October 22nd, 2004

Football Boy Stands In (Hopeless) Awe

Oh, man, I guess I haven’t been here in a while. This promoting a book stuff is time consuming work.

Still, here I am. I wrote this essay yesterday morning thinking I might be able to sell it somewhere. But it ain’t selling and it’s got a terribly short shelf life, so I’m just gonna go ahead and post it here. Like this:

I knew I was inviting trouble, but I had to ask just the same: “Are we gonna watch the game tonight?”

My wife, the baseball fan in the family, rolled her eyes. “You’re not gonna pretend to be a baseball fan now, are you?”

“No,” I said. “But, you know, it’s game seven. Sox and Yankees. You have to watch, right?”

“So we’ll watch,” she offered. Her shrug said “Whatever,” but her raised eyebrows said something more. They offered an unspoken warning: “Don’t go jumping on any bandwagons, football boy.”

She needn’t have worried. I wasn’t about to become any more of a baseball fan than I’ve ever been just because the Red Sox had battled back from 0-3 to force a game seven with the hated Yankees. Nor am I likely to abandon my great sports love, football, now simply because the Sox are in the World Series for the first time in 18 years.

I was born to love football, which has been my favorite sport for as long as I can remember.

My relationship with baseball has been far less solid. I’ve watched from time to time over the years, but mostly passively, catching a game on a barroom TV set here, in a friend’s living room there, rooting for the Red Sox, of course, but rarely feeling as if I had any stake in whether they won or lost.

And I blame the Sox for my lack of passion for baseball.

I grew up in Central Massachusetts, surrounded by Sox fans. My father is a Sox fan. His father was a Sox fan, too. In fact, many of my childhood memories of my grandfather, who died when I was a teenager, involve the Sox. When we’d go to visit in the summertime, I’d look out of my father’s car as it pulled into the driveway of my grandfather’s farmhouse (the farm he’d grown up on and worked for years was long gone by then) to see the old man sitting in his chair by the kitchen window, knowing he’d have his little black and white TV tuned to the game.

The Sox were a religion for my grandfather, as they have been for thousands upon thousands of New Englanders. And I could never betray his love for the team, or my father’s, by backing another. I could never be a Braves fan or an As fan. And, of course, it’s all but a hanging offense to back the Yankees in my part of the country.

Still, I never had the heart it takes to be a true Red Sox fan. Or if I ever did, the first time the team tore it out — losing the 1975 series to the Cincinnati Reds with a huge game-seven collapse after Carlton Fisk’s homer brought about a thrilling 12th inning victory a game earlier — it stayed out. By the time Bill Buckner’s name became forever all-but-unspeakable in Boston in game six of the ’86 series against the Mets, I had come to expect disappointment from the team. When the Sox gave in to the Yankees in game seven of the American League Championship Series last year, it didn’t hurt at all, because I hadn’t let myself hope for even a second that things might work out otherwise. I had abandoned baseball specifically to avoid the temptation to allow such hollow hope to creep in.

So I won’t be tempting my wife’s ire by pretending to be a baseball fan over the next 10 days.

I will be watching the World Series, though, just like thousands of other New Englanders who normally care only minimally about baseball. I’ll be watching with keen interest. And, in spite of everything I’ve learned during a lifetime of peeking around corners at the Sox, I’ll be watching with at least a touch of that hopeless hope folks in this part of the sports fan world hold onto so dearly.

It would have been impossible not to get swept up in the excitement of what the Sox did in their 2004 ALCS go-round with the Yankees. A year after a hard-to-take loss to the villains from the Bronx, the Sox pulled off the most stunning comeback victory in professional sports history. Better still, they put a permanent black mark on the Yankees’ record. The greatest fold, the greatest choke, the most embarrassing tripup in all of sports is now part of the Yankees’ record. And whatever may come of the Sox in the series, whatever may happen with the alleged Curse of the Bambino, knowing the Olde Towne Team made monkeys of their bitter, and almost always better, rivals this time around carries a level of satisfaction that won’t fade quickly and will never be forgotten.

So, just as I had to watch game seven of the ALCS, I have to watch the World Series. I’ll still be going to Foxborough on Sunday to watch New England’s football heroes, the Patriots, extend their 20-game winning streak by beating the despised New York Jets (completing the New York sweep in the process), but I’ll be finding a bar where I can watch the Sox immediately thereafter.

I should know — as should all the real Sox fans (full- and part-time alike) — that the odds remain good that Sox are only setting us up for disappointment. Breaking hearts, after all, is what this team does. They’ve been doing it for 86 years. And no one will ever truly believe that run is over until … well, until the victory parade gets underway — and possibly for some time thereafter.

And, really, I do know that. I’m fully aware of the fact that while it’s OK to get excited about what the Sox did to the Yankees, I’d be a fool to invest any part of my heart or my soul in this World Series. I know I should sit back and watch the Sox just as I always watch the Sox: dispassionately, disconnectedly, rendered impervious to heartache by the very expectation of it.

Only this year, at this moment, that doesn’t seem possible. I’m not on the bandwagon (really, honey, I’m not) but there’s a weird feeling in the air. There’s a sense that the impossible might turn out to be possible after all.

It feels like this year, this time, everything has to be different. It does, doesn’t it?

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:
Comments are closed.