Boston Red Sox: Our Father, Who Art in Fenway
“It’s bounced back to Foulke, he has it, he under hands to first, and for the first time in 86 years, the Red Sox have won baseball’s world championship…can you believe it?”-Joe Castiglione
When a Boston sports fan hears this call of the final out in the 2004 World Series, it means something well beyond the play on the field. This historic radio call signifies an entire region’s passion, dedication, faith, and love finally being rewarded. Being a Red Sox fan goes deeper than just supporting the team.
In many ways it’s truly a way of life.
It is a religion that owns the greatest temple in professional sports, Fenway Park. The giant Citgo sign and famous 37-foot high green wall aren’t just features. They are added additions to each of our homes. Families are built on living and dying with the Red Sox.
After 2004, and even this past 2007 world title, people weren’t just bringing flowers and American flags to grave sites, there was Red Sox memorabilia as well, as we have been taught to never forget the generations of loyalists who have passed this tradition down since the early 1900’s.
My father represents a generation of fans who saw the re-birth of the Red Sox. I learned every little detail one would need to know from him, such as the significance of the lone red seat in right field that Ted Williams hit 400 plus feet away, or the importance of numbers 1, 4, 8, 9, and 27 (the retired Red Sox numbers) hanging above the right field roof. They are not just numbers, they are as important as a birthday of anniversary.
Now as I have grown older, it’s easier to appreciate being in this fraternity of sorts. It’s not just a passion; it is part of your extended family.
The 1967 Red Sox are known as the “Impossible Dream”. Reaching the World Series for the first time since 1946 when nothing was expected of them. The stories of my dad and his little transistor radio growing up, listening to games is something that fans in Toronto and Arizona will never truly have an understanding and affection for.
Dealing with heartache is never an easy thing.
The Red Sox have been passed down through generations as a learning tool of how to deal with things in life. When I heard the story of my dad sprinting home after school to hear a one game playoff between the Yankees and Sox in 1978, only to have to listen to Bucky “Bleeping” Dent (we Sox fans are bitter folks) rounding the bases after hitting a home run that just cleared the Monster, I quickly learned to be wary of putting your heart into the Red Sox, or anything for that matter.
It’s probably a good thing I wasn’t around in 1986 too, as Sox fans were subject to what might have been just as bad as a death in the family. After coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the American League Championship series, the Red Sox were 1 out away from winning the World Series against the New York Mets. A single, a wild pitch, a rolling ground ball to first that magically squeezed through Bill Buckner’s legs, and a Game 7 later, Red Sox fans were at a funeral, not a parade.
Hearing stories of hosts on sports radio having to talk people out of committing suicide, I further began to realize what the Red Sox truly meant.
Once I came along, the Sox luck didn’t get much better, however many of my earliest childhood memories are built around the Red Sox and Fenway Park, with pictures of me just days old in a Red Sox hat. I guess I sort of had no choice in life. I suppose it's only normal that I was repeating the Red Sox starting 9 before I could walk. I was thrown right into the living soap opera, like a child being forced to learn how to swim, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
While I’ve had the privilege (Yeah, I'll still call it a privilege for now) of meeting Roger Clemens, walking on Fenway’s field, and being to hundreds of games, my childhood did not conjure up very many exciting memories.
The Sox were mediocre, winning a lone division title for the decade in 1995, which included MVP Mo Vaughn, juiced up slugger Jose Canseco, “The Gator” Mike Greenwell and of course, “The Rocket” (and perhaps the juicer/liar) Roger Clemens. The All Star game graced Fenway’s field in 1999, which was actually a great experience to watch, but I still hadn’t been through the testy times as a fan.
I still needed my initiation.
The Sox made it to the ALCS in 1999, for the first time since 1986, against whom else, the Yankees. They had just beaten the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland in the final game of the series, with Pedro Martinez pitching 6 perfect innings in relief. It was too good to be true; I knew just 11 years into my life wasn’t long enough. People had waited centuries.
Well, I was right.
As quickly as it came, it evaporated in a quick and silent 4-1 series win thanks to the Yankees. The sting was there, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I asked my dad why he wasn’t as shook up about it as I was, and all he had to say was “they do it all the time.” Then, 2003 finally gave me what I was waiting for.
I was a sophomore in high school, and at that age, you’re expecting the worst a lot of the time. But they did it again. They roped me in. First, down 2-0 in a 5 game series in the first round, they would come back and win in game 5. Then, down 3-1 in another ALCS with the Yankees, they battled back, and I would witness my first ever game 7.
The entire day revolved around the Sox. School was a blur and dinner couldn’t be over fast enough that night. Finally 8 o’clock rolled around, and little did I know 4 hours later I would finally know what “it” felt like. They were up 5-2 with one out in the 8th inning, 5 outs away from FINALLY getting past the Yankees and probably hammering the Marlins in the World Series.
Then, Grady “Bleepin” (there's that bitterness again...can't help it) Little leaves Pedro Martinez in too long, the bullpen blows the lead, and Aaron “Bleepin” (I swear I'm over it now) Boone ends the series with a walk-off home run in the 11th inning.
The phone rang about 20 minutes later, breaking the silence I had sat in and not even noticed. I picked up, really not wanting to talk to anyone, and all I heard was: “now you TRULY know what its like.” I was pissed, but my dad was right. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t go to bed, I couldn’t even move.
And yet, I knew five months from right at that moment, I would be optimistic as they headed for spring training, and there was nothing I could do. It was simply a way of life. Of course I woke up Opening Day of 2004 with the same four words on my mind that every Cubs and Red Sox fan has been taught to believe: “This is the year”, and sure enough, they took us all on a ride again. However, this time, when we all least expected it, the impossible happened.
It was ACTUALLY true.
My father really hadn’t been lying to me my entire childhood. First, the biggest star of my childhood Nomar Garciaparra was seen sulking on the bench while his teammates were in the middle of one of the greatest regular season games ever against the Yankees. Nomar’s counterpart Derek Jeter would risk life and limb diving into the stands for a ball, making Nomar’s actions in-excusable to Red Sox fans.
He was then traded for Doug Mientkiewicz at the trade deadline on July 31st. The Sox also signed speedy bench player/outfielder Dave Roberts, who later on would forever assert himself into Red Sox lore. I expected to be hurt the day Nomar retired or left, but it was as if I could feel myself growing up: it didn’t matter who was there, as long as I saw a World Series in my lifetime.
I knew at this point it was all about getting the job done, no matter what needed to happen and at any ones expense. The Sox swept the Angels in the American League Division series, and as if the baseball god’s wouldn’t have it any other way, they would play the Yankees in another ALCS. And of course, typical of any Sox fan, this was finally it. They couldn’t lose to the Yanks again.
Well, after losing game three 19-8 and being on the verge of being swept and embarrassed, I tuned into Game 4 expecting absolutely nothing. Sure enough, through 8 innings of ball, the Sox were down, and once again, they had ruined my summer (and beginning of fall). But then, Dave Roberts stole a base after Kevin Millar walked. However, this was not an ordinary stolen base.
In many Red Sox fan’s minds, it started the greatest comeback of all time.
The millions of Americans watching and the 38 thousand in Fenway KNEW he was going, it was just a matter of when, and if he’d get there. He did. Third baseman, Bill Mueller singled, and two innings later David Ortiz extended the series with a walk-off homer.
The difference now, was that they had just gotten to Mariano Rivera, who in most people’s eyes will go down as the greatest closer in the history of baseball. I still wasn’t convinced, though. Even the most die-hard fans refused to get their hopes up this time.
Another extra inning game in game 5, and an A-Rod glove slap later during game 6, (which by the way, was simply a case of A-Rod running to first, knowing he hadn’t come through in the clutch yet again, about to be tagged out, and slapping the ball out of pitcher Bronson Arroyo’s glove. He would eventually be called out for the weak attempt), and another game 7 was on tap.
I couldn’t possibly handle this again, could I? No other team in the history of professional sports had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win the series. The Red Sox were now just 9 innings away, and once again, they had me sucked in. Little did I know that it was finally okay to put my heart back out there.
The drama was taken out of it for us all in the 1st inning: and how sweet it was. A Johnny Damon leadoff home run, and just like that, the “curse” was gone. The Sox went on to blow out the Yankees in hallowed Yankee Stadium. This was finally going to be it. It was truly a changing of the times. I had only been alive for 16 years, and I was witnessing the end of generations of hurt and loss.
The World Series went by with a blur, never being what I expected it to be, because I had never envisioned the Sox actually winning one. I mean sure, every kid growing up in New England lets their mind wander once and a while, hell, I had been at the parade 4000 times in my life already. But when it really happened, it was more of a sense of “No friggin’ way” than anything else. Not to mention the fact that the Yankees series WAS the World Series to most Sox fans. It was more than just beating the Yankees, it was a sign of things to come, the way I saw it, it was a new chapter in my life.
My father told me he just sat there and really didn’t celebrate; he “just kind of took it all in.” And as odd as I found that, I realized what it truly meant. All the years of torment and hurt the Sox provided him and millions of others growing up; it all just seemed to disappear with a blink of an eye.
For those of you who aren’t getting this, take the build up to Christmas morning when you’re a little kid, and then the feeling you have right after you’ve opened all your gifts, and then times that by a hundred. The parade was a whole experience itself. I was the loser who got up at 6 am to grab a spot, and it paid off. I was front row to see something people had lived an entire lifetime and died before seeing. I saw people with tears in their eyes as Curt Schilling hoisted the World Series trophy, the man they had acquired to “break an 86 year curse”.
It was the high of all highs for a die hard Sox fan.
The 2007 title was just as meaningful, but in a different way for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still rubbed it in as many Yankees fan’s faces as possible, but the 2007 Sox won it with young talent, some just 3-4 years older than myself; it was a sign of this generation really beginning to be a factor in the world, and that hit me like a ton of bricks. The other difference here, was that the Sox were EXPECTED to win, a place where not only they, but there fans had never been before.
They were the best team in baseball from April to October, and that took some getting used to. The Boston Red Sox have provided people with a sense of belonging, a sense of pride, a sense of faith, a sense of loyalty and a sense of community for nearly 100 years now.
When you are born into Red Sox nation, you aren’t baptized until you go to Fenway, and you learn quickly, you’re in for life.
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