the game was in Santo Domingo, the stadium here in Santiago filled beyond capacity for thousands of fans to watch together on the jumbo-tron.  The Aguilas went up fast, making it a 4-0 game early on, but Escogido fought back. 
In the meantime, I had to leave my house to go and pick up my father-in-law, who was arriving that evening from the U.S. for a long awaited visit with the grandkids.  I was told that I should leave early, in case the Aguilas won and the streets filled with partiers, so I decided I'd walk out and find a concho to the airport, slightly disappointed to miss the end of such an exciting game. After I'd walked about a block, it started to rain, so, figuring it made no sense to get soaking wet, I stopped at a local open-air diner to call a cab and watch the game as I waited.  
Now, since I'd left the house, the game had changed significantly.  With the help of a few heart-breaking Aguila errors, Escogido managed to pull ahead 5-4 in the eighth inning and the mood of the crowd sank.  The top of the ninth began dramatically, with a close call at first base going to Escogido.  With only one out between them and victory, the masterful closer from Escogido just couldn't quite get out the next Aguila batter, and soon it was a full count, 3 balls and 2 strikes, when a breaking ball floated right over the plate and POW!! A shot up, up and over the left field wall and the folks in the diner went nuts.  Hand slaps and hugs all around, and people ecstatically dancing with strangers to the celebratory music.  
Unfortunately, as marvelous as it was, it was a solo shot and only tied the game. The taxi picked me up and we listened as Escogido managed to pull off a last minute victory, sending the Aguilas home.
 Santiago stayed quiet that night under the drizzling rain, disheartened but already looking to the next season.  I'm reminded of this every time I wear my Aguilas hat when I'm out and about.  "Aguilucho?" they ask.  "Si, Aguilucho," I answer.  "We'll get 'em next time," they say, and I have no doubt they will with fans like this, or at the very least everyone will have a really, really good time.

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