So far this autumn, whether the matter concerns the Patriots or the Red Sox, the focus and cause celebre is far more those who are absent--or who could be absent--than those who are present and performing.
For each team, a cast of thousands makes up this phenomenon--on the Patriots, everyone from Matt Light to Rodney Harrison to Richard Seymour battle injuries; on the Red Sox, the hot stove threatens to burn off the likes of Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar and Johnny Damon.
But for each team, the figure casting the longest shadows hasn't even taken the field--in the case of the Patriots, for the last several weeks and months, and for the Red Sox, ever.
It's still difficult to say how I feel about Tedy Bruschi; while I still love him and miss him every bit as much as I did in Week 1, I thought I loved him enough to let him go. Letting your favorite player go under difficult and unfair circumstances is jolt enough--trying to open your heart to him again just a few weeks later is another matter. You hardly know how to act.
Currently, I persist in denial: the announcement has been made he has been medically cleared to play, then the announcement he's been given the go-ahead by his family to play, then the rumors fly that he'll be practicing this week, and then there's a press conference...and yet I refuse to get my hopes up. I refuse to let myself picture No. 54 flying around the field again. Because the truth is, medical opinion or no medical opinion, I'm afraid.
I'm afraid that he'll be hurt again, or worse. That's first and foremost--doesn't matter how many doctors gave him their seal of approval, I'm always going to be worried about that. And I'm afraid that he won't be the same Tedy--that he'll play cautiously, that he'll have lost his abandon...that's how guys really get hurt, trying to play football when they've lost their nerve.
Don't tell me it can't happen to Tedy. Look what's already happened to Tedy, if you want evidence that he's not superhuman.
The rumors are too varied, numerous, and, to be honest, tiresome to go into in detail, but suffice to say all does not seem well in the Red Sox front office. There is general anxiety that Theo will not reach agreement with ownership on a contract by the time his expires on Oct. 31; the reasons given for this unrest are wildly disparate, but the malaise is general in Boston, and disturbing enough even without further understanding of what's going on behind closed doors.
It's been going on for weeks, this uneasiness, and I've started a post about it several times, and always abandoned it, feeling somehow superstitious that giving voice to whatever's rotten here would give it real life.
But I can't take it anymore. I'm tied up in knots, when I think about it. The idea of losing Theo looms as large in my mind as it remains incomprehensible. As I concluded last year:
What was "It", the one spark, the one effort, the one moment or person or idea that made the difference? Is there any one element to which the rest of these crucial events can be distilled?
The answer, when you think about it, is obvious: if the Red Sox team was as finely geared as a watch, with each part fitting into the next, and none being independent or more or less crucial than the others, credit is due to the watchmaker.
He never set foot on the field at game time, never grasped a bat, never gloved a ball. He sat and stood with the rest of the congregation, and at times was shown shaking his head in frustration, his lips drawn into a grim line. That I can remember, he was never shown cheering.
Please note: the four men directly responsible for overthrowing the Yankees in Game 4 were all Epstein signings. He brought them into place, fit them in place, made the tiny connections. He took heat we can never imagine from the press by uprooting an icon and a legend in exchange for three mechanical parts suited to his purpose. He changed the game of baseball in Boston, and thus changed the region itself forever.
It didn't stop there. All our Great Hopes--Delcarmen, Papelbon, Ramirez, Hansen--are Theo's creations, products of the farm system he's been slaving away tirelessly behind the scenes to cultivate. In fact, such has been his devotion to the future of the team that he's taken heat from some fans for worrying more about the draft than the upcoming playoffs in the majors.
But it's this farm system, and Theo Epstein's mind for baseball, that give a Red Sox fan hope for the future, that let so many of us shrug our shoulders after the White Sox swept us out of the postseason. It's what makes "Wait till Next Year" this time actually mean something, what with the kids coming up...
Kiss it goodbye if Theo walks. Kiss it goodbye--and give it to another team. Another team that might be...I can't even say it.
I tell you, I've lost sleep over this. No word of a lie.
To me, it still feels like our Game 7 this October is coming up. Our sweep by Chicago was nothing compared to the prospect of losing this one--this time, the very future of the Red Sox franchise will be determined no later than Halloween. Mark it down on your calendar and have your rally cap ready. The ALDS--I'll say it again--was nothing. This, though. This is everything.
P.S. In news of the Stuff I'm Paying Halfhearted Attention To Elsewhere, aka the ALCS and NLCS, first of all, Go White Sox! Go Astros! And second, the headline on this article from the Houston Chronicle cracked me up. The Terror of Minute Maid.
Oooh, the terror. The sheer, crawling, mind-bending horror...of...Minute Maid Park.