A Reward Well-Earned

It’s two days later, I’m still on cloud nine, and I’m counting the number of Red Sox World Series championship T-shirts I’ll have to buy for my wife’s family in upstate New York who ragged on me for years about my beloved Boston team always falling short of the Yankees. Not only did Red Sox version 2004.1 – they won, get it? – finally get past their archenemies, they then went out and all but destroyed the St. Louis Cardinals, never trailing in all 36 innings of what proved to be a four-game sweep for a title that, as has been repeated ad nauseum, eluded the Boston nine for 86 years.

For years, my biggest beef in regards to a championship having eluded the Red Sox for so many years was that, even from the mouths of self-described Yankee fans, I would hear how much the franchise deserved one. To me, that was the equivalent of a backhanded compliment; it was as if the Red Sox should just be handed baseball’s most exalted trophy without having to spend eight months sweating through the promise of spring training, the grind of the regular season, and the pressures of the post-season. If there were any team that deserves the trophy more than Boston, it would be the Chicago Cubs, whose drought now extends 96 years after they failed to qualify for the post-season this year, in part thanks to a horrible final week in the regular season.

Boston owns the title of 2004 World Series champions because they went out and earned it. They qualified for the playoffs with the third-best record in baseball, cruised past the Anaheim Angels in the division series, came back from a 0-3 series deficit to win the pennant over New York, and then capped the season by dominating St. Louis in four games to vindicate those whose past efforts were rewarded only with bitter defeat. Whereas the 2003 season ended in disappointment and heartache, the 2004 season ended in fulfillment and celebration as the team poured onto the field at Busch Stadium and rejoiced like the past champions of Major League Baseball.

That does not mean that there are some things that the Red Sox deserve. The players deserve recognition for gutsy performances and doing what it took to win, even if it meant yielding the spotlight to others for the good of the team. Terry Francona deserves kudos along with his staff for taking this self-described band of idiots and molding them into champions, even under the pressures of being a first-year manager on a team that was expected to win. Theo Epstein deserves praise for adding the elements that were necessary to better those chances and, in the case of Nomar Garciaparra, taking risks that had the potential to blow up in his face. John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino deserve praise for guiding this team from the front office and giving the club a fresh identity that created less hostility and a more open and friendly atmosphere. Finally, Red Sox fans from Boston to Bangladesh deserve recognition for 86 years of loyalty, even through those years of failure and frustration, having never seeing this moment come to pass.

This 2004 Boston Red Sox World Series championship – I just enjoy saying that! – came to be because, from the moment this team lost Game 7 of the American League Champion Series last season, the entire organization banded together and worked towards achieving that goal. This season came down to what happened between the lines on the field, but it also came to be because the right decisions were made at every level of the organization. As in life, the greatest satisfaction comes from those goals that you achieved through hard work and dedication to the task; it might take 86 years but, when you do make it, the success is even sweeter.

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