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[DISCLAIMER: I know ESPN’s Bill Simmons wrote something similar to this a few months ago. However, I had the idea before I even read his column. If you don’t believe me, well…I don’t really care. This is what I’m feeling and if I come off as a Simmons clone then so be it]
FENWAY PARK. SPRING 2016.
It’s Opening Day of the 2016 Red Sox season. An excited, blonde-haired boy bounds along the concourse of America’s Most Beloved Ballpark with his father. The boy just turned 8 years old on April 3, and as a special birthday present, his dad bought two box seats. The boy’s name is Will and today is his first game.
As we walk up the ramp on the first base side, the interior of Fenway Park explodes in front of us. The green, lush grass, the crisp white chalk of the base lines. Pesky’s Pole juts up in right field and the Green Monster looms over everything in left. While Will’s eyes hungrily scan everything in sight, his father is focused solely on his son’s slack jawed look of amazement at seeing the ballpark live and in person for the first time. It’s a feeling he knows well.
As the usher dusts off their $600 seats, they begin talking baseball. Dad points out the retired numbers hanging in right field. 1 (Bobby Doerr), 4 (Joe Cronin), 6 (Johnny Pesky who is also throwing out the first pitch), 8 (Carl Yastrzemski), 9 (Ted Williams), 14 (Jim Rice), 27 (Carlton Fisk). All the greats.
Then Dad points out center field where Fred Lynn ran into the wall. He reminds Will of Tony Conigliaro (Grandpa’s favorite player, cut down in his prime). He relives the excruciating days of Bucky “Fucking” Dent in 1978. Game 6 in the 1986 World Series and Buckner’s 5-hole. Game 7 of the ALCS when Aaron “Fucking” Boone broke our hearts.
But then…then Dad starts talking about 2004.
DAD: “Buddy, you have no idea. The Red Sox were dead. They were down 3 games to none in the ALCS against the Yankees and on the verge of elimination in the bottom of the 9th inning with the best closer of my generation on the mound. But then Millar walked. Roberts pinch ran and stole the most famous base in Red Sox history, then Mueller knocked him in. And then in extra innings…”
WILL: “Dad, you’ve told me this story 1,000 times…”
DAD: “Shut up. This is my moment and you’ll sit through it again. So…and then who strides to the plate but David Ortiz. Big Papi himself. And what does he do? He promptly smashes a homer to right to win the game. The place went nuts. And if that wasn’t good enough, less than 24 hours later he came up again with the game on the line. And what happened?”
WILL: “He loaded up on steroids and got the game winning hit?”
WILL: “Dad? You OK? Sorry, I was just kidding.”
DAD: “Don’t ever joke about that Will. You’re young. You have no idea what that world series win meant. After 86 years they finally did it. Church bells rang, graves were decorated, grown men wept. It was a life changing moment son, and I’m not exaggerating. And it was in large part to Big Papi. He was as clutch as you could ever imagine. Walk off after walk off. The expectations for David Ortiz were sky high, yet he met and exceeded them every single time from the second half of 2003 to 2007. He was Superman. A cross between Jesus Christ, Ghandi, and Buddha. He was…”
WILL: “On steroids dad. He was on steroids. Same with Manny Ramirez, World Series MVP. Right?”
Yesterday Ortiz and Ramirez were linked to the steroid scandal. According to a New York Times article, their names (which were supposed to be kept anonymous) were among 104 major league players who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs during the 2003 season.
It wasn’t unexpected, but that doesn’t minimize the impact being felt around the region today. Some of you are probably saying “So what? Everyone was on steroids. Look at A-Rod on the Yankees. He used them. Just get over it.” However, those people don’t understand.
A-Rod is an asshole. He’s a hired gun. And he hasn’t led the Yankees to anything except the biggest choke in sports history. While NY fans admire him for the great player he is, he will never be beloved like Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez, etc. So when A-Rod tested positive for steroids it really had more of a negative effect on baseball as a whole than Yankee fans specifically.
But Papi? Papi was OUR guy! He was goofy, determined, amicable, a great clubhouse guy and he single handedly lifted Boston fans to a higher place than we had ever experienced before. We gave ourselves to him. Management deemed him the greatest clutch hitter in Red Sox history, a history that includes Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, etc. And unlike some Boston stars, he returned that love to us. We felt like we knew him. When he flashed us that goofy smile we melted.
When the names in the steroid scandal started to come out we held our breath, hoping no Red Sox players would be on it. But mainly, we all crossed our fingers for Ortiz. “Anyone but Papi,” was the collective thought going through every Sox fan’s head when the Mitchell Report was released. And thankfully the hammer didn’t fall. Papi was clean. Our hero was still a hero.
That’s why yesterday’s news hit like a hammer.
You have to be from here to understand what 2004 meant. It meant permanently giving the finger to obnoxious Yankees fans who taunted us unmercifully all our lives. It meant vanquishing a hated rival in unprecedented fashion. It meant no more gravestones would have “Never saw the Red Sox win it all” carved into them. It meant we could die in peace. No matter what happened from then on out, we had 2004. Nothing could take that feeling away.
Now I feel betrayed. I love Papi, but when he hit a go ahead homer today I felt funny. Instead of leaping to my feet in joy and celebrating, I started to celebrate and then stopped suddenly. Because I wondered if he was juicing. I wondered how many of his other majestic game winners were the result of PEDs. I wondered if 2004 would have happened if not for Ortiz and Ramirez cheating their way through the season.
All of a sudden my “Faith Rewarded” dvd has lost some luster. My World Series 2004 Champions T-shirt doesn’t give me the same amount of goosebumps. I cringe at the thought of Ortiz walking into Yankee Stadium with chants of “Cheater, Cheater!” wafting from the balcony. I hate that I can’t make fun of A-Rod for cheating anymore.
I just hate it. I’m angry and I’m disappointed. Maybe Ortiz has a rational explanation for all of this, but even if that’s true it won’t matter. His reputation has been permanently sullied, along with our memories. And, most unfortunately, our future.
WILL: “So dad, did Papi use steroids? Did we win the World Series by cheating?”
DAD: “I don’t know son. Probably. But you have to know that even despite the steroid stuff, it was such a magical time. That team did something no other team in baseball history ever did, come back from a 3-0 deficit. They won four in a row against the Yankees! The Yankees!!! They were absolutely magnificent that year.”
WILL: “But…their best players were cheating right?”