I remember getting to this point about this time last year, as the Sox were beaten by the Indians several times in a row in the ALCS. I remember thinking, well...they may not do it. Overwhelming comebacks don't happen every time. What happened in 2004 will certainly never be surpassed. That we've seen it even approximated again within three years is almost beyond imagination, and I certainly didn't have many expectations going in to last year's Game 5. So I allow that I very well could be wrong.
But the thing about your team finally winning--and then winning again--is that you begin to recognize that spark when it comes around. You just know it in your gut. Last season I had this giddy, nervous premonition that dare not speak its name. I remember consciously quashing sudden jinxy thoughts like, ah, it'll be on the DVD, when deciding to delete a game from my TiVo.
This year, watching Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria all but literally tee off on Tim Wakefield's knuckler, smacking it over the Monster with big meaty thwacks of the bat in the very first inning, the memory of Jon Lester's shellacking still fresh in my mind, I do not have that feeling.
Baseball is a game that can hurt you, body and soul. There have been days in my life I've felt like I was punched in the gut because of baseball. There was one time--and only one time--I shed tears over baseball. There is true baseball heartbreak...and there is this.
It's been here before. 2005. Some Sox fans still followed the old ways of pain, looking anguished as the White Sox swept their Red counterparts out of the postseason as soon as it had begun. Others found it hard to complain after there had been a parade in this town within the same calendar year.
Here today, some people seem to be missing the sharp nostalgic sting of baseball suffering, if only because it confers one the moral high ground, usually comes with an enemy to attack and project upon (for those of you looking around and wondering who that is, this year, that would be us), and has a narrative, a sense of direction. Such things, even when unsuccsessful, have an intensity it's easy to get lost in.
I'll admit that this season has been a kind of ethical struggle at times. As Red Sox fans, we are no longer united in an obsessive quest for the same literal goal; with that accomplished, we are freed, and freed, we are burdened, with deciding what it is baseball means to us and does for us. People in such a situation make different decisions, and apparently it is human nature to then disparage the differing viewpoints of others, especially when doing so reinforces one's own.
This, I would argue, is why there has been relative silence* at Fenway, as the TBS commentators keep pointing out. Many of us are trying to figure out a way to digest this.
New Englanders are misunderstood elsewhere frequently, I think. We have a somewhat exaggerated reputation for coldness or rudeness, some of which is deserved but even then has more to do with varying regional concepts of etiquette than true moral deficiency. You say potato, I say New Englanders come off cold to you, but to me they come off like they're minding their own business. Etc.
The silence doesn't surprise me. This is the default mode of the same people who, generally speaking, err on the side of keeping things to themselves. Who don't feign effusive friendliness when they don't mean it. Who don't feign heartbreak when they know from heartbreak, and this is more at frustration, and maybe a little confusion. Even a tidbit of disgust, maybe, as the runs for the visitors pile up.
It's funny how no one talks about that Calvinistic self-doubt anymore. Nobody gives Sox fans credit for being knowledgeable anymore, either. But I see those two things in the reaction of Sox fans at Fenway this week. I can't speak for every Sox fan everywhere, but the Sox fans and New Englanders I know are not inclined to cheer mindlessly when the flaws in our squad run deep--and grow ever-deeper with each man who's come up limping or clutched his side as the games go on.
We don't have the horses this time around, and what horses we have are breaking down, and we know it. In contrast, Tampa Bay looks inspired, inspired the way many of our same players were looking last October. It's the way the chips have fallen this year--and hasn't there been another gambling metaphor invoked, something about playing with house money?
Under those circumstances, I'd say silence is about the most appropriate--and not to mention the most dignified--reaction to watching your team getting its ass kicked in a nationally televised championship series. I don't know what else those TBS commentators are expecting.
* There have also been scattered boos and the occasional hollered invective audible on the TV broadcasts, but I guess we're supposed to ignore that.