"Hell may have no fury like a woman scorned but heaven hath no sweetness like a sports fan vindicated." - Samcat

Saturday, July 23, 2005

One Down, One to Go

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(photo from jasonhoke.com)

The Bring Dave Roberts Back! Fund currently totals a whopping $14. C'mon now, folks, we can do better than that. I kid, actually, (well, mostly) but our bitching and whining worked to the tune of bringing back the World's Most Perfectly Sculpted Jew. Can Super Dave be far behind?

Just think, Kap's back, the team is playing mediocre ball and even Hyzduuuuuuu!, my personal chew toy, has shown up again (though perhaps not for long if he continues making plays like his fly-on-a-windshield gaffe last night in left). Throw a bitching Pedro and a blustering Schilling (oh, wait), into the mix and it's almost like, gasp!, last year.

And maybe that's part of it. Maybe that's part of the reason I seem less worried about this team than I perhaps should be. Granted, last night's game should probably have me frazzled considering Wake's alarming penchant at giving up home runs but for some reason, I just shrugged it off. Yes, I'd like to win. But I suppose my point is that when you're facing the team with the best record in baseball and your knuckleballer is going through a bit of a gopher ball phase, things aren't always going to go your way. Plus, the Sox are in first place, the Orioles and the Yankees both lost (again) and it's pretty much status quo out there right now. A slightly infuriating status quo since this team really should be much better than this, but status quo nonetheless. Of course, the addition of Kapler isn't going to hurt.

Oh, and as an aside. Memo to the Chicago White Sox: It's a home run, not freakin' Independence Day. Fireworks really aren't necessary. You hit a lot of home runs. You're a good baseball team. But damn if that isn't more obnoxious than the bat flip or the occasional Manny Ramirez "Look how far I hit that one, bitches!" slow trot. For real, tone it down a bit. Don't want to get yourselves all worked up over a single shot dinger in the 4th inning of a game you're already losing by twelve. However, the fireworks did prompt this discussion between Sebastian and myself:

Me: Those fireworks? Have got to stop. Bit of overkill, that.
Sebastian: Big talk coming from someone whose football team sets off cannons when they score a touchdown.
Me: They're the Patriots. It makes sense. Also? Whatever you say, Mr. Terrible Towel. *snicker*.
Sebastian: Don't make fun of the towels! They towels are awesome!
Me: Dude, the towels are lame.
Sebastian: They are not! They're the greatest!
Me: No, for real, man, we're all making fun of you. All of us.

And speaking of football...I realize I've not yet talked about Tedy Bruschi. And frankly, I need to. I mean, he's Tedy Bruschi. He
is Patriots football, plain and simple. Perhaps even more than Belichick or Brady, Bruschi is the physical and emotional embodiment of what it means to be a New England Patriot. And he's decided not to play this year. Which is...okay. Sad and upsetting insomuch as we're not going to see him running around the field like his pants are on fire and making Peyton Manning's receivers wet themselves but it's okay because Tedy never let us forget that in addition to being a football player - before being a football player - he is a husband and father. And his family needs him to be healthy. I feel like that's such a typical estrogen-laden response. "Well, his babies and wife need him." But the odd thing about the Bruschi decision is that I don't see reaction falling along gender lines. I've heard and read just as many males say the same thing about him. And I've listened to plenty of females express disappointment that he won't be taking the field this year.

Bruschi is a rare case in professional sports. We all say that we have favorite athletes and players and we act like we know them. But the truth is, we never really do. And we can never be sure they love us back. Just think back to how many of us were burned by Pedro "No Respect" Martinez. Did Pedro love us back? We'll never know. But with Tedy, it's almost like you
do know. Sure, an athlete can tell you they appreciate and love the fans and the support we give them but they can show it by signing a multi-year, below market value deal so as to stay in the city they consider home. See also: Wakefield, Tim. And that means a lot to us. We all learned in kindergarten that showing is greater than telling. And telling doesn't mean much unless you've shown us something to back it up. Bruschi backed it up.

And you can say what you want about his decision to take to the sidelines this year, but I honestly believe that there is such a mutual respect between Bruschi and the New England fans that we truly want what's best for him. We're not like that with other people. How many of us accused Nomar - either publicly or privately - of dogging it? Has anyone said that about Bruschi? Didn't think so. And no one will.

So while I feel that this decision is in Tedy's best interest, I also don't think it's forever. And even if it is, he's still a Patriot and he's still going to find a way to impact this team. Football is his life and New England Patriots football is where he's made his legacy. I think the odds are good that we see him running up and down the sidelines with a clipboard, yelling at the newbies and showing 'em how it's done in the near future.

And speaking of sticking around...(you like how the bullet points are all segueing into each other?), I met someone the other night who was the living embodiment of a true fan. First, a little background:

My father (The Rick to most of you) works in the veterinary industry and over the past thirty-odd years, he's struck up some pretty sincere friendships with his colleagues, not the least of which is that with Bob and Karen Messenger. Bob and Karen live in North Carolina and I met them for the first time last summer. "Bob's a huge Red Sox fan," my dad told me. "You'll love him."

My dad knows how to introduce people to me.

Not long after Bob and Karen returned home, the Sox began their playoff run. Occasionally Dad would forward me emails from Bob, laced with excitement about the Sox' chances. I've always known that Red Sox Nation is national, no, global, but it was a thrill to be feeling the intensity from someone so far away from Boston. Occasionally, living right in the center of the madness, I found myself losing perspective on just how big a deal this World Series win would be. But the emails from Bob always helped put it back into focus.

Shortly before the ALCS, I got an email from Bob's wife, Karen. "Your dad said you might know where I can get those 'Why Not Us?' t-shirts," it read. "I'd really like to get one for Bob and his father." A few mouse clicks and a donation to the K ALS fund later and two t-shirts were winging their way to North Carolina. Karen was infinitely grateful, and, evidently, Bob and his father were ecstatic.

Fast forward to last Tuesday. Bob and Karen, along with Bob's father Mel and brother Bill were in Boston. Not for business, not to visit family and not out of necessity. They were here solely to take in a Red Sox game. My mom sent me an email a few days before, "Bob and Karen are going to be in town for the game," she wrote, "Do you want to have dinner with all of us afterwards?"

"Absolutely," I wrote back.

And so we did. We met up at the No Name Restaurant on the harbor and proceeded to talk baseball. They'd just witnessed the systematic dismantling of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the hands of David Wells and the relentless Sox bats so there was a win to discuss.

"Where were your seats?" I asked.

"About ten rows back," Bill replied, "Along the third base line, behind the dugout."

"Wow," I said, "Great seats."

"Yeah," Karen said, "And Mel (her father-in-law) has never been to Fenway before so they were excellent."

My dad turned to Mel, incredulous, "You've never been to Fenway before?"

Mel shook his head, "Nope. Grew up in Brockton and I was always a Sox fan but today was the first time I ever went to Fenway."

"Imagine that," my dad said, "And you stayed a fan all this time. You kept the faith?"

"Oh yeah," Mel said, "Always knew they'd do it."

My dad smiled and shook his head, "How about that?"

The conversation drifted on to discuss Manny's disappearance into the Monster and the ongoing argument and wager between Kevin and myself regarding Dougie vs. Varitek but I kept mentally coming back to what Mel had said. "Always knew they'd do it."

I often feel somewhat guilty about the fact that I'm merely twenty-four-years-old and I've seen the Red Sox win a World Series. I wouldn't change the circumstances for anything but meeting someone like Mel, someone in his eighties who'd never previously been to Fenway Park, serves to yank into focus just how lucky I am to be twenty-four, to have working memories of a Red Sox World Series victory and to - all things considered - get to visit Fenway fairly often. Because eighty-odd years is a lot of believing. It's a lot of faith. Especially when you consider that before last Tuesday, Mel had never had the opportunity to worship in the chapel.

I have to wonder if other teams have fans like this. Do they have people who latch onto something and don't let go, despite geography, family situations, poor ownership, bad player management, historical losses and frustrating history? Do they have people who spend their entire lives believing? I don't know. I don't love any other team like I love the Red Sox and it seems like Mel's story, while wonderful - isn't terribly rare for Red Sox fans. Because in Red Sox Nation, it's about more than just baseball. It's a way to connect generations. Bob likes to tell the story of their family reunion when he tried to get his son, also named Kevin, interested in baseball.

"I told him, 'Go and ask your grandfather about Ted Williams'," Bob said, "Ted Williams was always Dad's favorite."

"Ted Williams was something," Mel chimed in.

Bob continued, "And Kevin comes back to me a little while later and says, 'Why was I supposed to ask grandpa about Hank Williams?'"

The table erupted in laughter. "He's just not much of a baseball fan," Bob said.

And that happens too. That's part of it as well. Not everyone is going to love what you love but that's okay. That doesn't make it any less special. I often think of myself and my father and how, though we've never had a problem communicating like so many fathers and daughters do, what we talk about most often is sports. When dad works from home, he emails me day game updates like clockwork. Rarely does a game go by without an email or phone call analysis from one of us to the other. We're constantly trading books back and forth and offering our opionions, ("
Bloody Sundays is a little lacking but you'll love America's Game"). I don't remember when or how exactly that my father started treating me as an equal in sports discussions but I know that all of what I know, I know because of him.

And this is how it happens in so many places to so many people and throughout so many families. Passion and excitement for a team is passed down, even without witnessing it in person. And that is truly special. We're lucky to have that around here. We're lucky to be a part of it. I'm thrilled that Mel finally was able to visit Fenway and that when he did, he was able to see the World Series Champions banner blowing in the summer breeze. It seems fitting, somehow, for someone who believed for so long, to finally be rewarded with the ultimate visual proof. They did it. Finally. But he always knew they would.