Original photo origin unknown. Found on GIS. *Shrug*
The only game I managed to watch most of this weekend, thanks to Father's Day festivities and other rushing around, was the NESN Classics game last night, a 1999 matchup between Red Sox and Mariners, in which Nomar hit three home runs.
It was amazing to me, watching this game, just how different the ballpark, the players, the uniforms are, and yet how perfectly the same the game and the cheers and the intensity are at once.
First of all, no right field roof. No Monster seats. No new seats in the bleachers. Even the lights look dimmer, more sickly somehow (although that may be the non-high-def TV picture, too). And the seats in the corners of both grandstands, particularly along the right-field line, are empty. Vast tracts of empty seats, in fact. The uniforms seem to show a greater proclivity for excruciatingly tight pants than they do of late. And the players...I vaguely recognize a few, like Nomar, of course, and Scott Hatteberg, and Tim Wakefield who made a brief appearance in the dugout. And Jimy Williams, of course, and Joe Kerrigan doing the managing for the BoSox, and Sweet Lou Piniella doing the managing for the Mariners, and Jerry Remy in the broadcast booth.
This was the season in which Pedro astonished the entire world of baseball; the season in which Nomar was cemented as an all-time Red Sox demigod. The season in which the Red Sox and Yankees played their first head-to-head ALCS, a series I remember because of the rapt attention paid it in UMass dorm rooms (and the riots it engendered between Massachusetts natives, who were the largest percentage of UMass students, and New Jersey natives, who were the second largest at that time). This was the year after I graduated high school, and if you consult my own internal clock, that was about two years ago at most.
And yet it appears I've entered that period in my life where suddenly I can mistake five, six, seven years for one or two, and be startled to see just how much distance I've already put between myself and such a seemingly recent year.
I thought about all the things that weren't around in 1999, or at least weren't typical, something that at first felt vaguely ridiculous but then began to feel vaguely terrifying. iPods. DVDs (I didn't fully convert to DVD until at least 2001, although that was probably later than many). Napster. This was pre dotcom collapse. Pre-9/11. I had yet to reach drinking age or even have my first underage drink. When this particular game was going on, I had yet to meet my current fiancee. I had yet to decide to become a journalist, had yet to go to Oxford, had yet to work for the Globe, had yet to make imaginary friends on the Internet. If you asked me right off the top of my head, 1999 was very recent. As I watched this game, I realized it wasn't.
I thought of this again as I read Dan Shaughnessy's Boston Globe Magazine article, entitled "Fandemonium", which looked at the differences between Boston sports fans in 1990 and now. They are, in a word, profound--except for the Red Sox, who if anything have gotten a few orders of magnitude more numerous and powerful, but whose domination of the New England sports scene has remained all but unchallenged.
I cannot tell a lie. I wasn't really "there" in 1999. I was affected by and touched by the Red Sox season on my college campus, but I have only identified that in retrospect. I am one of the later add-ons to the resurgent Red Sox Nation. I'm one of the outer rings of the tree. Maybe not the very latest, somewhere in the middle. If you asked me off the top of my head, I'm happy to conveniently elide the years between about 1993 and 2001, and pretend to myself and you that I have been a fan all along. But I watch a game like the one NESN showed last night and realize how long a year is, how truly vast a chunk of time seven years is. It's hard for me to admit, but I'm a late convert to the religion that is the Red Sox, though I grew up with the culture all around me and so was never really not a participant, either. Sometimes I think that the reason I came back to being a full-fledged fan in 2003 was because the Sox were kind of "calling back" the people who had been loyal at one time or another to be there in time for the championship. But other times, it's just unsettling to think about for me. I really do question my own loyalty and my own validity as a fan when I see a game like the one last night and don't recognize about 80% of the people involved.
What's more fun to contemplate is that the Sox have taken 2 of 3 from Atlanta, something I'm finding I can't keep a cynical perspective on despite my repeated assurances to myself that if we look good in this series, it's because this year's Braves suck, and not to get too excited. Fuck it, I'm excited. I'm excited about Josh Beckett actually getting through a start even if he wasn't stellar; I'm excited about how solid Lester looked in his start; I'm excited that Gabey is back, as Joanna put it, "making his teammates feel woefully inadequate physically but also making a tremendous pounce on a Jeff Francoeur line drive in the eighth." I'm excited that the Yankees choked yesterday and we're now tied for first place again, I'm excited for Schilling vs. Smoltz tonight, and good LORD am I excited about Jonathan Papelbon.
In fact, now that we are officially more than halfway through the season and the kid is still blowing away hitters with his eyes closed, one hand behind his back, playing a Game Boy between pitches, and wearing a clown mask just for kicks, I propose that Jonathan Papelbon be kept in a room full of satin pillows on which he can recline and be fed peeled grapes by various exotic-looking women and fanned with huge palm fronds by eunuchs. I propose that Jonathan Papelbon be wrapped in several layers of bubble wrap during any travel or transport to away games. I propose that wherever Jonathan Papelbon sleeps, he be guarded by at least two burly gentlemen posted outside the bedroom door.
Watching that game last night, I thought about how this is how it once was with Nomar, too. And Pedro and in a forgotten series with the Mariners as managed by Sweet Lou. It's at once a troubling and a comforting thing.