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.”