I never cared for baseball. America’s Pastime is and forever shall be football. Thanks for playing baseball. Take your mitt and fuck off into the cornfield.
Growing up, I focused mostly on kicking and hurting: soccer, karate (not the cool sounding kind, the pay for a belt kind) and wrestling. I played competitive baseball for one year. Being a tiny tike, I had no strike zone. I was often sent to chase butterflies in left field. I had one hit the entire season, which got me a diving double. We won the championship. I went out at the top of my game.
My father was a Yankees fan from way back, having been raised in Scranton, which is closer to NYC than Philly. After several trips to Cooperstown, I was able to appreciate the Yankees of long ago. Yes, it was true; I was a Yankees fan. But of the 1917 team. That’s like being a history buff more than a baseball aficionado. It’s like telling people your favorite king.
Back home, we rooted for the Phillies, because they were our home team. Not because they were good. We used to go to the games and eat our picnic lunches and enjoy the weather at the Vet. You didn’t go to watch baseball.
So when I went to Boston for grad school in 2003, I didn’t think I’d get sucked in. I mean, the Red Sox hadn’t won anything in forever. As a Philadelphia sports fan, I could appreciate losing. Over the past decade or so, every single major Philadelphia sports team has gotten to the final game in their prospective series, only to lose. Worse yet, we consistently come close, only to have it snatched from our hands. It was as God was playing keep away hoping the crushing defeat would garner him extra cheesesteak laden souls dead from heart attack.
But I neglected to appreciate the fact that the Red Sox are more than just a mere sports team. It’s a goddamn religion.
Boston is an angry town. Everyone’s bundled up and cold because it’s winter ten months out of the year (two months is summer when it’s 104 degrees and every gets extra stabby). All you can see peeking out from behind scarves and gloves and hateful stares. Since the road system looks like a spastic toddler’s interpretation of spaghetti, most people take the T, the trolley system glutted like a Philly artery. Humanity clogs the trains, faces in armpits, legs akimbo, desperately seeking an inch or two of purchase to stand on, like a 3-D game of Twister in hell. Old women clutching grocery bags, pregnant Latinos, tough black kids with headphones bobbing to their own beat, drunk college students drifting from bar to bar: these are your fellow passengers on the ferry shuttle to Acheron’s heart.
But no matter what, you can ask “What’s the score?” And everyone’ll know. The old woman will be the one who pipes up, “Foah two in the eighth. Fuckin’ Manny blew a double.” And everyone will sigh and nod.
It was impossible not to drink the red Kool-aid. It started in bars, the game perpetually on in the background on at least one TV. It was an easy way to make awkward conversation when standing and freezing waiting for the GODDAMN T WHICH NEVER COMES AND IS ALWAYS FULL!
So I became an occasional Sox fan. I’d find myself leaving the game on in the background while working on screenplays. Or we’d go over to one of the bars that surround Fenway. My parents came to visit and my brother and I took them to a game, because my dad loves historical ballparks. And Fenway really, really is something special. It rises from the middle of the apartments and bars around it like a bad tooth jutting up from a hillbilly smile. You can feel the excitement and the history, like walking through a graveyard or an old battlefield. The smells rise up, the people are always happy to have gotten one of the limited tickets, the crowd swells because they BELIEVE. This is their year. It’s gotta be.
I was there in 2004, right down the street from the intersection of Harvard and Brighton Avenues, in Allston, which is right up against Cambridge and Boston Proper. It’s the nexus for about 15 city bars ranging from the divey to the really fucking divey. This was the year when the Sox won the series. But frankly, that was just icing on the cake. It was the division series that meant more to everyone. When they came back from behind to sweep the evil Yankees in four games. People swelled out of their homes, there was cheering and hooting and hollering in the streets. Dancing, drinking, you would have thought it was New Years. Nobody expected the Sox to get to the series, let alone win. They were just happy they embarrassed the fuck out of those pretty boy paychecks in pinstripes. I sat on my stoop and drank beers with my neighbors. Kids who’s names I didn’t even know. We just sat on our stairs cracking up at the drunks carousing in the alleys.
The thing that made victory over the Yankees so sweet was the constant sense of doom pervading everywhere. Everyone was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. They were down three games. All they had to do was lose one, it was over. Okay, so they win one. Big whoop, everyone was expecting failure. This was a town that was drenched in failure. When they won two, it was worse, because some small sparkles of hope were starting to flair, like lighters in a Dave Matthews crowd. The diehards quickly squelched that. It was far worse for them to tease everyone like this. It was puppy drowning cruelty. Just fucking lose already! Then when they made three, they won three goddamn games in a row, you would have thought the streets would run red with blood. But it would have been slit wrists. Cause they’re was NO FUCKING CHANCE they were winning that shit. No way. That doesn’t happen. So the victory brought everyone out of their homes, to celebrate. Because the big dance was over as far as they were concern. Rocky stayed up for 12 rounds, who cares about the series, we’re the fucking Red Sox, we never win.
But as the games progressed, until the final catch was made to seal history, people were in shock. The curse. The curse was finally over. People came out of their houses as if awakened from a dream. It was the Munchkins emerging to see what had crushed the witch. Was she truly dead? Is the curse lifted?
Then the party began. I remember high fiving policemen on horseback and hugging complete strangers. My neighbors and I sprayed beer all over each other. You would have thought a war had ended. All these bitter hateful people came out into the streets to celebrate the hometown glory. We were all family, everyone was your friend. It was a beautiful thing.