Monthly Archives: October 2007

Watching Game 4 In The Dark

Asleep_on_couch I’m sitting here in the dark in my living room watching game 4 of the World Series – potentially the clincher for the Red Sox. Why is it dark in here? Because my wife and I caved in to my 8 year-old son’s begging to stay up to watch the first three innings. He’s lying on the couch, under a blanket with his head on his favorite pillow. It’s a school night, so this really isn’t model parenting. But the kid has rooted for the team every day since spring training, and they way he said this evening, “Mommy, it isn’t just a baseball game, it’s the World Series!” made us realize that, while he’s only in third grade, he’s as big a Red Sox fan as any grown-up we know. Of all the Sox fans out there tonight, this kid deserves a chance to see some of this game.

Earlier today, my son made me promise to wake him up in the ninth inning if the Red Sox have a chance to win the game, so he could witness the final moments and see the celebration on the field. “Wake me up if they’re down by ten runs or less in the last inning,” he said, implying that even a deficit that large is not too big for this baseball club to overcome. No, I told him, I’ll wake you up in the ninth inning if the Red Sox are leading, or tied, or if the tying run comes to the plate.

He’s been loquacious all night, asking me his customary impossible baseball questions, such as: “Daddy, if a game is suspended and they schedule it to be continued at a later date, but then one of the players who was in the lineup for one of the teams gets traded to another team before the game can be resumed, can that team substitute any player for the traded player?” I don’t even know where to find the answer to that question. All of a sudden, he’s quiet. He has fallen asleep before the end of the third inning. I’ll get him up later if necessary…

If this were a day game, or if it started earlier in the night, my son would be able to see every moment live. And he wouldn’t be lying under a blanket on the couch, struggling to stay awake – he’d be watching the way he normally does: bounding around the room, playing his own baseball game in his head, making diving, game-saving, ESPN-highlight plays on the couch over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. It really is a sight to see. When he’s watching a game, our living room becomes a gymnasium and the whole house shakes. He actually becomes a participant in the drama that’s unfolding on the TV, burning hundreds of calories while I sit there eating nachos.

My brother just called me from his home outside of D.C. He is the most rabid, passionate, loyal Red Sox fan I know. He drove to Cleveland for game 5 of the ALCS and drove all the way back to D.C. immediately following the game, to get to work. That’s right, he drove something like 450 miles through the wee hours of the morning on an adrenaline high. He’s 37 years old, but the Red Sox make him (and all of us) behave like a college kid…

When he called, I asked him how his feelings about this Series are different from 2004. “I’m not as elated as I was then. And I just feel more confident about our chances. Even in the 9th inning of game 4 vs. the Cardinals in 2004 (with the Sox up, 3-0), I thought they could come back. But even if we lose tonight, we have Josh Beckett as insurance.”

We need to finish these guys off tonight. The Rockies have magic in their back pockets, as we saw over the last month. And this is baseball, after all. Anything CAN happen and anything DOES happen in this game. You can have a commanding 3-0 lead in a series, and a 3-0 lead in the 7th inning of game 4 (as the Sox do now), then one poor defensive play later (or one walk and stolen base later, as in game 4 of the 2004 ALCS), it can all start to slip away.

Off to focus on the conclusion of this one…

“Real” Red Sox Fans’ New Identity

A funny thing is happening in Red Sox Nation. Some of the people who were “real fans” prior to 2004 – who attest to having experienced the frustration, the agony, the exasperation of at least some of the 86 years of futility – are getting irritated with the consequences of the Sox becoming a winning franchise. The effect most discussed is the explosion of new Red Sox fans. Sometimes they’re referred to as the “pink hats.” Naturally, the team is irresistible, so new fans have been drawn to the Bosox like a magnet over the past three years. (I call these people “Stage 1 Fans” in my article about the 4 stages of being a Red Sox fan.) And I think it’s great. Come on down and join the Nation. We’ve been waiting for you.

But I find it fascinating that some Red Sox fans consider themselves “more worthy” than other Red Sox fans because they’ve been paying attention longer, or because they were fans when the Sox always found a way to lose, or because they know more trivia answers about 1967, 1975, and 1986. It’s so interesting that a Red Sox fan walking down the street would scoff at another Red Sox fan walking down the street because of the Sox shirt he/she chooses to wear, or the color of the baseball hat he/she chooses to wear. I mean, come on, aren’t we all pulling for the same group of guys?

I do agree that most “new” Sox fans are easy to spot, and even easier to identify when they open their mouths. But why do so many long-term die-hards loathe them so much? Is it because, deep down, they liked it better when the Sox were trying to break the “curse” and the cameraderie we all felt revolved around a shared masochistic obsession? Is it because they feel a person must “pay his dues” before he can be called a Red Sox fan? Or is it just because they find it sickening when people flock to the winner?

Legendary sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy wrote an article in today’s Boston Globe that expresses this “I’m a real fan, and you’re not” mentality well. Read the article here.

It’s ironic — all the “real fans” of the Red Sox crave another World Series victory, but many of them feel a sense of loss about our identity as valiant, perennial losers. (See an interesting article about this concept here.) Some harbor an unusual longing for the good ol’ days when the Sox were on an endless quest for a world title, and new, naive Sox fans were welcomed with open arms and admired for their willingness to join the fellowship of the miserable.

Prior to 2004, it never occurred to many “real fans” of the Red Sox that winning it all would fundamentally change the meaning of Red Sox Nation and alter forever the message that a “B” hat sends to others about the cap’s wearer (we didn’t dare to dream about such outrageous notions). And as we become the best team of this century (which is also what we were at the beginning of the 20th Century), many long-term fans want the world to know, “Yeah, we’re the best now, but we weren’t for a long time and I was loyal during the tough times too.” Can you imagine how popular a cap or t-shirt would be that communicated unequivocally about it’s owner, “I was a Sox fan during the painful years”?

Of course, one option for these people would be to wear a Cubs cap. There’s something familiar and strangely appealing to many “real” Red Sox fans about the image at right….

To The Kids of Red Sox Nation

On the Wednesday afternoon before game 1, at the end of lunch period, I was asked to say a few words to the middle school students at the school where I work. Half of them were wearing Sox shirts and I’m sure the World Series was a hot topic of conversation between their bites of American chop suey. Fascinating, given that at least half of them would be asleep before the first pitch, and none would last past the third inning. Here’s what I said:

“I know you’re all really excited about the game tonight, and about the Sox being in the World Series, and you’re sure the Sox are going to win it all. And I agree. But think about all those kids in Denver who are also at school today, and are also excited about this World Series, and are as certain about a Rockies victory as we are about a Sox victory. Those poor kids. They don’t know what kind of team their Rockies are about to face. Can we have a moment of silence to reflect on the sadness these innocent kids will feel when they get thrashed by Beckett, Papi, Manny, and Papelbon? (cheers ensued…. )

And I want all of you to know how lucky you are to be a kid-Sox-fan in the year 2007. Your teachers and I spent our entire childhood and adulthood dealing with Red Sox agony year after year. Sometimes we wondered if the Red Sox would ever win another World Series. Your childhood has already included one World Series victory, and you’re about to witness the second World Series win in four years! (more cheers….. I was on a roll)

And finally, I have some advice for all of you. I know that most of you will be sent to bed by your parents before the second inning. So when you get home from school today, find a radio in your house, put new batteries in it, and hide it under your pillow. The World Series only comes once a year, and you never know when the Sox will make it this far again. This is only the fifth time the Sox have played in the World Series in the last 60 years! Make sure you are prepared to follow the game late into the night – you want to be paying attention when the Sox win! (more cheers…. then, they went out to recess)

But seriously, we don’t hear much about the Rockies fans, and we assume they’re in a different (lower) class that die hard Red Sox fans (the height of audacity), but crazy Rockies fans do exist, and their endless World Series drought is about to be extended…. mm hmm, we know how they feel. And yes, I am being overly optimistic. That is my job as Vice President of Red Sox Nation….

Young Sox Fans, and Late, Late Games

So, tonight the World Series begins, and the excitement I feel about it young Sox fanaticreflects my supreme confidence that the Sox will prevail. In my last blog entry, you saw that I used the crystal ball Rem Dawg gave me to predict the exact outcome of the last three games. Well, I’m looking into the crystal ball again and I see the Sox taking the Series in 4 or 5 games. Part of me is a little sad that they’ll be celebrating once again on the opposing team’s home field, but that part of me is quite small, actually…..

The real issue in my house isn’t who will win the World Series, it’s who will be able to stay awake to WATCH the World Series, and how do we fit our kids’ school schedule into the World Series schedule?

Since becoming Vice President of Red Sox Nation, I have received about 15 emails – some from friends and acquaintances and some from total strangers – asking me to try to do something (in the future) about the late start of these games. These people are not only advocating for their rabid-fan-kids whose experience of the playoffs is the pre-game show and the highlights on TV the next morning, they’re advocating for THEMSELVES. It’s hard for grown-ups to stay up for the end of these games, let alone kids!

Well, I certainly plan to use whatever clout I have to affect change in the start-times of playoff games. But since Fox and TBS and every other network have determined that they can make the most money (now) by starting the games late, they’ll probably never change their minds (because, sadly, they are right… though they are being short-sighted by ignoring the fans of the future). Therefore, I offer the following advice to all parents of young Red Sox fans out there:

Rather than complain about the late start of these games, ADAPT to them. Being a die-hard Red Sox fan, I know you agree that it’s very important for our children to witness these critical moments in Red Sox history that only come once every few years, or decades, or for some people, once in a lifetime. So LET THEM WATCH, and prepare them for extended evenings of TV watching.

During the weeks leading up to the playoffs, start putting your kids to bed later and later so they get acclimated to the brutal baseball schedule they’ll be enduring soon. Once the playoffs start, take your kids out of school after lunch for a two-hour nap, and pump them full of caffeine about an hour before the games start. (Diet Coke and Diet Mountain Dew work well for this purpose.) Around 10:00pm, feed your kids a big bowl of ice cream. The sugar high will keep them going a while longer.

What about school the next day? You can try the Diet Coke and Diet Mountain Dew technique again and hope they can survive the day, but since there’s bound to be another game that night, it would be better to let them sleep in and miss the first few hours of school. Hey, you have to make a choice: will it be the three R’s, or the most important R of all? (the Red Sox) The World Series lasts one short week. In Red Sox Nation, it’s the most important week of our entire lives. The choice is obvious. Fox won’t bend, so we have to. Let the kids stay up to watch!

(No, this message has not been approved by my wife….but I’m working on it…)

Sox in Seven

OK, so several people have emailed me, begging the Vice President of Red Sox Nation to blog about the rest of this Cleveland series. When Rem Dawg appointed me, he gave me a crystal ball, and this is what I see:

Sox will win tonight. Beckett is pitching. Beckett is like the ace of spades, he beats all comers.

Sox will then come home for game 6 on a big high, very confident, and Curt Schilling was born to win do-or-die game 6′s. One way or another, he (and the team) will find a way to win.

Then we’ll have game 7 in Fenway. The Indians players won’t be able to shake that fear that they’re about to choke away a 3-1 series lead. The Sox will KNOW they’re going to win, having taken the last two in a row. We’ll be ready to throw a committee out there (Daisuke, Okajima, Lester, Timlin, Papelbon) but we won’t need to because the Sox will slug their way to a dominating no-doubter.

Rockies, beware.

How Would Winning Be Different Than In 2004?

sox-win-sox-win.jpg I remember arriving early at game 1 of the 2004 World Series. I felt enormous excitement, of course, because of the almost unthinkable possibility of finally winning it all. But I also felt enormous dread. Those of us who had endured our share of Red Sox pain felt reluctant to even give ourselves permission to imagine what it would be like if we actually won the Series. We had let ourselves imagine it vividly a few times before (game 7 of 1975, 9th inning of game 6 in 1986, game 7 of ALCS in 2003), only to get burned. Badly burned.

This year, it’s different. It’s easier to imagine what it would be like to win the World Series. There’s no dread whatsover. Certainly, the fact that the Yankees (and Mets) have already been eliminated helps. And it’s not as painful to imagine losing. Yes, I imagine a bad taste in my mouth at the thought of losing to the Indians, and a really rotten taste in my mouth at the idea of losing to the Rockies or Diamondbacks. But because we vanquished the curse in 2004, the current postseason is about 2007 only, not about 1919 and every other year we failed since then. On Opening Day in 2005, all of us members of Red Sox Nation hit the “restart button” on our emotional lives — and the ensuing three years of futility haven’t been enough to cause a distressing World Series drought.

So how would a World Series victory in 2007 be different from the 2004 triumph?

1. The celebration would be pure fun. No convulsions, no heart attacks. In 2004, the celebration was an orgasmic exorcism, almost painful in its joyousness, if that is possible. Of course, the fact that we were about to get swept by the Yankees until Millar walked, Roberts stole second, and Mueller knocked him home – and then we staged the greatest comeback in sports history – played a big role in our eventual ebullience. And yet we sort of expected some unknown force to take the trophy away from us even after the last game vs. St. Louis had ended. When the Cubs finally win it all, we’ll see that kind of craziness all over again.
Red_sox_champagne_in_locker_room_2004

2. We would feel like World Champions immediately after the final out. In the aftermath of the 2004 victory, it literally took months for our old identity as “lovable chokers whose Daddy is the Yankees” to fade and our new identity as “World Champs” to sink in. Pre-2004, part of the pride of being a Red Sox fan was having the courage to “keep the faith,” and by wearing the blue hat with the “B” on it, we proclaimed to the world that we were sticking by our guys, no matter how horribly they had screwed up our lives. During the winter of 2004-2005, we all woke up every morning and thought, “I had the weirdest dream that the Red Sox won the World Series — oh my gosh, it’s true!” Because we’ve rehearsed the feeling of being a champion, another World Series triumph would feel like putting on an old, broken-in baseball glove (except better).

3. We would suddenly be perceived as one of the premier sports franchises of the 21st Century, by virtue of winning two World Series in four years. There would be several players on the team with TWO Red Sox World Series rings (reminiscent of the early 20th Century Red Sox players, who won it all in 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918). John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and Theo Epstein would establish themselves as one of the best (if not THE best) owner-president-GM trio in sports today. And Terry Francona would have to be considered one of the elite managers in baseball…. and a bona-fide Hall of Fame candidate.

4. Kids in Red Sox Nation, who were fans in 2004, would officially grow up with a warped sense of what it means to be a Red Sox fan. (Or perhaps it’s us long-term fans whose perceptions are warped…. permanently damaged by the pain of pre-2004.) And this means that kids from Yankees Territory would officially grow up with a warped sense of what it means to be a Yankees fan. Doesn’t that idea make you happy?

A Great Jason Varitek Story

Yes, Jerry Remy did ask me to be Vice President of Red Sox Nation (last Friday, prior to game 2 vs. Anaheim), and yes, I did accept his offer, and yes, it’s really exciting. I’m not really sure yet what it means to be Vice President of Red Sox Nation, but I assume it means I should just keep being myself, and I’m determined to make it mean increased opportunities for me to make a positive impact in people’s lives.

But rather than write about this accomplishment — which really means nothing until Jerry and I DO something to validate our titles — I thought I’d celebrate my incredibly good fortune with a fantastic story from Red Sox Nation. I heard a lot of them during my two-month campaign, but this one tops ‘em all. It’s from a boy named Chris Stimpson, and it’s right out of a Disney movie that’s too good to believe.

Chris was at Fenway on August 13, 2007, and because his little brother, Sam, had caught a foul ball on June 12th, Chris really hoped he would catch one on this night. And against all odds, he believed he would. Well, he didn’t end up catching a foul ball, but one of his grandfather’s friends DID catch a foul ball off the bat of Jason Varitek, and he gave it to Sam. “I was so excited, I took the ball and jumped up in the air!” Chris told me. His wish had come true. But that’s not the end of the story.

Jason_varitek_signed_baseball On the drive home from the game, Chris’s dad got stuck in traffic. I’ll let Chris tell the rest of the story: “That’s when I saw Jason Varitek stuck in traffic too! Right next to us! We stopped the car and I got out and went into the street. None of the cars were moving so I walked over to Varitek’s car and tapped on the window. To my surprise, he rolled it down and said, What’s up? I told him about the foul ball he hit to my grandfather’s friend and I showed it to him and he said, Let me see that. Then he took out a pen, signed the ball, and handed it back to me. It was so cool. I ran back to my car yelling Thank you! back towards Varitek’s car. When I jumped in my car, I yelled, HE SIGNED IT! HE SIGNED IT!”

I certainly hope that in my capacity as Vice President of Red Sox Nation, I’ll hear a lot more wonderful stories like that one!