That great poet of my youth Neil Young wrote wonderful songs but he missed the mark big time with one of them. His line  “only love can break your heart”  is wrong, dead wrong. There’s one other thing that can break your heart and slice it cleanly in two.

It’s baseball. Both love and baseball can break your heart. The game of summer can fold you in half with heartbreak and despair.  And, as anyone who is a Washington Nationals fan understands, it can make you not want to get out of bed for a few days and can conjure up memories (think last Friday night top of the 9th) that are so painful must put them away until they are not quite so fresh and raw.

Now before we go further, I can guess what you are thinking–that I am one of those fair-weather fans who latched on to the Nats this year as their standings rose and that I probably don’t know a balk from a walk. Not so. Though I don’t know every stat and standing, I’ve loved baseball since I was 10 and discovered it could be a great companion for a lonely, shy and bookish girl.

And it’s been my friend and companion ever since. There’s something about the way this sport combines athletics with strategy while dealing with an unpredictable ball that continues to capture me. So I was thrilled when Washington got a baseball team in 2005, I was even at the game Thursday night when the Nats evened the series after one of the most amazing at bats you’ll ever see. It was a test of wills between the St. Louis pitcher and rightfielder Jayson Werth, who would simply not be denied a hit. Werth disposed of 13 pitches, some as strikes and balls, most as fouls, before he deposited said ball over the centerfield fence in a walk-off home run. It was the greatest game in Nats history and a description-defying thrill to be there at opening day, and I have had a partial season plan of tickets every season since.

But I didn’t go to the game the next night. Having been a Mets fan for many years before the Nats came along, I already knew how baseball could break your heart. I figured if they won and advanced to the league championship, I’d be just as happy no matter where I was and if they lost, well, if they lost it would be too much to bear to be there. So I stayed home (actually I stayed at the office with the computer people fixing our server but that’s another story) and went through a range of emotions from euphoria through total dejection during that game.

In case you don’t know, the Nats started by taking the lead 6-0. They still led by 7-5 at the top of the 9th. They got two outs and were down to needing just one more strike to end the game, when suddenly … it was all gone. This was the worst turn-around defeat ever suffered in post season play. I read that the odds of such a collapse at that late in the game are less than one percent. The Nats beat those odds.

There was a collective gasp in the Washington D.C. area and we really haven’t recovered  here yet. People talk about it over and over as they do when trying to process other tragedies. It was gut-wretching and heart-breaking. It will be painful for a long time.

So you will be surprised when I say that if the Nats had to lose, it was the best way for them to do so. Why? First, as very few team members had ever been in post season play before, they were reved up and “over-played” the game as manager Davey Johnson said. When players overplay, they end up expanding their own strike zone. They won’t do that again.

Second, they have now experienced about the worst of defeats you can have and that will make them even hungrier and even more focused next year.

It would be better if they had won. But they didn’t. But this loss brings with it a growth spurt in maturity. Their fear should be gone. You know that age-old saying that whenever you test yourself you should ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen?” and figure that even if it does, you will most likely survive? Well, the Nats had the “worst that could happen” happen. And the sun is still going to rise tomorrow, people in the D.C. area are still going through their daily routines and the players will live to play another day in April. All that will occur even though the worst that could happen did. And that is a great lesson for a young team to learn.

It’s the same in business really. The people and companies, both in our industry and beyond it, that have had the worst happened and survived often rise to heights higher than they had ever achieved before. Every single biography of Walt Disney explains how he went bankrupt once. We all know people in our own industry who have lost what mattered most to them and come back to triumph even stronger.  It’s really not how you win but how you lose that shows your character.

P.S. Here is where I should say something gracious to the Saint Louis fans and give their team its due.  So to all you Cardinals fans:  er … uh … oh …maybe I will congratulate you next week when we are back to talking about glass …. forgive me, but it’s still a little fresh right now. Have a good week.