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

Monday, October 29, 2007

Of Men and Baseball, This Game We Play

(Photo from Boston.com)

A friend of mine in Colorado sent me a message last night. "Congratulations," she said. Then she went on to mention Papelbon and Varitek and their obvious, er, affection for one another. And it struck me; this friend isn't really a baseball fan. She follows football and we occasionally talk about her Broncos and my Patriots and our mutual dislike of the Colts or Steelers or somesuch, but this baseball thing was relatively new to her. She'd been following the Rockies during this postseason run because, how could you not if you live out there? As she put it, "There's an awful lot of purple. An awful lot." But still, she wouldn't have considered herself a baseball fan. And yet, here she was, discussing my team with me. Talking about my closer and my catcher by name and getting it right (which is more than we can say for Tim McCarver). And I suddenly realized how proud I was. Because people elsewhere will be talking about my baseball team. And they'll be talking about them by name.

I would never claim that the Red Sox fly under the radar. That's a preposterous assumption and one you'll never hear me make. But I made the point a while back that if the Sox won this World Series, it would introduce the new guys to the world on a huge stage and their careers would begin in the brightest possible light. And we could say "Look at them! They're our rookies! We made them!" And we did. And we can.

Just as you and I will always remember where we were, what we were doing, and who we were with, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Daisuke Matsuzaka and the gang will one day think about the first time they won a World Series, and they'll remember Coors Field, and how the air was thin, and the champagne was plentiful and the celebration lasted for days.

There are three defining images for me last night. They all sum up this unique and wild run in different ways. The first is Ryan wearing a Bud Light box on his head (for Papelbon mojo, you understand), and breathing into a paper bag. He did this with two outs in the ninth inning, grabbing the bag as soon as Jamey Carroll's deep, deep, deeeeeeeeeeeeep fly ball settled into Ellsbury's glove. It was a much-needed moment of levity in a night fraught with drama and tension. Those of us assembled - Greta, Amy, and myself - laughed for what felt like the first time in three innings. We needed that. Because it's baseball. And baseball is supposed to be fun.

The second image that'll always strike me is the enormous, face-splitting smile on Jacoby Ellsbury's face as the camera followed him in from left field, sprinting to join his teammates on the infield. Because baseball teams play a long season. They play a lot of games. And at every turn it seems the rookies are trying to keep their wits about them, trying to keep it all together and never admit that they might be intimidated, or frightened, or in over their heads. And even when things appear to be clicking for them in all possible ways, as with Ellsbury and the World Series he just had, they seem to be trying to keep things in perspective. As if they're constantly telling themselves, "Act professional. Do not freak out. Keep things under control." But then there comes that one moment, as with Ellsbury last night, when the exhilaration and excitement and months of working hard and playing with the big boys all comes tumbling out, and they can't keep the smile in any longer. And it's at that moment that you realize, these are just kids. Some of these guys are just kids. Some look barely old enough to shave. And the release of this, the culmination of all they've worked so hard for, often times, alongside their mentors, is great. And their joy is something to behold.

And finally, the third and most important thing I'm going to remember about this Red Sox World Series victory is not really about the Red Sox at all. It's about family, or rather, the families we make for ourselves. I watched the game with friends last night, as I'm sure many of us did. Four of us came together from four different geographic regions and watched the Sox become World Series champions. Greta is from Baltimore, Ryan from New Orleans, Amy from North Carolina and myself, from New Hampshire. We all have ties to this region and this team. We all have our reasons. But these are people that, were it not for the Red Sox, I would never have cause to know. These are people I met through this crazy internet in general and a message board over at Surviving Grady in particular and these are people who have, over the past couple of years, become my very best friends. And when Papelbon struck out Seth Smith last night and the celebration commenced, we all hugged each other and screamed and poured champagne and then we all called our dads, or our brothers, or our friends back home. We called our families. And the image that struck me was Amy's face, after getting off the phone with her dad and brother back in North Carolina. "I'm so happy about this," she said, choking up, "but it also makes me miss them a lot."

"Oh, pumpkin," I said, and hugged her.

"I just miss my family," she said.

"Me too," I said, "But, you know, we're kind of your second family. We're all kind of here watching this with our second family."

"That's true," she said, wiping away tears. "The Red Sox kind of made this family for us, didn't they?"

"They did," I said. "We wouldn't know each other without them."

And that, above all, is what I thank them for. Because the winning is great. The winning is fantastic and amazing. But the winning means nothing if you have no one to share it with. The winning is empty without your family.

And this family of mine - this Red Sox manufactured family - means more to me than any amount of winning and trophies could ever mean. Without this family, I'd have no one to force-feed me tequila and chips when I seem in danger of going off the deep end when I hear that Jon Lester is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Without this family, there would be no one to calm me down and stifle the bloodcurdling screams when I saw Eric Gagne warming up in the Sox bullpen (brilliant motivational tactic by Tito, I think). Without this family, there would be no one to indulge my Jacoby Ellsbury crush or my long-standing and steadfast love for Jason Varitek. Without this family, I wouldn't have you guys who read this every day and make me laugh with your comments and emails. Without the Red Sox, I wouldn't have this family, and without this family, I wouldn't have anything.

You guys make this all worth it. Because I would keep doing this if the Red Sox never won again, but I wouldn't keep doing it without you guys. So thank you, 2007 Boston Red Sox. But most of all, thank you guys. You know who you are.