I saw part of the game last night, but I cannot tell a lie--I left Julia's house and crashed and missed the extra innings. I still had my cell phone on, though, and I heard two quick beeps for new score updates. Wearily, I checked the phone. TOP 11 OAKLAND 5 BOSTON 3. With a groan, I fell back into bed again. A little while later, I heard one beep and my eyes popped open. I waited. I waited. I waited.
Moments later there was another beep. I waited again, for a long time, before I concluded that was to be the last beep. The last message I get is a message giving the final score. Since only two more messages had come across, I knew the final: 5-4 Guys in White Shoes, and I counted myself lucky, for the moment, not to know exactly why.
Tonight, I bummed around quite a bit, not really feeling like watching the game. I think I should've taken the All-Star break off as others did, because I was feeling a little burned out on baseball.
Then, while I was lying on my bed, reading Feeding the Monster (because yes, that is what I do when I am burned out on baseball, apparently; I read a book about the inner workings of the Red Sox front office), my dad called from Loge Box 150. I had forgotten he was going to the game. I was resolute, though, that I was taking a break.
Yeah, about a half hour later, the game was on.
What can I say?
I came in on the game in the second inning. And there was my Barry. Sigh.
I love me some Barry Zito; he's probably my all-time favorite non-Red-Sox player. Even given his relative shakiness in the years since his 2002 Cy Young, I would probably drown in my own drool if he were ever to become a Red Sox. I try very hard not to think about the possibility of that becoming real (given everyone knows that he's not playing in Oakland next year, and it's still unclear whether Beane intends to trade him or let him become a free agent), because I would be that much more tempted to head to the Tobin Bridge if the Yankees, desperately in need of a lefty starter, snap him up instead.
Anyway, Tonight, Barry appeared with probably the shortest hair he's had in years; I rather like the look on him even if it makes his hat look a smidge too big on his head.
More importantly, though, he came to Fenway with his curveball working. There were two men on already in the persons of Jason Varitek (somehow) and Gabe Kapler when I turned on the television, and Coco Crisp proceeded to put in a truly diligent at-bat against Zito, fouling off that nasty curve at least three times, the last time by just the tip of the bat. But then Zito, revealing his master plan, came with a beautiful changeup and Coco swung and missed so hard he dropped to one knee in the right-hand batter's box.
It's hard for me to know how to feel in such a situation. On the one hand, I can only marvel at Zito, who, even if he hasn't been the most effective pitcher in the league, is certainly the most artistic; on the other, after such a valiant at-bat a K is that much more crushing for Coco, especially with his two comrades waiting patiently for him to drive them in.
I called my dad back with Gonzo at the plate to commiserate over Coco. Through him, I heard what happened in Gonzo's at-bat a few seconds ahead of the TV broadcast. It went like this.
"All right, come on Gonzo, here we go, buddy!"
On TV, Zito was still fiddling with his glove.
"Whoa! Okay then!Strike one. Whoops." My dad laughed.
On TV, the pitch came in moments later. Gonzo's bat didn't hint at leaving his shoulder.
"Poor Gonzo," I laughed into the phone.
"It's all right, he'll get right back in it n--oh boy, strike two."
A little bit later, I said, "Eh, I thought that was inside."
"Yeah, little bit."
"Well, it looked about thigh-high from here, but I can't tell if it's--oh, boy, say goodnight, Gonzo."
In the top of the third, another run scored, and the ball was bobbled by Mark Loretta on an attempt to catch a runner stealing by Varitek and Beckett on a comebacker to the mound, though Beckett got the out.
In the dugout, Kevin Youkilis was doing what looked like Tai Chi but was probably an exercise on something he needs to work on with his swing. He is so intense, though, it kind of makes me laugh sometimes. I wonder if his teammates ever suggest to him that he should get out more.
Youkilis grounded out on a meaty curve from Zito. As usual, when this happened, he walked back to the dugout as if he was going to commit hari kari. When he sat down on the bench, he gestured and spoke to no one in particular as if to explain.
Barry walked Mark Loretta next on a pitch that, though outside, had a delivery that was a thing of beauty. Barry, in his high socks, kicked and leaned and then all of a sudden his whole body seemed to fly open like a bird taking flight and the ball hopped and dipped. This was the best of both worlds in the end--lovely Barry, a victory of sorts for the Sox.
Tangent time: Exciting news on the home front for me--after learning Manny actually has a meniscus tear, my dad, the most unrepentant Manny hater I personally know, emailed me to let me know he was considering that he thought maybe he should consider lightening up on ol' Manuelah (as he calls him). I sent him back a link to Boston Sports Media Watch's compelling persuasive essay about Manny, which pushed him further along the path of forgiveness, I'm happy to report.
Here's another tangent that I feel compelled to go on: I have a baseball on my desk at worse in a little plastic holder. It's a long story as to where I got it from, but suffice to say it's a souvenir baseball. I also have a collection of squeezable balls, some foam, some rubber, some fluid-filled, on my desk; it helps me concentrate to be fiddling with a stress ball sometimes while I work. The other day I decided to try something different and took the baseball out of its case. I don't know when was the last time I held a baseball, and I don't know if this baseball was regulation, and I've certainly never held a game-used ball, but I was surprised at how inflexible its surface was. Between pitchers rubbing up the ball on the mound to the way it seems to smash flat as a pancake when colliding with David Ortiz's bat before springing back into form on its way over the wall, I somehow had the impression that the baseball would have slightly more give. Holding this ball, with its perfect white surface and sharp red stitches on it, was just a tangible demonstration of how little I know about what it's actually like to play baseball. I wonder what a player's relationship with the ball is like; I wonder how they develop their habitual ways of holding it, throwing it, catching it, the kind of finesse it takes to make this hard little thing bend and dip and curve in the air.
Feeding the Monster (which, by the way, is a superbly written and fascinating book so far, and probably among the most important Red Sox journalism ever to come down the pike) makes the argument that "baseball, along with jazz, is one of the great indigenous American art forms..." I have a sense of that artistry after playing with that baseball the other day. Maybe next I'll take it out and throw it around a little, and think about it some more.
That's the thing about being a girl and being a baseball fan. Virtually every little boy in America either voluntarily or involuntarily plays either tee-ball or baseball at one point in his life. For every Major Leaguer, there are thousands of men who rose to some level of accomplishment on a diamond, whether on a dusty sandlot or a high school field or even in the minor leagues. Girls increasingly play Little League as well, but by the time girls reach high school, our vaginas apparently require that we play softball or field hockey at best. The only sport I've ever played in my life was soccer, and that ended for me abruptly at eighth grade. I am a singularly unathletic person, and have never really been inclined to play even a semi-organized intramural or even picnic game of any kind. But I realized that that's a thing that's missing from my understanding of the game as a fan, and something I may want to change at least a little bit.
And finally, another tangent, which are quickly becoming the main topic of this post, I'm afraid: So far the most compelling yet difficult passages of Feeding the Monster to read for me have been the ones that detail conversations between Theo and the rest of the management staff in meetings after the end of the 2005 season. In particular, this excerpt got to me:
"It's a subtle thing," Epstein said that day. "We can't always make ourselves out to be a superpower. For our part, on the baseball operations side, we know that's not an effective strategy in the long haul." [...] "This has to be reinforced on the public level," he said. "We may be reaching a saturation point. We keep asking for more, more, more. But there will be a point where we don't do more [one year] because we need to do things for the long run."
Epstein took pleasure in talking about, and planning for, the days when the team's emerging talent took center stage, but he worried that the transition to the team's up-and-coming stars would be hindered by the too-bright glare of unrealistic expectations. The previous year had been a good reminder of how an overabundance of media could become suffocating.
"Somehow, we still get involved in these weekly soap operas," Epstein told the table. "A lot of it's because the veteran players who have a forum because they always have a mic in their face become blowhards. Certain people have too much influence--the older, louder veteran players. They need to get a little more professional about presenting themselves...That's one element of it becoming an uber-organization. We build the brand so big that it becomes hard to manage." Epstein was trying to remain calm, but he was clearly distressed by much of what he was describing.
Soon, as happens with many conversations involving the Red Sox, this one evolved into a discussion of money...One of the team's financial advisors warned that a single 85-win season could cost the organization as much as $20 to $30 million in lost ticket and advertising revenue. Lucchino raised the haunting legacies of teams like Baltimore, Colorado, Cleveland, and Toronto, all clubs that had enviable runs of high attendance followed by years of mediocre on-field performances and prolonged periods of fan apathy.
"We have the long-term solution to that problem," Epstein repeated. "We can be both a large revenue club...and have a strong farm system. But it's probably not going to be a seamless transition. This year we had a great year. We will probably be worse next year."
An old Red Sox hand who worked in Fenway Park operations spoke up. "We'll just tell [the fans] different, we'll just tell them we'll be better."
Finally, Epstein lost his cool. "No!" he barked. "No!" Struggling to control himself, he said, "We can't just tell them we'll be better. That's the whole point! That's what I'm trying to say!"
Maybe I'm just naive. I know almost as much about running a huge business as I do about actually playing baseball, which is to say, close to nothing at all. I am probably not the fan--and anyone reading this is probably not the fan--that the unnamed official in that meeting was talking about, that those on the opposite side of the discussion from Theo were worried about. Clearly, winning has put butts in the seats. So it might just be an unrealistic thing for me to wish that they would understand a little more about where their core fan base is coming from, which Seth Mnookin describes thusly:
[Since] the Impossible Dream season, the Sox [have had] a fan base that would forge an almost religious connection with the team, awarding them a loyalty whose intensity and durability would prove astonishing.
With Theo back with the team (something for which I am still grateful every single day, Matt Clement and Byung-Hyun Kim be damned), clearly his point of view has won out to at least some extent within the organization. And there have been some feel-good stretches to the season, to be sure, but the last three games, including this one, which was quickly 4-0 Oakland as the innings wore on, have sent the pendulum we've been riding this season back into doubt.
Now, it could be that the Red Sox themselves aren't sure how the season will work out--that they're all just waiting, too, to see the way the team settles into one groove or another. It could be they haven't told us anything because there isn't anything to tell us.
But as we go back and forth between winning and losing streaks that have been equally bewildering this year, I guess I just wish that if the Red Sox organization does have an ulterior motive or plan for the season--i.e., if there is to be no free-agent cavalry before the trading deadline, or if the FO is operating as if there will be another postseason trip this year--they would indicate that somehow. Obviously it would be stupid for Lucchino to call a press conference and say "We're gonna lose this year, thanks for coming anyway!" And they obviously don't have a crystal ball. But it would be nice if they would be a little more candid about whether or not they will operate the team from one standpoint or another. Is 2006 a season in which the Red Sox will take what they can get, but they're not going to be wheeling and dealing? Or are they entertaining another trip to the playoffs this year as a serious goal for which they are prepared to make moves?
The thing that saddens me so much about all this is the fact that, due to a number of forces and for a number of totally justifiable reasons, many of which have nothing to do with either the FO themselves or the fan base themselves, that level of candor between Red Sox brass and their core fan base seems like it probably won't ever happen (at least, of course, to those of us without SoSH memberships, and perhaps I overestimate their access to inside information as well).
We'll know by the trading deadline, I suppose, which way they've been playing it. But for now, yanked back and forth between hopeful stretches of winning and troubling stretches of difficult close-but-no-cigar losses, we're left to figure it out for ourselves. That is probably the biggest theme of 2006 so far: Where Are We Headed? What's Really Going On? As a fan, my perspective is that if I could just know what the game plan is, regardless of whether or not it's what actually dictates the result, I could afford to be much more philosophical about a game like the one tonight.
Fans like me--and I like to think we're still in the majority--are in it from the story. We have demonstrated our patience. We have demonstrated that we can grasp the idea of player and team development. We have demonstrated, especially since the World Series, that we can get our minds around the idea of a narrative for the team that spans seasons, rather than simply harping on a deadline every year in October.
It saddens me, too, that an ownership group that has demonstrated through its PR so far that it understands what its fan base wants far more than any previous management could still find itself unable to make this last leap of understanding: at least as far as the core fan base goes, there's demonstrably very little indeed, if anything at all, that could make us "quit" the Red Sox. The Red Sox are a product, yes, and a product that needs to be marketed carefully---but they are also a religion and a drug and a cultural touchstone in this city, and I'd like to think that warrants a bit more trust from those who hold the reins than the panicked notion that they can just "tell us different" and everything will be okay.
In other words, we've shown so much faith in them; I wish they felt they could have that faith in us.
But what do I know.