***The Red Sox home opener has been canceled and moved to tomorrow, but I’m posting this anyways***
“Either you were born into the Red Sox, you were swept up by them or you inherited them the same way people inherit baldness and high blood pressure. Inevitably, you passed them down to the next generation. You hoped everything would be worth it some day … even if all evidence pointed to the contrary. You hoped. You hoped. You hoped.” – Bill Simmons, ESPN columnist
It’s not just that I love baseball. I mean, I do love it. I love watching and playing it. But that’s actually beside the point. Because what I really love is Red Sox baseball. I love the team more than the sport itself. Some may consider that “rooting for laundry” as Jerry Seinfeld once put it, and maybe he’s right. But I don’t care. Today is opening day of the 2009 baseball season and that means you get to listen to me talk about the Red Sox and what they mean to me.
Most of you probably know the Sox have won two World Series in the last five years. But prior to 2004, that was not the case. Not at all. From 1918 to 2004 this team had ZERO championships. But it wasn’t just the lack of titles that plagued the team. It was how close the Red Sox would come to winning and then find a spectacular, unthinkable, preposterous way to lose at the last second. None more famous than Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, in which the Sox were up two runs in the bottom of the 10th inning with the Mets down to their last out. Just one more out — hell, at several points during that inning it was just ONE STRIKE they needed to win — and it didn’t happen. That led to many idiots people believing the team was cursed.
While I think curses are for morons (and certain Boston Globe curly-haired blowhard columnists out to make a buck), there was never any doubt we were rooting for a team that was unlike any other. In Boston and New England in general, people care about their sports teams a little too much. That’s been true of my father for as long as he’s been alive, and he passed down that devotion to me and my brother. And when you care about something that deeply and you invest countless hours of your time, it truly and genuinely affects you when they rip your heart out.
I was a little too young to really remember 1986, which is widely considered to be the most painful memory in Boston sports history. But I was plenty old enough to remember 2003.
The Red Sox and Yankees had fought in the ALCS to a Game 7, winner-take-all battle royale for the right to go to the World Series. The Sox were up 5-2 in the bottom of the 8th inning when things started to unravel. And then Pedro Martinez gave up hits to Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams. He was clearly out of gas (his track record was AWFUL after 100 pitches that year) so it was no surprise to see manager Grady Little making his way to the mound where he would surely put in Mike Timlin or Scott Williamson. But he never made the move. He inexplicably left Pedro in to face Hideki Matsui and then Jorge Posada, who both got hits to tie the game up.
When it got to the bottom of the 11th inning, I nearly threw up. Because I knew — I just fucking knew!!!! — that the Red Sox would lose. And sure enough, it happened when Aaron Boone (of all people) hit a solo walk off homer to send the Yankees to the World Series.
I was a mess for weeks after that game. I lost 10 lbs, I seldom left my house and my roommates and I just sat around drinking and shaking our heads. It was as if someone had reached into my body, ripped out my soul and took a huge dump in the spot where my heart used to be. You think I’m exaggerating? I’m not. It was horrible.
But the point of this story is that every April, despite those soul-wrenching losses, everything was suddenly good again. Anything was possible. The weather was warming up, you convinced yourself the Sox looked good enough on paper to win and hope floated back into your heart. You believed they could win. You had to. Because as much as my dad bitched about the Red Sox, the most important thing he taught us was that no matter how much they hurt us, you could never, EVER, turn your back on them.
Do you know what it’s like to love something so much and only get heart break and pain in return? I’m not kidding, people likened hardcore Red Sox fans to victims of an abusive relationship (this is hyperbole by the way and in no way am I saying Sox fans have it harder than victims of domestic abuse, so relax!). My father was haunted by the thought that the Red Sox might never win a World Series in his lifetime. As you can imagine, that kind of neurotic and irrational fear can only be shared by those hardy, like-minded souls who are stupid brave enough to let a sports team influence their lives that much.
But my brother and I really never had a choice. Like Bill Simmons said, you inherit this team because it binds generations. My dad took me to my first game when I was 6 years old. We’d watch the games on TV every night. Even when I was in my rebellious teens and didn’t want to be seen anywhere near my parents, we always had the Red Sox to talk about. During big games when Pedro pitched we’d count his strikeouts by lining up shoes in front of the TV. When they played the Yankees we stuck a Yankees mug in the toilet for the duration of the game. We have a lucky bat, a lucky penny, we’ve locked people out of the house for being bad luck and one time I watched the game pantsless while standing on MJ’s couch holding her cat (don’t ask!). So while we didn’t like the same music or have similar tastes in movies, but we could always come back to the Sox because we loved them unconditionally.
Hell, the Red Sox played a vital role in my engagement to MJ. So much so that she wrote them into our wedding vows.
All of this is what I am going to pass down to Will. A love of something shared by generations of men (and women) in my family going back more than 100 years. Membership to a club with benefits such as the right to worship at the altar of baseball which is inarguably Fenway Park. One day he’ll gaze at the Green Monster in person, marveling at how much bigger it is in real life than on TV. He’ll know about Pesky’s Pole, Pudge’s home run in 1975, Ted Williams’ .406 average in 1941 and Curt Schilling’s bloody sock.
He’ll watch a video I took of my father in 2004 during the last out of the World Series, a then 48-year-old man crying on his knees as family members and friends deliriously hugged each other in a moment of pure, unadulterated bliss I’ve only experienced a handful of times in my life. He’ll understand and appreciate why Red Sox pennants and hats are placed on the gravestones of loved ones in cemeteries all across New England on an annual basis.
Will is going to know that baseball and the Red Sox are more than just a game, that being a Sox fan is life. It’s heart break, torment, loyalty, jubilation, perseverance and dedication. And family. Because he’s part of it already, even if he doesn’t quite know it yet.
Happy Opening Day everybody! And just for kicks, check out this video from HBO’s “Reverse of the Curse of the Bambino” in 2004. The very end of the clip makes me cry like a baby every time because on April 3, 2008, I brought a baby into this world and it was indeed a world where the Red Sox were World Champions. Gets me every time!