Sunday, April 17, 2005

I'm going to try to explain something here that may be unexplainable, but I think it needs explaining and maybe from it will come an understanding of my passion that is the Red Sox.

As many of you know, I was born in Rhode Island in July of 1978. The Red Sox were up big on the Yankees and running away with the division, until the collapse. A fourteen game lost and one game playoff forced with the arch rivals. A game that would forever give a light hitting shortstop a new middle name Bucky "Frickin" Dent.

I discovered baseball and the Red Sox during the magical 1986 season, the year the Sox had a young ace from Texas, Roger Clemens, an outfield of Tony Armas, Dwight Evans, and Jim Rice, Boggs, Spike Owen, Marty Barrett, Billy Buckner, and Rich Gedman around the infield. Owen was picked up from Seattle with playoff hero Dave Henderson. An aging righthander was acquired that July from the White Sox, a crafty veteran looking for one last shining moment, Steve Lyons (who later would drop his pants in Detroit with the White Sox) was the man traded to bring Tom Seaver to Boston. We all know how it ended, but in the heartache, the love affair began.

I went to my first Red Sox game on May 10, 1987. The California Angels came to town and future Hall of Famer Don Sutton pitched for them against the Red Sox and lefty Bruce Hurst. My Pa took me, we sat in right field. I remember walking into the underbelly of Fenway, an old, dirty looking warehouse on the outside, and walking up the ramp. When we reached the top, the sunlight shining into the darkness cause momentary blindness to my young eyes and as the world reappeared, I found myself bathed in a see of beautiful green right behind homeplate, staring out onto the playing field, the Green Monster, and the glorious Green Cathedral that is Fenway. The same field where Yaz, Williams, Bench, Rose, Musial, Joe DiMaggio, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, Thurman Munson, Mantle, Marris, Bob Gibson, Tony C, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Lou Gehrig, and, yes ,Babe Ruth had played on. I remember eating my fill of Fenway Franks, cola, and ice cream. The Sox won and Ellis Burks hit his first major league homerun and stole his first base.

Every spring, I'd play baseball. After school in little league, and in the summer, for hours on end. And always, there was the Sox.

Being a Sox fan is something you're born into. If I could compare it to anything, and it is a poor comparison at best, but you don't choose to be a baseball fan. Much like God, baseball chooses you. It gets into your blood, it calls you close and keeps you there. Nurtures you and teaches you about life, and reminds you of the great simplicity of joy that can be found in a game, something that can't be touched with the body, grasped and held on to, but something intangible that touched the spirit in a way working 40 hours a week can't.

I remember being told, "Don't put to faith in the Sox, they'll only break your heart." In 1986, I had no concept of that, for my mind just reasoned that they'd be back at it the next year. Well 1987 came and went, 1988 saw a run to the playoffs end in a 4 game sweet to the A's. The early late 80s and early 90s were marked by close but no cigar, trades sending away Jeff Bagwell, Curt Schilling, and Brady Anderson. Gone were Ellis Burks, Rice, Greenwell. The next big thing never panned out Sam Horn, Todd Benzinger, Kevin Romine, Dana Kiecker, Kevin Morton, and others.

Year after year, never getting back to the Series, heartbreak after heartbreak, and I learned. Every year was the year, and every fall next year was the year. Sitting with my Pa watching game after game after game and never losing hope that someday, someyear would be the year. One season into another, never giving up. He'd tell me of when he went to Fenway as a boy and about Ted Williams' swing, the poetry of it all the perfection it had. The names changed, the game didn't. 9 innings, 3 outs, teams who scores the most wins, and if it's tied, well they keep playing till it's settled.

Well, then last year happened. The run of runs, the 86 year drought, the futility of generations came crashing down and the Red Sox were World Champions. The first person I called was my Pa, followed by my Mom, and the getting a call from my brother (who was rooting for Boston despite growing up a Yankees fan). Next year was this year and it was great.

I know most of you don't get it, but growing up in New England, there's not much to do, not much in the region to tie and identity to. Florida has the mouse, Iowa has corn, California their beaches, Hawaii has well all of it, and New England has their sports teams. The fans there are passionate and knowledgeable and I became one of them.

Watching the Sox reminds me of a simpler time when the worries of the world were far away and years in the future. The game of baseball has become a distraction, the chance to slip back in time and forget about everything else in the world and just be that young boy without a care. The kid who loves the game and who is cleansed of the world's problems and worries for a few hours by the smell of cut grass and hot dogs. The crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd. God gave us this great game, I don't claim to know why, but I am thankful for it. For some reason, I'm a Red Sox fan born and raised in the shadow of Fenway. A rarity in the ESPN generation where the Braves and Yankees seem to be all the rage.

By the way, when the Sox returned after sweeping the demons of yesteryear away and the Cardinals in the process. They returned to Fenway. The man given the honor of carrying the World Series trophy off the plane and off the bus was a veteran outfielder who had spent most of the year on the disabled list. Not really contributing, except in clubhouse leadership. A veteran who wanted one more year in the sun, one last chance to win the prize that had eluded him. Ellis Burks had that dream come true and I can't but see the a greater hand in it, the man who I first saw as a young man with blazing speed and a powerful swing, who stole his first base and hit his first homer, all those years later came full circle. What are the odds of that happening? How many other young fans that May day in 1987 were at their first game that day and how many saw the rookie return after all the years of hopes and dreams and heartache holding the victors prize?

Why do I love the Sox? Because every now and then, baseball makes dreams comes true, even the most improbable.

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