God help me, but here I am, just yesterday ready to drown my sorrows in rotgut whiskey, now leading the chorus of "The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round" at the front of the bandwagon.
All it took was an error by Miguel Tejada.
In the fifth inning of Friday night's game against the Orioles, Manny Ramirez came to the plate with two men on base and two outs. Such a situation, this season, has been dodgy at best for Manny.
Sure enough, after a maddening at-bat in which he worked the count full, Manny cued a weak grounder to shortstop.
Argh. Another inning wasted. Another rally snuffed. Another reason to worry about Ma--
Then Tejada let loose with a dying quail of a throw, airmailed over Chris Gomez' head into the stands, and Manny was safe at first, clapping his hands as he cruised to a stop beyond the bag.
It was as if some gland inside me was stimulated by that single play--some enzyme released, a certain neurotransmitter fired, and by God, there I was again, right in the thick of last year's postseason, where everything hung together, delicately balanced like a beautiful mobile, an error here, a successful at-bat there, a walk, a stolen base. Not a pile of riches but a perfectly strung chain of individual gems. And there I was, hollering in my head with glee--I'd rather be lucky than good any day!
The Tejada error hinted that there might be some juice left in the ol' magic carpet's gas tank, after all.
Today, after Sea Dogs prodigy Craig Hansen served up his first-ever Major League tater (kid's a typical overextended minor leaguer, as far as I'm concerned--talented, sure, but all piss and vinegar and 96-mph fastball, no control or finesse or brain behind that arm yet), it was different than even last week. For some reason, I feel that postseason mojo coming back. I feel that dodging-the-raindrops grace again.
Take Kevin Millar. The guy's hometown is being kicked around by a hurricane right now, and he seems to be pouring every fiber of his being and all his worries into the game. He was on his face tonight more often than not around the first base bag, playing like his life depended on it. Twice he saved hits for Matt Clement.
The way Kevin Millar played today touched me. I've heard his story before--that Crash Davis story of the tough-luck minor leaguer, chasing the game all over the Lower 40, playing in independent leagues when the minor-league doors were shut. Often I've heard it said that Millar is the closest thing to a fan on the field, and on days like today you can see it. He has something many of his fellow more naturally talented players don't have--a true understanding of just what he has in front of him. He knows what it's like to be on the outside looking in, and just about every time they let him onto the field, no matter what his record on the night, he's playing like he's never going to get to come back again.
Meanwhile, as the days grow few, I detect among my fellow Sox fans--and in the media, and in any follower of the Sox, really, including and especially myself--a deep ambivalence.
Who cares if the Sox don’t make the playoffs? Who cares if the Yankees win this World Series and the next 100? I don’t. Among the topics that interest me more include the national deficit of Luxemburg and the National Badminton Championships...I mean, how fake are Red Sox fans? When did we evolve from faithful and lovable losers to obsessed egomaniacs?
This season should’ve been one long celebration. Standing ovation after standing ovation at Fenway. It should’ve been about just enjoying the buzz and allowing nothing to take our glow away. Sox fans should’ve enjoyed this season as if they just had the best sex of their lives.
Alas, what was 86 years in the making took less than seven months to crumble.
And in the process, obliviously, the majority of Red Sox fans are living their worse (sic)nightmare.
They’ve become just like Yankees fans.
But in a later post, Sully says this:
When Red Sox GM Theo Epstein made the Nomar Garciaparra trade last July I wrote on three different occasions in the Pawtucket Times that I had no problem with dealing Nomar. However, I hated the trade because outfielder Matt Murton was involved. I didn’t get how a few million bucks and Nomar wasn’t enough for Orlando Cabrera and Doug “I stole the World Series ball and the Sheriff is too tired and lazy to look up the spelling of my last name.” Murton was considered one of the top five prospects in the organization. The columns are still available on-line, too.
The point of this is that Matt Murton is batting .325 with six home runs in 114 at-bats with the Cubs. His OPS is .930 through Friday’s games. And he’s 23 years old. I’m not saying this is Jeff Bagwellesque but this kid is going to end up with a better career than Trot Nixon. This deal will haunt Theo for years to come.
I'm not trying to pick on the guy. Really, I'm not. But he's in the same self-contradictory, confused boat as the rest of us, chastising his fellow Sox fans for their lack of proper respect for the championship in one column, and then gnitpicking the trade that brought us the championship in the first place in another. To say nothing of the fact that "what will haunt Theo for years to come" was, I thought, "about as interesting as the national deficit of Luxemburg and the National Badminton Championships."
Unless you're doing that professional-journalist thing of hyperbole-the-better-to-retain-eyeballs, Sully, you've got some real issues.
But it's okay. Like I said. We all do. Welcome to the Nation-wide shrink's couch.
How to feel? Is it "greedy" to "demand a dynasty" by continuing to root hard for the Red Sox, become emotionally invested, feel the same emotional highs and lows, in the 2005 season? Or is it ridiculous to suggest we refuse to focus on what could be yet another epic season for such abstract and moralistic reasons?
How to feel? When the Sox claw their way back into the tie for first place, all starting with Tejada's error, is it just another "set us up just to let us down" as it has been for most of the last century? Is it the beginning of another miraculous run? Is it neither?
How to feel?
I did a reading for Fenway Fiction today in Concord, NH, and after the reading we had a little Q & A session (By the way, Internet, I told these people about you--we may have some new visitors soon). Two of the questions asked were strikingly prescient.
"Why is there such a 'Nation'?" asked a woman who said she'd just 'married into it.' "Why is it such a big deal?"
It's something we used to know the stock answers to, isn't it. A Puritanical taste for suffering. The staunch, Calvinistic self-doubt of the New England psyche. Masochism.
Another highly pertinent question: "What now?"
The best answer to that used to be, "How about we find out?"
The only thing I can really say to these questions right now is that many of the people choosing to focus on this "big picture" stuff aren't giving enough credence to the fact that, as with the Patriots, there are day-to-day elements to the game that remain unchanged by any shift in the larger scheme of things. There is still Fenway Park. There are still peanuts, summer nights, and cheap beer. There's still the Green Monster and the Citgo sign and being lost by that well-lit diamond while the midsummer moon hangs like heavy fruit.
With the Patriots, Super Bowl rings don't take away the smell of charcoal briquettes cooking rich, fattening winter food, the sense of a Viking encampment (the real Vikings, not those chumps from Minnesota) just before an invasion, hollering till your throat's hoarse into a below-zero gale from the third deck of a palatial stadium.
And for what it's worth, the Patriots side of me wants to bitch-slap the Red Sox side right about now. What the hell, man? it says, gesturing with a mittened hand around a can of Miller Lite. What's with the psychobabble bullshit? To paraphrase a great movie, it's not a fucking space shuttle launch. It's a ballgame.
Then it belches fragrantly.
When did an activity that is, essentially, entertainment, become as fraught with conflict and emotional baggage as the daily life I use it to escape from? When did winning a championship, and wanting more championships, become a bad thing? When did self-flaggelation become the new black?
I'm rooting for the Red Sox, and rooting hard, because it's all I know how to do, dammit. Because the Patriots have taught me the sky's the limit, and that this kind of joy is something to be scooped up and gathered to oneself like hundred-dollar bills dropped suddenly from the sky. Because who cares where it came from, or why it came; and because you never know when it's going to stop.
Not, I must insist, because I am ungrateful. Not because I have forgotten. Actually, I feel it's quite the opposite.