Friday, October 3, 2008

Romance and the Red Sox (Part 2)

[Continued from page 1. This revised piece was originally written in 2004]

Now you see my problem, because how does one who’s smitten compete with the Red Sox when a World Championship is on the line? The simple answer is you can’t.

Before raising any undue suspicions, I declare to you now that I, too, am in love with Red Sox baseball, but I confess it's a troubled love as late. I also confess to you that until last year, I couldn't have cared less. The story of how the Red Sox and I came together is, itself, a timeless love story, perhaps the only kind of love story possible right now.

I grew up in northern New Jersey about fifteen minutes outside of New York City, and was still in high school when the Yankees renewed their dynasty. New York was building an army, and growing up so close to the Lion’s Den, one would think the conditions perfect for baptizing me, a neophyte, into the ranks of imperial loyalists, but in spite of the fanfare I continued to think baseball the most boring of all sports.

Several years later, upon moving to Boston after college, I still felt that way. But I loved living in Boston, and from the start I’d always regarded the Red Sox with respect. It didn’t matter if you weren’t a sports fan, nor did it matter whether you were a New England native, or a new arrival like me. Truer of no other cultural phenomenon, the Red Sox were the glue that held the city, my city, together. It was on the tip of everyone's tongue, the most reliable common ground between total strangers. Just ask some stone-faced fellow on the subway, "Hey, how'd the Sox do today?" and watch that famous Boston iciness melt away. This was the magic I admired, even if I didn't care to watch them in action. Love for the close-and-close-and-close-but-no-cigar Red Sox was universal, and it was (obviously) unconditional.

When the playoffs arrived last year, however, and the Sox squeezed in by the skin of their teeth, I found my options for how to spend the evenings grew limited. I could, for instance, follow my friends to a venue to watch the game, or I could spend the night by myself watching a movie. There were no bars that didn't have the game on, and there were no friends who were doing something else. Even the friends I knew to be privately indifferent fell in line, unwilling to fight the tide.

This vexed me greatly. I'd seen a handful of games on TV. I’d even watched one or two Fenway. I watched with the same enthusiasm that a father might have listening to his son fart out trumpet notes at a fourth grade band assembly, but I watched. I’d put in my time.

I fell in line too (what else could I do?), and was perplexed to find my fingernails digging deep into my chair by the sixth inning of each game. Oakland fell, New York marched up to the horizon. Without knowing exactly when it happened, the space between home runs ceased to be dead time, and suddenly each pitch was significant. What was happening to me? I was yelling. I was cursing. Each time they pulled victory from the depths of their souls it was methadone relief. And when Aaron Boone, a Yankee I didn’t even know by name, cracked his home run in the extra innings of game seven, my heart broke.

The day following their defeat, I walked slowly, without purpose. I'd forget what I was doing, why I walked into rooms. It was hard to know what to make of the whole experience. I’d watched more baseball games from start to finish in past three weeks than I had in my entire life previous. The affair had been intense, tumultuous. It hardly left time for reflection.

Part [1] [2] [3] [4]

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