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162

“What? They’ve given you thousands of hours of entertainment for free. What could they possible owe you? If anything, you owe them.” – Bart Simpson

“Once upon a time, losing brought a brief period of sorrow. Now it brings rage. The rest of the season, I fear, will not be much fun. The truth is we need to sit down and figure out what sports are all about. We’ve lost our way.” – Bob Ryan

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: baseball is just not like other sports. Not for me. Not in its design, not in its historical or literary significance, not in its timelessness, nor its global appeal. And certainly not in its schedule.

One hundred and sixty two games per year. Think about that. For almost half the year (and actually, it is half a year if you throw in spring training), there’s a game on. Baseball is the soundtrack for summers all over the country. Actually, the world if we consider how the games are followed in countries like the Dominican Republic and Japan. Baseball is that rare kind of soundtrack that transcends barriers of all types: generational, ethnic, national, socio-economic and so on. Baseball has been, in my experience, a great uniter – a shared passion even for those with nothing else in common. There aren’t many things, after all, that a college kid from a wealthy New Jersey suburb working construction can talk about with his two time felon partner while hauling windows around at 4:30 on an already hot summer morning in anticipation of an inspector’s visit.

The passion of baseball fans has never really surprised me, but then I guess it wouldn’t. There are few (ok, no) teams more avidly followed than my beloved Red Sox. People care about the Sox. More than they should at times, it’s true.[1]

Some years the soundtrack is good, some years it’s not so good, but every once in a while, it’s unforgettable. This year’s soundtrack, also known as the Red Sox 2006 season, was bittersweet. While my first few months in Maine were characterized by lazy evenings listening to Big Papi end game after game, a couple of weeks before I was to return home the Sox were swept in a 5 game series at home by the New York Yankees – a fact which several of you have been (un)kind enough to remind me of. Repeatedly. Reactions were predictably apoplectic. The passion, remember.

That incident would have been bad enough, because it effectively ended any real chance the Sox had of winning the division. But to add insult to injury, the sweep merely proved to be the most acute symptom of a larger problem; we weren’t nearly as good a team as we thought we were. You can’t, after all, start Jason Johnson and Kyle Snyder back to back against a club with a $200 million dollar payroll and expect to have a lot of success.

The malaise from the Sox’ horrific August was almost unprecedented. Spoiled by three straight playoff appearances, and a World Series title in 2004, Sox fans everywhere raged. The reactions were born, it would seem, out of a misplaced and probably inappropriate sense of entitlement: these were the Sox, and the Sox go to the playoffs. How dare anyone interfere with that? Radio talk shows back in Boston were plagued by vitriolic caller after caller, all of whom had one thing in common: they completely lacked perspective.

Gone was the ability to recognize that bad things – such as injuries to your captain, starting right fielder, starting center fielder, #1 starter, #2 starter, #4 starter, primary setup man and closer – happen. Gone was the understanding that the playoffs are not a given, no matter what your payroll might happen to be. And most importantly – gone was any sense of enjoyment the game could bring.

While I sympathize with these types – watching the Sox cough up game after game left me borderline physically ill – I tried always to keep things in perspective. And the simplest way that I found of doing that was by realizing that despite their late season fade, the Red Sox had provided me with literally hundreds of hours of enjoyment that summer. Pain too, yes, but more enjoyment than pain. Years from now, I’ll be telling (bored) people about Big Papi’s record setting home run season. I’ll be telling people how it felt when Papelpon came into the game (it’s over). I’ll be recounting the improbable Patriot’s Day walkoff job provided by Loretta (wish I’d been in Boston for that, as I have every other Patriot’s Day since ’01). I’ll be telling people that Jon Lester – who would later be diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – pitched brilliantly in his first couple of starts – bending, but never breaking. And, of course, I’ll be telling people about Trot Nixon.

Alone among current Red Sox players, I’ve been following Nixon since virtually the day he was drafted. While in college and in my first working years I dutifully tracked Nixon’s slow, arduous climb through the minor leagues. I disputed hist doubters, I sweated through trade rumors, I listened to scratchy play by plays of his Pawtucket games over 56K dialup, but through it all I pulled for him. Thanks to my girlfriend at the time, I actually got to see Trot’s first game in the majors – a contract mandated call up in which he went 2-4 and made the first of what were to be many diving catches from his territory in right field. I watched the game on May 28th of 2000 when he provided Pedro Martinez the two runs he needed to beat Roger Clemens of the Yankees 2-0. I was watching from my brother’s place in NYC on September 1st, 2003, when he capped a remarkable comeback against the Phillies with a 9th inning grand slam – the hit that many credited with turning around the Sox season. I’ve got pictures of my Dad meeting Trot, when he visited the stock exchange. As Ian Browne writes, there were so many memories.

Today, in game 162, I may have watched his final at bat, his final hit, and his final curtain call in a Sox uniform. He’s a free agent, you see, after this year and word is the Sox do not intend to resign him because of his injury history. [2]

162 means different things to me, then – conflicting things. But positive things – I have not yet lost my way, nor my appreciation for the joy the Sox have brought me. Like life, baseball doesn’t always turn out how you’d like it to (except for ’04), but you might as well try and enjoy the ride. I appreciate and thank the Red Sox players and front office for another season, I wish Trot the best of luck wherever he winds up (I’ll always be a fan, but please let it be Boston), and most importantly I (eagerly) await next February.

In the meantime, Let’s Go [whoever's playing the Yankees]!

[1] e.g. Several individuals were caught attempting to sell their bodies on eBay in exchange for Sox World Series tickets in ’04.

[2] The same injury history he apologized for earlier this week, feeling that he’d let the fans and the organization down by succumbing to injuries.

Categories: Baseball, Red Sox.

  • http://unto.net/ DeWitt Clinton

    Well said. Thank you, Stephen. They’ve rebuilt before, and they will rebuild again. But this year really was tough.

  • http://alexking.org/ Alex

    I remember that May 28, 2000 game well. My friend and I went down the road from the office to watch it at a pizza place. One of the best games I’ve ever seen.

  • http://www.sutor.com Bob Sutor

    I admire the loyalty and dedication of Sox fans, but must the Yankees always be mentioned? The rivalry is well understood and historic, but there must be more to the Sox than seeing them always through some competition with their NY rivals.

  • http://edward.oconnor.cx/ Edward O’Connor

    Man, no one handles Fenway’s right field like Trot.

  • http://www.redmonk.com/sogrady stephen o’grady

    DeWitt: precisely. tough year, but we’ll be back. i’m quite frustrated with some of the doom crying from people who think we’re worse off than we were pre-Theo – we’re not. we just had a horrendous year (and almost finished second in the division). the farm system is beginning to bear fruit, and we need to have patience to see what develops.

    Alex: wasn’t it though? Trot getting brushed back by Clemens, then bam, dinger. Pedro gutting through 9 grueling innings, emptying the tank to get Posada, Jeter, et al in the 9th. unbelievable.

    Bob: well, the object of course is not offend Yankee fans, but a.) 200M payroll is inevitably going to paint a target on their chest and make them the bad guy, and b.) i have a very personal history with the Yankees. hence, i root against them. always.

    Edward: amen. the fielding bible actually had him listed as either the #2 or #3 right fielder in the league, i believe. he’s much, much better than people realize. he just doesn’t have the cannon arm that gets a lot of attention.