PHOENIX -- It happens every Fall: baseball fans become delusional.
Desperate for meaningful games after a grinding regular season, the playoffs take on abnormal significance. Nothing is cool -- it's Kool and The Gang. Greatness, by itself, is inadequate. A diving catch or seat-seeking missile suddenly becomes the greatest play that eyes have ever had the privilege of riveting on.
Who is the best? What is the finest moment? As Americans, we feel compelled to provide rank and order to everything from our TV programs to our Tupperware products. Normally, hindsight reveals the foolishness of hyperbole.
But this World Series seems to have no limit of wonderment. No matter how much you hate the New York Yankees' excellence or the Arizona Diamondbacks' arrogance, not even someone with Spam intelligence would attempt to diminish this championship.
Frankly, it did something very few ever do: it lived up to the hype. It makes it easy to categorize without guilt. Throw it at the top of the list -- or 1A -- and the talk-show lines won't coarse with venom.
Now that the lights have dimmed and the BOB is padlocked shut, it's time to digress. When I think about this Fall Classic, I'll remember:
Flash bulbs -- First pitch of every game was an "I-was-there" experience. It's impossible to exaggerate the sensation of cameras going off at once. Each flicker, in its own way, is a reminder of baseball's importance.
The roar -- Which followed Luis Gonzalez' game-winning RBI single in the ninth. It couldn't have been louder if F-16s were circling around second base. My gosh. I thought my ears were going to bleed.
Curt Schilling -- He's a strange dude, capable of toasting bagels on the scoreboard and sending off more mixed signals than a stolen cell phone. Regardless of this contradiction, his effort in this series was stunning. In three starts, he allowed four earned runs in 21 1/3 innings. For those without an abacus handy, that's a squinting-required 1.69 ERA.
Yankee Stadium -- The digs aren't palatial, that's for sure. But they reek of history. Working this job removes the tingle, but listening to Bob Sheppard announce the New York lineup practically dilated my pupils. He sounds like a butler. Or like no other.
Derek Jeter exceeding expectations -- He's the Kurt Warner of Major League Baseball -- too Disney, too corny to be true. But talk to him for a few seconds and the future of the game seems safe in his mitt. Here's the part that is striking. One night he became Mr. November with his now famous Stroke of Midnight. The next day, he was politely saying hello to MLB.com writers in a cramped workroom before conducting interviews.
Mariano Rivera's dominance, Game 7 notwithstanding -- Bumped into a seamhead one night in Manhattan, and without hesitation, he revealed the report on the Yankees closer: "Easiest guy in the world to scout, hardest guy in the world to hit."
He basically throws one pitch -- a cutter that dances more than Britney Spears. Appreciate his genius, folks. He's a Hall of Famer, possibly the best closer ever.
Scott Brosius' so improbable, so impossible miracle in Game 5 -- Some sequels inspire cringing -- "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo" comes to mind. But I don't think I will ever get tired of seeing the replay of the third baseman's home run, which was a spooky replay of Jeter's jack 24 hours before.
"When he hit it, all I could do was smile," said Arizona center fielder Steve Finley. "It was comical. You are sitting there, wondering how in the world can this be happening again?"
Byung-Hyun Kim -- Sitting at his locker, lonelier than one sock after his Game 5 meltdown. His teammates, who had been offering hugs, had drifted toward the shower, leaving Kim motionless. It was obvious at that moment that he understood the magnitude of his failure. It's unfair, if not cruel, that if the Yankees had won this series, he may have had to record 500 saves before anyone forgot those two days in the Bronx.
Bob Brenly standing his ground -- After watching him manage for three weeks, I have come to the conclusion that it's easier to appreciate him than to explain him.
Randy Johnson -- For his honesty. And Mr. Snappy (that's his slider, remember?)
Michael Brenly -- Talking eloquently about his visit to Ground Zero. Only 15, the kid showed maturity beyond his years, providing clarity to a very difficult experience.
"You don't want to call it amazing, but it really was. Watching those people work around the clock is impossible to put into words," the young Brenly said. "You are talking about real heroes."
D. Baxter the Bobcat -- If there's a cooler mascot in sports, I haven't met him. If this dude were any funnier, he'd be writing scripts for "The Simpsons."
Bumping into celebrities -- Sure it's a little childish. But there's something cool about being in the bowels of Yankee Stadium and having Spike Lee and Reggie Jackson walk by.
The passion of the fans -- Yankees fans are clever in their insults, unhealthy in their support. The Diamondbacks' supporters, heck the whole state, grew up the past week. Regardless of what plays out with the finances of this team, Arizona is now and forever on baseball's map.
The little boy that was standing behind me while I was in line to buy a souvenir -- He begged his dad to let him buy a pin for his hat. The father quickly obliged. And in a way, that sums up how I feel about the series. I wish my kids were here. There's no bigger compliment that you can pay to an event than that.
Troy E. Renck is a reporter for MLB.com.