In honor of today's anniversary, I'm reposting my "Pretty Good Year" essay in its entirety here.Contents
Part I. The Regular Season (1/3)
Part II. The Regular Season Cont'd (2/3)
Part III.The Regular Season Cont'd (3/3), Playoffs Round 1
Part IV.ALCS: Game 1, Game 2, Game 3, and the first 8+ innings of Game 4
Part V. ALCS Game 4, Inning 9+, ALCS Game 5
Part VI. ALCS, Game 6, ALCS, Game 7
Part VII The World Series
Part VIII.Epilogue: What now?
Part I. The Regular Season.
For me, the regular season began the moment the Patriots' victory in Super Bowl XXXVIII had ended...
...This much has been clear since my re-entrance into the world of sports in roughly 2001: though I re-emerged as a sports fan via the Patriots, if I was to call myself a Boston sports fan at all, it would require some degree of Red Sox fandom. The Boston Red Sox, as has been stated countless times and in countless ways already, are at the heart of a Bostonian identity, more so than any other sports franchise--or any other franchise of any kind, for that matter, championships or no.
There are any number of complex and interwoven reasons for this, and at their forefront is Tradition. In his brilliant (they're all brilliant) essay, "Legends of the Fens," baseball's premier scribe Roger Angell counts the heirloom-nature of the Boston Red Sox among the many more famous oral traditions of Irish culture. He talks of the "Fenian children" around New England being told the stories of Yazstremski and Williams and even Ruth as well as Brian Boru and Cuchulain.
As with the legends and tales of Gaelic myth--indeed, of any other kind of cultural mythology--the Boston Red Sox, incorporated in 1901, at once represent and connect every stage of Boston's history and the history of the people living there. They represent the blue-collar ambitions that still form the bedrock of an entire area, gentrified though it may have become through colleges and libraries and hospitals.
Of course, all major cities have history, and most have baseball teams. But the fact that baseball, by now an antiquated game, has remained at the heart of Boston, speaks to Boston's unique awareness of its historical underpinnings, as well as their relative depth--two things that, in turn, get caught up in the various meanings of the Boston Red Sox.
It's impossible to go much of anywhere in Boston without being assaulted by history. Boston was the city that touched off the American Revolution. We hold claim to the place the Declaration of Independence was first read. The second stop of the brand-new Constitution's national tour. And you can still see the buildings where those events occurred, can still reach out and touch the wood and glass and metal and brick and cobblestone our ancestors came into contact with.
In the most destitute neighborhoods of South Boston or Roxbury or Dorchester the feeling is one of epic disenfranchisement, one with its roots in early-20th century storefront signs that "Irish Need Not Apply." Many of the crumbling tenement and row houses are the same structures today.
The bullet holes from the school bussing riots of the 1970's have been preserved in many of the places they were first incurred, including the Boston Globe building. This is in direct contradiction to the progressive sentiments of Middle America--the prim instinct to cover such things up with a layer of newness and kitsch.
But while the Red Sox in one sense are a myth, kith and kin to the wraiths of colonial history still tinging Boston's modern air supply, and though their long and storied history satisfies the sociological needs of fairy tales and nursery rhymes, they are also, at the same time, a real and tangible phenomenon. So while it is impossible to attend even re-enactments of the meetings that inspired the Boston Tea Party, much less witness them in action, it remains possible to head over to Fenway Park, walk through the same doors, and sit in the same seats as our ancestors did, while the same baseball team plays the same game they have for a bittersweet century.
It's a heady combination--the names of Fisk and Yaz and Clemens et al have attained a stature alongside Hancock and Adams and Boru and Wallace, and yet here they are, in the same pulled-up red hose, in the same crisp white uniforms, the same red letters across their chests, hitting the same bat with the same ball over the same great green wall.
"By just standing still, Fenway Park has become a national treasure," writes ESPN Page 2 columnist Jeff Merron.
You're in a living, breathing time capsule. For three hours, you share the air with 34,000 real people and tens of millions of friendly ghosts who were once in the same exact spot. They watched Babe Ruth pitch, or Ted Williams hit, or Yaz play the Green Monster like a pinball wizard, or Carlton Fisk slam his 12th inning homer to win the sixth game of the 1975 World Series.
Or they saw Tony Conigliaro. Rico Petrocelli. Walt Dropo. Oil Can Boyd. Names -- names-- that just ooze Red Sox red.
If baseball itself is, as author Michael Mandelbaum puts it, "the remembrance of things past," with one of the oldest baseball franchises in the country playing at the oldest ballpark in the country, set inside the oldest metropolitan area in the country, Boston, and its Red Sox, seem to have cornered the market on the metaphorical--and metaphysical--meanings of the game.
So, although our now largely-forgotten basketball team is our winningest franchise, although our hockey team is "One of the original six", and though our football team, as Providence Journal writer Jim Donaldson put it in late 2003, "should be the talk of the town. Indeed, of all New England. And, for that matter, much of the U.S. of A,
Instead, far too many of the region's angst-ridden -- and angst-loving -- sports fans have spent the past month talking about a deal the perennially runner-up Red Sox couldn't pull off, managing only to irritate two of their biggest stars and further frustrate a fan base that hasn't celebrated a championship in 85 years.
However, to classify the fascination with the Red Sox as a fascination with losing and Red Sox fandom as a coven of losers is reductionist at best, the sour-grapes musings of those who don't "get" the whole Red Sox phenomenon in the first place, but spend a prepoderance of time wondering what's going through the minds of those who do.
The depth of the meaning of the Boston Red Sox--and its varying shades of light and dark--are encapsulated no better than in the now-famous "Win it For" thread, a lengthy inscription too large to fit on the base of the World Series trophy, but which belongs there nonetheless.
As Bill Simmons put it:
Plow through the posts and you feel like you're plowing through the history of the franchise -- just about every memorable player is mentioned at some point -- as well as the basic themes that encompass the human experiences. Life and death. Love and family. Friendship and loss.
And so much though I and many of my fellow New Englanders may love the Patriots--and much though the franchise, which after all has seen a generation or two of fans as well as its share of suffering since its establishment in 1960, has meant to the region--the Patriots cannot hold a candle to the kind of epic stories, morals and meanings that form the cachet of the Sox. And championships or no, right or wrong or indifferent, if you want to call yourself a Boston fan, you are a fan of the Boston Red Sox.
All this has little to do with wins and losses, and, of course, is the real element--not some form of congenital masochism or secret aversion to success--that has kept the Boston fan base loyal through a near-century of disappointment, and which will keep it faithful as well now that it has been newly visited with reward.
But that's getting ahead of ourselves. For now, we're recalling early February, 2004, the victory celebration for the Patriots, a team that in its own way overcame tremendous odds to win its second-ever championship just two years after notching its first. After the shots of Tedy Bruschi tackling winning-field-goal-kicker Adam Vinatieri on the field at Houston's Reliant Stadium, after the red, white and blue confetti, after the bewildered, giddy postgame press conference by New England's newest wunderkind Tom Brady, a commercial spot was quietly aired, and aired just once.
A straight-ahead shot, nothing fancy, of the face of brand-new Red Sox manager Terry Francona. Behind him, beyond the windows of the .406 Club, stood a wintry Fenway Park, its seats and the field covered in canvas and a light limning of snow. Francona, still an unfamiliar face, had cheeks as rosy as Santa Claus, and twinkling brown eyes behind wire-rim glasses. His head was bald and his overall aspect was that of a very fatherly Yul Brynner. For some reason, his own personal dialect made the phrase "Boston Red Sox", with its many wide-open "oh" sounds, a very difficult one to choke out, seeming a mouthful full of squishy "sh" sounds and throaty vowels.
"Congratulations to the New England Patriots from the Boston Red Sox," Francona said. "It's a tough act to follow, but we're gonna try."
The Boston Red Sox were the only co-franchise of the Patriots to air such a commercial, and certainly the only co-franchise to air it so prominently among the other coverage.
The commercial was many things: a recognition of the Sox' importance on the part of management and its new skipper as well as an assertion of that importance; an official gauntlet thrown toward the team's ultimate mission, a do-or-die promise and proposition between the franchise and its fans; the renewal of a seasonal covenant; and, in a way--at least for me--the official beginning of the season itself.
The Patriots had won it all, but the Red Sox couldn't wait, even for another thirty seconds.