Requited love

I am an unapologetic and unrepentant Boston Red Sox fan.  Loyalty to a ball club is bequeathed from parents to children like fondness for Italian opera.  Rare is the son or daughter who strays too far from the father in this regard.  “The Boys of Summer” transport us with an annual rite of grace; hot, languid afternoons, heroics, heartbreaks and for Red Sox lovers, Fenway Park – that odd “bandbox” park of the tall green monster and uncomfortable seats no true fan ever wants replaced by some artificially turfed, cushioned, Disneyworld of an entertainment palace with naming rights acquired by a bank or a beer and designed with all the charmless sameness of a McMansion.

My siblings and I grew up with the folklore of Ted Williams and a legacy of the abiding discontent of over three quarters of a century of failure.  My father lived all his life in a hope renewed each spring that was frustrated each autumn or summer, usually by August, but with a few heart stopping excursions into October.  The Impossible Dream in 1967 with Yaz’s MVP year just missed in a seven game World Series with the Cardinals with future Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Lou Brock and Orlando Cepeda.  A second seven game loss in 1975 is rated the second greatest World Series in history.  The Sox of Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk and Luis Tiant came up short to the legendary Big Red Machine from Cincinnati with Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan along with Ken Griffey and series MVP Pete Rose.

The agony culminated in 1986 with the MLB rated third greatest game in history when the Sox lost the seemingly won Game 6 of the World Series in the tenth inning with Bill Buckner’s famous error Game 7 was doomed.  Seems like last summer: the stuff of myth.  1986 would have been too late anyway for my father.  My dad cheered unrequited for 66 years and died with 22 years yet to go before the Sox broke the curse of the Bambino.

My father took us once to see a fishing trade show even though he never fished to my knowledge.  We went to see a retired Ted Williams cast a fly unerringly time after time into a small floating ring in a large swimming pool.  He told us of Teddy’s hitting prowess and astonishing eye hand coordination – a God given talent far beyond most mortals, and an ability that downed many an enemy plane when Williams earned his Ace rating as a Marine pilot in WW II and the Korean conflict, sacrificing four years of stats and home runs.

Many times my father and his kids would do yard work or paint my mother’s greenhouse with the radio propped precariously in the kitchen window over the sink booming out an afternoon game.  At the risk of seeming irreverent, St. Augustine summed it up best when writing of the Psalms in his “Confessions”: “These voices poured into my ears and truth became clear in my heart and then feelings of devotion grew warm within me.”

At last in 2004 my wife, Rita, and Ethan, the young boy next door, broke the curse.  Rita brought Ethan, who was around 3 or 4, the gift of a Red Sox hat.  When she went to his house, there was a Yankee’s hat next to him on the couch.  She explained to him reasonably that the Yankees are the bad guys, and the Red Sox are the good guys.   Ethan was an instant and enthusiastic convert.  Being a resigned lifelong fan, I told her she had condemned him to a life of disappointment.  I was wrong.  At the end of the season, when the Sox came back in the playoffs from 0 and 3 to the Yankees, my father’s hope was realized.  Manny, Curt, Pedro, Big Papi, Johnny Damon and ‘Cowboy Up’ Kevin Millar became an inevitability, and the World Series sweep against the Cardinals seemed almost anticlimactic.

Baseball’s pace, the tension of every pitch in a close game, the strategy and dugout superstitions are intrinsic to its singular appeal.  In all other major professional games, the losers run out of time, but in baseball, they run out of opportunities.  Each contending team is guaranteed a minimum of 27 opportunities, and upon them rests success or catastrophe over 162 regular season games and as far into the playoffs as skill, heart and good fortune will take them. Something about that guaranteed opportunity makes baseball uniquely American.

You may be surprised that a genetic Red Sox fan made it all the way through a baseball blog posting with very little bad to be said about the Yankees.  True Red Sox fans steer clear of maligning their opponents no matter how deserving they are of scorn.

Bostonian Colonel Henry Knox (hero of the Guns of Ticonderoga and the siege of Boston) in a letter to his beloved Lucy in 1776 about New Yorkers:  “The people, why the people are magnificent in their carriages, which are numerous; in their house furniture, which is fine; in their pride and conceit, which is inimitable; in their profaneness, which is intolerable; in their want of principle which is prevalent, and in their Toryism (anti independence), which is insufferable.” 

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Requited love

  1. Rita P

    Lucky for me, Ethan’s Mom and Dad weren’t die hard Yankees fans!

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  2. A great testimony to Loyalty Jack. I particularly liked the story of Ted Williams casting prowess. A true Hero in many respects, especially considering Hes a Marine. But I reall liked Col. Knox’s True description of New Yorkers, especially yankee fans. Thanks

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  3. Greg

    Jack,
    I remember withb great fondness the times Dad would wake me up in the front seat of his car…trying to stayup for the west coast games on the radio. Mom would always come in and make me shut off the transistor I had so………I woulsd sneak out and get in Dad’s car……great times………great memories. I remember excatly where I was for all those disappointments. I remember telling my son in game 4 of the 2004 Yankee series I couldn’t bear to watch it again. He convinced me to sit down and take it like a man…….THAT’S right about the time Dave Roberts STOLE SECOND!!!!…..and the rest is history……..thank God for Markie.

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  4. Gary B

    I think more references to the Big Red Machine would have been appropriate since they swept your hated Yankees only 1 year after taking the Sox in 7.

    No mention of the 2011 Reds is necessary.

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    • Pete Rose hit .370 in the Sox series and destroyed our pitching staff. The Sox current second baseman, Dustin Pedroia (the “muddy chicken”), reminds me of Rose’s intensity and sheer exuberance for the game. I know Rose had a big gambling problem, but to my knowledge there is no evidence he ever bet against his own team, is there? Seems like an awful shame with misanthropes and racists like Ty Cobb in the Hall, that Rose is blackballed. Unless corruption or cheating is exposed, if Cobb is in, it seems hard to justify keeping Pete Rose out. You can’t be a baseball fan and not love how he played the game. The Big Red Machine wouldn’t have been nearly as devastating without him.

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  5. Rob Amaral

    Great post Jack..

    1975… wow.. I ‘attended’ the whole thing (on TV)… a memorable thing.. the entire thing..

    I just wish the old guys (our Pops) could have seen the victory in 2004… “Tis what ’tis’. .

    Like

  6. Jim

    Jack,
    Growing up in Chicago as a life long White Sox fan (not Cubs) I can appreciate your loyalty and satisfaction in seeing the Sox win. Having lived in So NH for a too short stint it was a back to back (Red ’04 and White ’05) treat! It may have been the best repeat of my lifetime.
    Please keep posting … enjoying all of them Jim
    PS I now must admit I pull for the Red Sox and Pedroia as the White Sox have a fan in Air force One I just cannot be aligned with.
    PSS if Pete had an ounce of humility or remorse he would be in … funny how they both (Ty and Pete) have tough character flaws.

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