I wanted to hate baseball's new wild card play-in games. Honest. Wanted to hate them because they seemed like a half-baked way to repeat the once-in-a-lifetime magic of last season's final day, when four games decided two playoff spots and two ended in walk-off wins.Wanted to hate them because they seem like the first step toward adding more teams and more games to baseball's postseason, a seemingly inevitable television cash grab that could eventually push the World Series into mid-November. (Mark my words: Someday, the Fall Classic will be played at neutral warm weather locations, like the Super Bowl. Just wait). Heck, I wanted to hate them because I detest the NCAA men's basketball tournament's "First Four" play-in games, a sham that annually screws at least two small-time schools out of enjoying their one shining moment as sacrificial No. 16-seed fodder.
Thing is, I can't hate. Not when I think the play-in game is the most exciting thing to hit baseball since, well, steroids.
Look, baseball has a thing about stodgy tradition. Fathers and sons. Comparing eras. Field of Dreams. Yadda yadda yadda. And I get that. In fact, getting that is part of what makes the tweaked wild card format so appealing. The NFL makes a change? Big deal. The NFL changes stuff all the time: pass interference rules, concussion guidelines, player discipline, BountyGate evidence, being at war with Eurasia. But when Major League Baseball decides to spice things up? It's hot. Like finding out your longtime partner wants to do more than just read "50 Shades of Grey." Indeed, the unfair, arbitrary, one-bad-bounce-and-adios nature of the play-in game cuts so contrary to baseball's measured, reasonable, prove-it-over-an-endless-season ethos that I can't help but love it. (Heck, maybe it will help Billy Beane's [expletive] finally work in the playoffs).
Besides, the best thing about playoff baseball is that all the game's regular season negatives—limited action; endless standing around; too many manager seed-spitting dugout closeup shots; obsessive-compulsive between-pitches batting glove-tug routines; the crushing, soulless inevitability of mathematical predictions coming true due to large sample size; and did we mention the standing around?—become huge pluses in October. The postseason is all about anticipation. Exquisite, excruciating, edge-of-your-seat tension. Knowing that every pitch, swing and dribbler toward Bill Buckner's waiting glove can mean the difference winning and going home. Knowing that anyone can do anything in a single game, and that while there's statistically no such thing as a clutch player, there is also Derek Jeter. The new format means more of that, both during the play-in games themselves and in the wild n' crazy days leading up to them.
So yeah: I'm all in. Hampton, are you ready to bounce around on an invisible horse and go Selig Style?