Baseball was, is and always will be the best game in the world. – Babe Ruth
The day after a crushing Game Seven loss in the 2003 American League Championship Series for Red Sox fans, I arrived at work to find a youth-sized Yankees cap on my chair. One of my co-workers, an unabashed New York fan, had pinned a note to it: “Give this to your son so that he’ll know what it feels like to root for a REAL team!”
Needless to say, I was less than happy – no, actually, I was pissed – and I threw the hat and the note into one of the bottom drawers of my file cabinet, knowing well enough that my then six-month-old son would NEVER be a fan of any team other than the Boston Red Sox.
It wasn’t the first time someone had harassed me due to my undying loyalty to the local nine; in fact, I was so used to it that most often it didn’t bother me. Heck, I had married a girl from upstate New York whose family was primarily Yankees fans, and I took grief from them at every holiday gathering, save for my one nephew whom I had somehow convinced to root for the Sox (and still does).
But the sting of watching Boston blow a late-inning lead the night before, followed by a game-winning home run from Aaron Bleepin’ Boone in extras to send New York to yet another World Series – the Evil Empire’s sixth trip in eight seasons – was still fresh in my mind, and I wasn’t in the mood for what was really a harmless poke.
Why I didn’t just toss the hat in the trash, I don’t exactly remember. Maybe I didn’t want him to come by later, see it filed away with the garbage, and give me more grief. Maybe I thought hiding it deep in a drawer at work to collect dust for a finite period of time would keep it unworn by anyone, let alone my young son. Again, I don’t remember.
But one year later, all that changed. You know the story: down three games to none in the 2004 ALCS, I witnessed the point at which the fortunes of the franchise turned. With three outs to go in the game, from the center field bleachers at Fenway Park, I watched Dave Roberts steal second base; the rest is history, and ten days later, baseball crowned the Red Sox as World Series champions for the first time in 86 years.
Almost by instinct, I knew what next to do. With sleep still in my eyes, I returned to the work the following day and fished that cursed cap along with the appalling note out of my file cabinet (I hadn’t touched it in all that time). You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I found my co-worker standing with some of our other co-workers, shooting the breeze on the shop floor.
“Hey!” I called out as I approached him. The conversation stopped suddenly as every eye turned to look at me. I calmly handed him what he had gifted me a year earlier and said: “You can keep this [censored] hat, because my son DOES know what it feels like to root for a REAL team!” Dumbfounded for a moment, he then broke into a big smile and congratulated my team for finally ending 86 years of frustration. Of course, he had to add with a chuckle: “Think you’ll be around when they win their next championship in 2090?”
Fast-forward 14 years and here we stand, having seen our beloved Red Sox win a fourth championship in 15 seasons and the first in five years. Let that sink in: four championships in almost the blink of an eye. Even the most rabid of Red Sox fans would never have imagined this after that crushing defeat in 2003.
Each banner season has been special in its own unique way: this year, Boston was unstoppable, winning an improbable 108 games during the regular season, a new franchise record, and then taking down two 100-win teams en route to the sweet reward of a World Series win. Manager Alex Cora, who won it all with Boston in 2007, now has a collection of 119 photos framed on his office wall, one from each win in this, his rookie managerial season.
Longtime Boston Globe reporter and editor Martin Nolan, in an article written after the 2004 World Series ended, spoke about his father, rooting for his beloved Red Sox, either from the stands at Fenway Park or beside his radio at home in his kitchen, running through the emotions all too common of a frustrated Boston baseball fan. Late in life, his father said: “Marty, my boy, I don’t think the Sox are going to make it again in my lifetime. And I’m not too sure about yours.” A year after his father passed, the ball went between Bill Buckner’s legs, leading Nolan to observe, “The Red Sox killed my father, and they’re coming after me,” which David Halberstam quoted in his book, The Teammates.
While I did not suffer as long as Nolan – 1986 was the first time I vividly witnessed what others has painfully observed for years – it’s reason like this that I don’t take any of this recent success for granted; as the saying goes, winning never gets old. I don’t consider myself spoiled; I’m blessed. Blessed to witness a moment in time that this storied franchise leaves its mark on the sport. Blessed to share the excitement of a championship with my kids and my parents, the latter of whom suffered in the same vein as Nolan and earlier generations of Red Sox fan.
15 years ago, someone facetiously thought I would be doing my son a favor to let him become a Yankees fan. Whether due to shameless optimism, stubborn loyalty, or blind faith, I’m glad I choose to file away that cap.