In my family you do not become a Red Sox fan. You are one. From the moment your tiny purple feet touch the cold hospital floors to the moment they drop your casket into the cold hard earth.
It is, in a very real sense, a bond that ties my family together. Very few conversations with my dad pass by without us at least mentioning the Red Sox. My older brother and I are regular members of fantasy baseball leagues and regularly fight over which Red Sox will best fill out our roster. And as strange as it may sound, some of the very best memories of my childhood are firmly rooted in those red and white uniforms.
My first real solid memory of the Sox is a trip to Fenway on my birthday. I honestly don’t remember which birthday it was, but I do remember my name flashing up on the big Fenway scoreboard. And far more importantly, I remember standing right outside the bullpen watching Pedro Martinez warm up.
This was Pedro at the height of his powers! Pedro was the most feared pitcher in baseball and easily the most charismatic sports figure in Boston. Pedro was all laughs and smiles before and after pitching, but during the game he was a machine. A strikeout monster that dominated the league like no one else in baseball could.
Most of that game is very much a blur, though I remember Nomar Garciaparra ripping an RBI double, and I remember Trot Nixon hitting a home run that landed 3 rows in front of me. And I, of course, remember that we won. But my longest and most precious memory of that night will be standing with my dad watching Pedro Martinez warm up not twenty feet away from me.
“That’s Pedro.” My Dad said. “He’s the best pitcher in baseball.”
And I never looked back.
I am, on the whole, a very pampered Red Sox fan. For those of you who don’t know much about baseball lore, the Red Sox went 87 years between World Series victories. From 1918 to 2004. The years between those victories were filled with more heartbreak then I care to think on but, for the most part, I was not alive for that.
My memories of the Red Sox (even in the pre- 2004 era) are largely happy ones. Pedro Martinez in his prime. Nomar Garciaparra coming up and being widely hailed as one of the best hitters ever before injuries reduced him to being “that guy who married Mia Hamn.” I remember literally hundreds of Manny Ramirez home runs and watching “Big Papi” David Ortiz glaring out at the pitcher’s mound like the pitcher had personally offended him. Yeah we hadn’t won a world series in 87 years, but for me that was mostly just a number. A frustration. After all we were still a good team. We were still the Red Sox. We would get one eventually.
My Dad’s history is very different.
My Dad has been a Red Sox fan all his life. He lived through years when the Red Sox were the worst team in baseball, and the far more heart breaking years when the Red Sox got so very close to winning it all only to stumble at the finish line. My Dad remembers the 87 World Series where the Red Sox were a cleanly fielded ground ball away from finally breaking “the Curse.” He remembers years of futility, years of frustration, and years of shattered hopes. For my dad being a Red Sox fan before 2004 was a badge of honor. And a badge of heartbreak.
In 2003 I thought it was the year. I was in Guam that particular October training for a soccer tournament while the rest of my family was in the states visiting relatives and churches. I didn’t get to talk to my dad about each game like I normally would have, but I remember watching each and every playoff game and knowing that my Dad was watching them too. I remember after every win I would sit there and smile and know that 9000 miles away my Dad was doing the same. And after every loss I would shake my head turn off the TV with mild disgust and mutter something about “getting out there again tomorrow” Knowing my Dad would be doing the same. I was in China for the end of the playoffs. I missed the Red Sox adding to my Dad’s list of sports tragedies when they blew a deciding game 7. The first thing I did when I found out was e-mail my Dad. “We’ll get them next year.” I said. Just like I’d said so many times before, and just like my Dad had said for so many years before that. But I believed it. And I know Dad did too.
In 2004 the Red Sox did break the Curse. I remember watching those playoffs games with my dad and older brother. I remember Dave Roberts clutch steal of second. David Ortiz coming through with two of the biggest hits in the history of baseball. And I remember Curt Schilling somehow pitching the Red Sox to a game 6 victory despite his tendon being literally stapled together the whole time.
But my favorite memory was listening to the Red Sox win it all. Yup, listening. My Dad and I sat in his bedroom with his computer turned on and his speakers blaring. Both of us glued to every word. I wondered for a while why my dad hadn’t made more of an effort to find a TV for us to watch the game on. We didn’t have cable but we knew plenty of people who did. I realize now that my Dad was still just waiting. Waiting for something to happen. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting to have his beloved Red Sox break his heart again. Who would want to watch that?
The Sox didn’t, of course. Keith Foulke got Edgar Renteria to ground out to end a clinching game four and the Red Sox had won the series. I was absolutely elated! I jumped up and down, literally dancing with joy, screaming at the top of my lungs, and not knowing what to do in what was literally the happiest moment of my life to that point. My Dad just sort of lay on the bed. Not really smiling. Not really moving at all. Just listening as the radio announcer screamed words I honestly think my dad thought he would never get to hear. “The Boston Red Sox are the champions of the world!”
Once my wild euphoria had settled a bit I sat down next to my dad. He looked at me and simply said “We did it.”
And that is why we love the Red Sox. It’s why we love sports. Because after a while it stops becoming about “them” or “the team” and it becomes about “us”. After a lifetime of waiting my Dad could finally turn to me and say “We did it.” And even my high school aged self could see that as wildly euphorically happy as I was, my dad laying on that bed, staring at the ceiling as the announcers screamed, and I screamed, was happy in a way that I couldn’t ever be. We had done it.
The Sox have won a series since then, in 2007. I was in college and I remember very distinctly where I watched each playoff game. Bouncing from TV to TV until finally I gathered in a crowded dorm lobby to watch the last game. I remember watching Jonathon Papelbon blow a fastball past the last opposing hitter. I remember screaming, hugging people I barely knew, and then screaming some more. I remember ignoring our dorm supervisors please to go to bed as me and a few equally rebellious Sox fans watched our team celebrate and celebrated right along with them. I fell asleep that night way way later then I should have. My roommate Ethan, also a Red Sox fan, lying across the room simply said “The Red sox won the world series” and with that we fell asleep.
I remember that 07 series to be sure. But it will never match 2004. It will never match the look on my dad’s face as he said those words. And now, as I grow older, I still hold the Red Sox in the very same high esteem. Still follow them every day, still view them as “my team,” and still hold that special bond with my dad.
We were together in 04. Shared that night, that season, those years and years of patient waiting. And it was all worth it. After all: “We did it.”