Tuesday, October 7, 2008
The Green Monster Never Lies
Every so often, disparate worlds collide, and so it is with this year. Politics and sports. Odd bedfellows, to be sure. One inspire while the other infuriates. One instills hope while the other reinforces cynicism. Sometimes, it's hard to tell which does what. Unless, of course, if you're a member of Red Sox Nation. Being called a Red Sox fan has proven inadequate in covering those that throw down Sam Adams drafts and crowd the bar at Sonny MacLean's in Santa Monica. The throngs that show up rooting for the visiting team in St. Petersburg or Seattle, Anaheim or-- perish the thought-- the Bronx. For years--85 seasons, to be exact-- getting close and coping with the curse was the glue that held us together. Maybe this will be the year. Or maybe next.
I learned to be one of the faithful through osmosis and a kind of hero worship. My maternal grandfather--Jacob Mann-- was a fiercely proud and stoic man, simple and never verbose. Well, I didn't learn that last quality from him. He used to watch the Red Sox on the black and white console set from his gold fabric Archie Bunker chair. Many times, he would call the unhearing little gray players "bums," wave a dismissive hand at him and announce to his wife that he was going upstairs to bed... in the 8th inning! He used to do that with the Friday Night Fights sometimes, too-- retiring in the middle of the 11th round, with just one more to go.
I will never forget my first game at Fenway. I was six years old. The Sox were playing the Yankees and our team won, 10-6. I saw Ted Williams play. And Jackie Jensen and Frank Malzone. Not a single black man in uniform. That wouldn't happen for another three seasons, when Pumpsie Green hit the field. Many think of Boston as the bastion of Brahmin Liberalism, but lift the rug and you'll see the deep-seeded hatred between the various ethnic groups within the neighborhoods that make up the city. I saw it at its worst when school busing was instituted in the 70's.
1967: The Impossible Dream. On the West Coast it was the Summer of Love. It was the beginning (and the end) of the contrived "Bosstown Sound"-- The Beacon Street Union, Ultimate Spinach, Eden's Children and Earth Opera. But at Fenway, it was Captain Carl and his teammates. Rico Petrocelli and Tony C. Reggie Smith and George Scott. Jim Lonborg and Kenny "Hawk" Harrelson." I remember Hawk being like Namath. A ladies' man and clothes-hound. A dandy on Newbury Street and an tireless outfileder. The dream did, indeed turn out to be impossible, but for that one brief shining moment, we believed more than ever. We could bury the Bambino's ghost and rise up. World champs? It felt like we could make it. And then, we-- the fans, the players, the world as we knew it-- remembered it was the Red Sox: the Heartbreak Boys of Summer.
1975. I will never forget this one, either. Indian summer kicked in big time, warming the team from the fall chill. Windows around the city were open like it was July. I was in Allston, wtaching the game with my girlfriend. Each crack of the bat was echoed throughout the city with corresponding shouts and cheers. The boundaries of Fenway were stretched to encompass fire escapes and third floor apartments in Brookline and Brighton, Southie and East Boston. The awesome outfield of Dewey Evans, Jim Ed Rice and Freddie Lynn. Rico at third, Carl at first with Rick Burleson at short, and Butch Hobson backing up at second. Tim McCarver backed up Carleton Fisk that year as catcher. And it was the time of the Spaceman. El Tiante may have been the twisting, twirling phenom, but it was Bill Lee that caught so many fans' attention. Hearing that echoe of solidarity felt so good. Even if we lost--and lost hard--we were all in it together, and it was a hell of a ride.
2004 changed everything. And now, what do we have left to prove? Can we win back-to-back World Series? Can we even get past Tampa? Does it matter?
When you watch Jacoby, Jed Lowrie and Dustin Pedroia, you see the tradition being passed on. Yes, they are incredibly great athletes each one of them. Young and proud. Would they be what they are on any other team? When Jason Bay came to the team in the deal that sent Manny to the other league and the other coast, he expressed a kind of universal wonder and joy. He wasn't playing for just any team anymore. He was a member of the Red Sox--the World Champs!
It's called the National Pastime for good reason. It matters so much to me because so little else makes as much sense. Yes, it's "only a game." But it is played (for the most part) with honesty and integrity. Clemens didn't bulk up until long after taking off his Red Sox uniform. These guys-- the kids like Jacoby and Jed and the vets like Tim Wakefield--have fun, while instilling hope in younger kids and offering up smiles and pride to the life-long fans. It's a simple and a good thing. I know my life would be less enjoyable without my citizenship in Red Sox Nation.
And that is especially true in light of the recent turn of the presidential race in the nation we call the United States. John McCain had pledged to run a campaign on the high road in April, when the season began. Now, as the playoff finals are about to begin, he is spitting on the ball, corking up his bat and slinging mud hard and fast. He is trying to paint Barack Obama as a man of mystery. A strange black man with a strange name and inciendiary past. His lipstick wearing pitbull of a VP candidate is calling Obama a terrorist. I actually heard someone in her audience in Florida scream, "kill him!" Fear and smear. Fear and smear.
In a perfect world, the Red Sox will take the series from the Dodgers in six and Barack Obama will be named the 44th president on November 5th.