When I teach the topic of probability in my Statistics class, I often explain that a probability distribution exists for an experiment if certain criteria are met. In particular, if the sum of the probabilities of the possible outcomes of that experiment adds up to one, and none of those probabilities are less than zero, no matter how unlikely those proposed probabilities are, they represent a real probability distribution. To explain this, I often point to one of our local teams that is having a rough time at that point in the season and say that if we propose that the probability of that team winning a national championship is equal to 0.98, as long as we say that the probability of them losing is equal to 0.02, that is a legitimate probability distribution, even if the values do not make sense given the reality that we know at the moment. I found myself thinking of this recently as our local baseball team found itself in a position of having a chance of entering the playoffs, a chance that was soon taken from us, before we could truly savor the moment.
The “postseason” weeks of October in Cleveland can be an interesting time. Like the towns from Connecticut from which it derives its roots, the season is one of colorful trees and progressively chilly weather. However, unlike the towns from which it derives its roots, Cleveland often spends the fall season wishing for a sports championship of some kind. It has accomplished this in the past, with 1948 being the last time the Cleveland Indians won the World Series. Since then, my adopted town has been unsuccessfully trying to repeat that event, or at least something similar.
There was a season in 1996 when it seemed that the baseball team would most certainly reclaim its title, but that year came and went without the necessary wins. And so the town did what it does best and set its hopes on “next year,” making plans for the more successful season that would most certainly come. It did not. Nor did our football team make it to the Super Bowl. Despite building a new stadium that not only sold tickets, but also sold die-hard fans the right to purchase tickets (through “seat licenses”) that made the cost of tickets to games played by the Browns go up, the team took too long to rebuild from the insult of having the original Browns team relocated to Baltimore to become the championship Ravens. Even the basketball team struggled, when our star player decided to move to Florida and play for another team, leaving the town feeling like jilted lovers but still wishing for that elusive championship.
After years of being disappointed by the quest for a championship team, I began to not pay attention to sports in our city. After all, I had been at a college that won the NCAA Men’s basketball championship when I was there, and had even been there when they came close to winning it two other years during my undergraduate years. Surely, I had experienced enough victories and near-victories for one lifetime.
But then, just when many of us were not paying attention, a funny thing happened. That baseball team began to win. And win. And win. Before we knew it, they were playing baseball for a position in the post-season playoffs known as the “wild card.” Once again, the town that has so often played the role of the disappointed lover gathered around our team and cheered them on. And, on September 25th, they won, allowing them to extend the baseball season into October. Miraculously, they were playing baseball in the “postseason” month of October. However, the road to the playoffs lasted only one game, and we were soon left watching such things from the sidelines, once again.
Several years ago, my daughter was part of a basketball team that went through the season undefeated. As happy as I was for her team, I actually started to worry at one point. What if she did not learn how to lose graciously, and began to think that winning was the only option? Silly mommy, I now think to myself; this is not a lesson she will fail to learn. She lives in Cleveland, and if ever there was a city that was overdue for a championship of some kind, it is her hometown.
And so, once again, I join my city in looking ahead. Congratulations to all of our dedicated athletes, in all of our various sports. Here’s to next year!
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