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One-and-done postseasons can be fun — especially in the MLB

By John Burbridge

Different schools offer different playlists that get piped over the PA systems for their home sporting events.

One of the more frequent song selections is Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”.

Though I didn’t hear it played while covering the State Softball Championships last week, or even during the district rounds in baseball, the chorus lyrics You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow/This opportunity comes once in a lifetime would have taken on an even greater meaning.

All of the Iowa high school team ball sports — as well as most prep team ball sports in other states — have one-and-done consequences for first-round losers in the postseason. Of course that’s been the longtime norm for the National Football League postseason as well as the format formula that gives the men’s and women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments their March Madness.

But on the subject of ball sports, there are certain elements that make baseball and softball distinct from football and basketball. One is the level of “ball” control.

In the latter sports, the offense has more control — or perhaps a better word “dominion” — over the ball. It’s in their hands — until they turn it over or have to punt it away — and they can run rehearsed triple-option and high-screen plays with it being in their possession.

When you’re on offense in baseball and softball, you’re basically trying to control or hit the ball with a stick. And sometimes things don’t go as planned even if there was a plan in the first place.

Well-hit balls can find fielders, whereas bloop singles and check-swing doubles can be game-winners. Generally, the better team usually wins in baseball and softball, but the unstable physics and the unpredictable quantum mechanics of the sports result in a greater instances of anomalies where the lesser team comes out ahead.

That’s why the common scenario where a high school team can have a great baseball or softball season wiped out with one off or unlucky game may not seem justified for some fans.

For the Comet baseball and softball teams, it may not have been off games that ended their successful seasons, but rather off innings.

Both teams got off to rough starts in the games that eliminated them from state title contention. In the baseball district final against Waverly-Shell Rock, Charles City found itself down 4-0 in the first inning; then the next day at the Softball State Championships, the Comets were down 5-0 in the first inning in their first-round matchup with Des Moines Hoover.

Both Comet teams battled back valiantly. In the baseball game, Charles City later tied it at 5 before losing, 6-5. In the softball game, Charles City held the Huskies scoreless for the next four innings, rallied to score 2 runs in the fourth, threatened to rally again in the fifth before having a runner erased in a rundown where an alleged base-path interference wasn’t called, and eventually lost, 7-2.

The Go-Hawks later advanced to the Class 3A bracket of the State Baseball Championships. The Huskies, the No. 7-seed in the Class 4A softball championships bracket, went on to win their second state title.

Maybe someday high school baseball and softball will expand from its single-elimination postseason. Or maybe not, and maybe that’s for the best in the name of education first, state titles second. High school sports are an extension of the classroom, and perhaps the best lessons their postseasons provide is that sometimes we only get one shot during junctures of our lives.

As for the forthcoming Major League Baseball postseason, the one-game Wild Card is probably the best thing they’ve done to the league since they juiced up the baseballs (not the players) while deep-sixing the deadball era. It provides baseball fans a dose of “October Madness” while giving teams like the New York Yankees — who otherwise could just coast as the imminent wild card entry into a best-of-five divisional series  — incentive to catch the Boston Red Sox or face a 98-win-projected Seattle Mariner team in a one-game high school-like playoff.

Back to the subject of the State Softball Championships: with teams one game away from elimination, it would be better if they could at least go through some of their normal pre-game rituals practiced during the regular season — i.e. infield and outfield warm-ups on the field their playing on … fired up team pep rallies.

And observance of the national anthem.

With football season upon us, the topic is trending again. I’ve stated in this column space before that the playing of the national anthem before a contest can give players and fans a moment of repose and a chance to stand together until splitting back into respective allegiances.

I understand the problems of playing the national anthem before every game of a multi-team tournament with games going on at the same time. One national anthem might be started a few bars ahead of another national anthem that could be heard from another part of the complex, and the repeated playing might make it seem trivial and inflict a sense of ad nauseum.

But for teams about to play with so much on the line, observance of the national anthem would be a familiar and perhaps soothing way to start the game.

Then we can follow up with some Eminem.