Goodbye August, hello homestretch

Comerica Park will be filled to the rafters with Detroit Tigers fans as the pennant race heats up in September.

There is no doubt that a full season of major league baseball is one that is very long, and to many, too long. A season that runs from the last week of March through the first week of November may give naysayers a legitimate argument for shortening a season, especially when a team plays almost every single day. The first month brings the excitement of a new season and the fact that each team is given a new beginning with a chance to compete for a division crown and possibly a World Championship.

But, it’s those middle months where the season really slows down. The season is no longer new, and the teams expected to fall to the back of the pack have fallen, while the teams expected to succeed are winning, with a few surprises sprinkled in, as well. May and June drag by with fans looking to the All-Star Game, and after, the hot summer months of July and August see a few teams beginning to set themselves up for a fight to the finish. A fight that will take place in the last month of the season as each playoff spot is solidified. For that month, managers must be at their best. Players must be at their best.

I love September in the big leagues.

After five long months of what seems like, to the casual fan, meaningless baseball, the magic comes back in September. That feeling where every inning is a fight and the smallest of plays could influence the rest of the game, or the season for that matter, is in the belly of everyone watching. Stadiums of teams fighting for their playoff lives are packed to the last row of the highest section with fans eagerly awaiting the final out of a game sealing a victory.

In Detroit, fans are waiting to see what crazy dance Jose Valverde pulls out of the bag after he seals another save followed by the tiger growl; while in New York, fans are hoping to hear Frank Sinatra’s rendition of New York, New York, signaling another Yankee win. Milwaukee fans celebrate with a song thanking the fans for being part of the team. Whatever the team, a crucial win is another reason to go crazy for fans and gives hope that their teams will be playing in the fall.

But September reminds us of why we began watching baseball in that first month. While teams are fighting for that last playoff spot, fans seem to find that last little bit of hope for their team. To any fan, a team is never out of it until that magic number runs out. And to that same fan, his or her team hasn’t officially won a spot in the postseason until that magic number is clinched.

Those teams that are the surprises leave their fans wondering if they have what it takes to complete the unexpected successful season, while down the stretch they see teams creeping up on them, applying as much pressure as possible to see if they will break. The fluke teams become flukes in September while the championship teams become, well, champions.

September series are what make baseball’s regular season America’s pastime. While other sports allow 16 teams into their playoff system, weighing it down with sub-par teams that make the first few rounds of the playoffs boring, baseball allows only eight, four from each league. With eight or nine teams in each league usually in the hunt during September, each game has the ability to change a season, and because of that, gives a fan a reason to watch.

September also brings the best out of the best players. In Detroit, fans are wondering if AL Cy Young front-runner Justin Verlander (20-5, 2.38 ERA) has what it takes to continue his sensational season and lead the Tigers to their first-ever AL Central crown. Will Adrian Gonzalez (.342 BA, 103 RBI) continue his hot hitting enough to give Boston the edge over New York by season’s end, or will Curtis Granderson‘s (38 HR, 107 RBI) MVP-type season be enough for the Yankees to win another AL East crown, leaving Boston to be the wildcard? And who will prevail in the battle for the AL West between the Rangers and Angels? Josh Hamilton‘s (.300 BA, 75 RBIs) bat is leading the way for the Rangers, while Jered Weaver (15-7, 2.28 ERA), who is also a Cy Young candidate, is doing his best to inspire the Angels pitching staff in their attempt at catching Texas.

The National League has its own stars leading teams into playoff races. As Philadelphia continues to cruise through the NL East behind the sensational pitching of Roy Halladay (16-5, 2.47 ERA), Cliff Lee (15-7, 2.59 ERA) and Cole Hamels (13-7, 2.58 ERA), the Atlanta Braves are sealing up their spot as the wild-card behind Craig Kimbrel‘s 41 saves and Freddie Freeman‘s (.293 BA, 64 RBI’s) Rookie of the Year-type season. In the NL Central, Milwaukee has all but clinched the division, jumping out to a 9.5 game lead over St. Louis to start September. Prince Fielder has thrown his name into the NL MVP race, hitting .294 with 29 HR and 102 RBI. In the NL west, the surprise team of the year, the Arizona Diamondbacks, have gotten unexpected lifts from NL Cy Young Candidate Ian Kennedy (17-4, 3.03 ERA) and Justin Upton (.296 BA, 80 RBI), while San Francisco will fight to get back into contention behind their pitching punch of Tim Lincecum (2.58 ERA), Matt Cain (2.87 ERA) and Ryan Vogelsong (2.63 ERA).

Yes, there is a magic about September in which all these stars put their focus and strengths into each and every pitch or at-bat. It’s that feeling of having your All-Star against their All-Star in the bottom of the ninth with bases loaded in a tight game. The month of September is where the heroes of October and November are born. It’s where those players put the team on their backs and carry them into the postseason.

Yes, September is the homestretch. It is the beginning of the fireworks and champagne being sprayed about as teams celebrate their winnings. It’s the fingernail biting in tense situations. Its the hair-pulling after bad plays and tough losses, and it’s the rejoicing and the sudden fondness of religion as you look towards the heavens and thank the Lord after your team has gotten the game-tying hit or the one that wins it.

Yes, September is my favorite month of the regular season, and it’s finally here.

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