Boston's Deserved World Series Celebration Is About Much More Than Baseball
Between 1919 and 2003, the Boston Red Sox ended 85 seasons empty-handed. Then they destroyed the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, and buried it for good in 2007.
They can now be found dancing on the curse's grave.
The Red Sox did it again on Wednesday night at Fenway Park, defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series by a final of 6-1. After over eight decades of disappointment and heartbreak, that's three titles over the last ten seasons for the Olde Town Team.
This latest triumph is not, however, just another championship. The '04 and '07 titles are plenty special in their own ways, but this one really is different.
This is not a championship for the Red Sox. This one is a championship for Boston. It's a gift, one to a deserving city from a beloved baseball team that's no ordinary baseball team.
For this was no ordinary season.
The roots of the 2013 Red Sox go back to the fall of 2011, when a seemingly invincible Red Sox club went 7-20 in September. The postseason went from being a sure thing to being out of their reach.
We found out later via The Boston Globe that there was more than just bad baseball at play that September. There was beer. There was chicken. Worst of all, there was indifference.
After it was over, gone was general manager Theo Epstein. Gone was manager Terry Francona. Their departures left the Red Sox as a rudderless ship, one that reeked of decadence and of incompetence.
And against all odds, it got worse.
Bobby Valentine, a man who hadn't managed in the big leagues in a decade, was charged with overseeing the attempt at a quick turnaround in 2012. The vibes were bad from the start, and they never really got better. The Red Sox never had the look of a worthwhile team, and the relations between Valentine and the players boiled to the point of a near mutiny.
The demolition finally came in August. Ben Cherington, Epstein's successor, sent three of the Red Sox's most problematic contracts to the Los Angeles Dodgers. With the white flag raised, the losses piled up, the season was capped with Valentine's immediate firing, and the Red Sox found themselves heading into the winter in need of leadership and talent.
The roster needed to be remade, and goodness knows it needed to be remade the right way.
For the Red Sox lost a lot more than just games at the end of 2011 and all through 2012. Along the way, they lost Red Sox Nation. Boston may be a town that loves its baseball, but the Red Sox spent more than a year denying their fans reasons to love them.
So was the stage set for 2013. What Boston would end up getting was a team that it could love again. And, unfortunately, a team that it would need.
The 2013 Red Sox started strong, winning on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium against the hated Bronx Bombers. Soon they would be 4-2 through six. Then 6-4 through 10. Then 8-4 through 12. It was early yet, but Boston's local nine was looking like a team worth watching.
But on Patriots' Day, the Red Sox found themselves on the bottom of Boston's priorities.
The Red Sox were on their way to Cleveland when the bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on the afternoon of April 15th. Three were killed. A couple hundred more were injured. The horror caused everyone else in the city to stop in their tracks.
Obviously, baseball ceased to matter. Heck, baseball was even overruled a couple days after the bombing took place, as the Red Sox had a game postponed so law enforcement officials could have clean streets on which to track down the men responsible. The Red Sox could wait.
But they inevitably were going to have Boston's attention again. And when they did, all that could be asked was that they do something, anything to help everyone move on. Rather than the Boston Red Sox, the club could do a whole lot of good by being Boston's Red Sox.
Leave it to David Ortiz, the longest-tenured member of the club, to make it clear that the team understood. "This is our [bleeping] city," he said before the first game back at Fenway Park following the bombing, "and nobody's gonna dictate our freedom."
Nobody said it publicly, but Boston's response could certainly be felt: Damn straight.
It was Daniel Nava who provided the exclamation point for Big Papi's [bleeping] inspiring speech, launching a three-run homer that gave the Red Sox a cathartic 4-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
"Knowing everything that went into the day for the city, for us to get the win, it came in a special way, special fashion," Nava said, via FOXSports.com. "It made it all that more important."
That was the Red Sox's seventh straight win. With a city in need at their backs, they were off and running. And wherever they went, they preached a slogan. It was in their dugout. It was on their jerseys. It was on the Green Monster. They used it on Twitter. They used it in interviews.
It was their identity, one that reminded Boston of its own identity: "Boston Strong."
And it wasn't all only for the cameras. The Red Sox didn't just say Boston Strong. They lived it.
Dr. Charles Steinburg, head of the Red Sox's community relations department, told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN that Red Sox players were itching to do some good the moment they got back from Cleveland following the bombings. In the end, Steinberg counted that the Red Sox made 470 community appearances. The 2012 Red Sox, by comparison, barely cracked 300.
As for the hours the 2013 Red Sox spent on the field, well, they spent most of those dominating.
The Red Sox won 97 games, most in the American League. They did so with a fun-loving style reminiscent of the 2004 Red Sox, albeit with a lot more facial hair. Between their talent, their personality and their compassion, Boston could not have asked for a more perfect bunch to latch on to throughout the healing process.
"I go back to our players understanding their place in the city," Boston manager John Farrell told The Boston Globe. "For the lack of a better description, they get it. Our fans got to a point where they appreciated the way we played, the way we supported each other."
Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University, had this to say to The Boston Globe:
There is a magic to this team. The Marathon happens, it was so injurious to the city...and the next thing you know there’s this team of destiny rising through the ashes. It creates this dynamic of hope for the city moving forward.
It's a good enough compliment to say that the Red Sox brought distraction to Boston by playing baseball. And while it should, saying that they brought hope oddly doesn't feel too over the top.
The Red Sox didn't need to go out and win a championship to validate all they had done. Had they lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series or to the Detroit Tigers in the Championship Series, they would have been thanked for the ride and everyone in Boston would have moved on to other welcome distractions. The Red Sox's season didn't need a storybook ending.
They gave it one anyway, and we're not just talking about the championship.
When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and again in 2007, the one thing Boston was lacking was the Red Sox themselves. They clinched the '04 Fall Classic in St. Louis. In '07, they were in Colorado. The party in Boston was forced to carry on without them until they returned.
Not this time. This time, the Red Sox got it done at Fenway Park. You had to go all the way back to 1918 to find the last time they did that.
And believe it or not, you have to go back even further to find the last time a World Series victory was celebrated at Fenway Park. With the 1918 season shortened due to America's involvement in World War I, The New York Times noted that nobody felt much like celebrating after the Red Sox dispatched the Chicago Cubs in game 6:
Baseball's valedictory this afternoon should have been played to the weary strains of Chopin's Funeral March. The smallest gathering [15,238] that ever saw the national game's most imposing event sat silently about, and watched Boston win and Chicago lose.
Just as there was in the fall of 1918, there's still gloom in the Boston air. But the event that caused it in the first place is fading further into memory with each passing day, and the Red Sox have done their part to clear it up and then some.
The ultimate baseball party for one of the ultimate baseball towns is in order. The Red Sox earned it, and Boston deserves it.
David Ortiz said as much in one more message for the city that has so emphatically embraced him:
"First of all, I want to say this is for you Boston!You guys deserve it, you've been through a lot this year & this if for you"-David Ortiz— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 31, 2013
When it comes time for the 2013 Boston Red Sox to be written into the baseball history books, they'll be put down as a very good baseball team. The notes will read that they won 97 games, the AL East and, ultimately, the World Series. Just another great season in the annals, really.
They'll remember 2013 differently in Boston. They'll remember the Red Sox as a team that did so much more than play ball, at a time when baseball was nothing and everything at the same time.
Boston will never see another season like this one.
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