I’ve been watching a lot of soccer the last year or so. It’s probably second in my sports viewing time sink at this point, behind baseball obviously and outstripping basketball and football for various reasons and scheduling issues.
It’s grown on me, with the way the game flows and the spikes and lulls of intensity and serenity, the fact that there’s 45 minutes of basically uninterrupted play, and that 45 minutes is often more than that. Plus, since it’s on when I get up on Saturday, it’s great to just have on while getting over a long Friday night with coffee and a nice breakfast. In many ways it reminds me of baseball, a game of unique rhythm and pace that, when it’s clicking right, is a beautiful sight.
The thing with European soccer, though, there’s a decided lack of parity. It’s like baseball in that sense in that there’s no restrictions on spending, so the big dollar clubs can basically buy up the best guys and/or build the most premium development facilities and basically run roughshod over the league. Oftentimes you can make a pretty good guess of who the top six teams are going to be before the first game is even played, which makes it tough for some of the other teams, the Watfords and Burnleys and Wolverhamptons, to really gin up legitimate championship dreams in their fans.
They’re fine teams, all have great players in one way or another. The amount of money in English soccer dwarfs even Spain or France, so they get some fine players that would be borderline stars elsewhere, even on mid-table teams. Heck, Leicester City (who did come from nowhere to win the league a couple years back) has one of the best players in England in Jamie Vardy. Their hopes are kind of stunted though simply because of the economic limitations they face that other, better funded and supported teams simply do not. Stopping the inexorable force that Manchester City has become seems nearly impossible. Finishing somewhere mid-table, like seventh to 10th, for some of these teams is seen as a pretty good season, all things considered. Hoping for a shot at European play or, like Leicester in 2016, a surprise chase for the league title, these are where the dreams lie and where reality often falls short.
Which is all a long way of saying, I think I’m okay with how the Indians’ season went this year.
It’s certainly not how I wanted the season to end, not by a long shot. Who wouldn’t want a title to take home, a pennant to raise? But it just wasn’t in the cards, and after all the adversity the team faced, from the rotation getting shredded to the lineup in total flux through basically May to the outfield being a smoking ruin pre-Mercado, 93 wins is quite impressive. They won the season series against against the Twins, knocked off the Astros one weekend and roughed up the Yankees a bit too, so there’s certainly a lot to be happy with. Plus the bludgeoning of the Tigers, still so satisfying after being their whipping boy for the first half of the decade.
More than anything, this year really reinvigorated my love of the season-long slog. Last year was interminable. There was no drama, just a mediocre team barely getting out of its own way and whomping on a miserable division. Tested this year, the Indians did stand up strong, even if they eventually fell short. They were actually fighting for a division, and later a playoff spot. Lemmy Kilmeister once said the chase is better than the catch, and while more games this month would be nice, wasn’t it fun?
Going to Houston and walking out with a series win, strafing the Angels and silencing Mike Trout, winning the Ohio Cup again, these are all things to look back on with a smile. That’s something, at least.
I don’t know the actual point of view of Bournemouth or Everton or any mid-table team fan. Everton hates Liverpool, but that’s like a Mets fan hating the Yankees. These smaller guys of England probably do hold out hope for a dream, Cinderella-type run. Leicester in 2016 was the exception though, where the rule is Manchester City.
The Indians are always going to be on the short end of the stick, at least until they get their own sheikh or oligarch to launder money for them. They played the big boys tough this year, and if the title isn’t the end point, at least we’ll have had a good time wiling away the summer. Maybe it’s the wrong take, maybe winning is all that matters. Success has to be measured in some way besides rings though, otherwise every year is a waste of time for 29 teams, and that doesn’t seem right. So I’ll take whatever small victory this year was, whatever little joys I gathered throughout the season, and hold on to them until next April.
However next year goes, I hope it’s at least as fun as this one.