[cb_profit_poster Guitar1]Clinton, S.C., Thursday, October 31, 2013, 9:56 a.m.
It’s over. The ordeal has ended in triumph. It was a sound investment, this seven months of attention to a baseball team. The Boston Red Sox, who failed to win any World Series during my first 45 years on this planet, have won three in the decade since.
My late father, who bequeathed this devotion to a baseball team while a curse of some sort was still active, used to sit at football games, watch something outrageous occur, fold his arms, shake his head and say, simply, “Chaps love to play.”
The way he said it was, “Chaps luh duh play.” He thickened his accent for effect. Jimmy Dutton had a certain flair for the theatrical.
In some ways, my father’s love for the Red Sox has probably been overstated by me. It’s true that, when I was a small boy, he regaled me with tales of Ted Williams and Jimmy Piersall, the Boston outfielder who had a nervous breakdown in 1951, when my father was visiting relatives in Boston because his Uncle Cas was then stationed at Fort Devens. He is most definitely responsible for the fact that, while growing up in South Carolina, I pored over box scores and sought out Boston broadcasts on AM radio late at night.
But, by the time I was addicted to baseball, Jimmy Dutton had moved on. I was a senior in high school in 1975 when the Red Sox fell to the Cincinnati Reds in seven games. I think I recall him chiding me for staying up late watching ballgames when I “ought to be getting your damn mind on the football game Friday night.”
I never lost the love. Then again, he never saw the Red Sox win a World Series. I’ve seen three, and it’s been good for my mental health. The Red Sox don’t drive me crazy anymore. Or as crazy.
I remember so distinctly the failures. Nine years old, lips poked out when Jim Lonborg, pitching on two days’ rest, tried and failed to stop the mighty Cards of 1967. In 1986, I was about as adrift as now, living at my folks’ house while this one was under construction. When the Red Sox took a 5-3 lead in the top of the 10th inning of Game 6, and then retired the first two batters in the bottom half, I was mysteriously somber. While many fans were anticipating victory, I was wondering how in hell the Red Sox were going to fritter it away.
In retrospect, it was rather easy.
By then, I was a veteran of the heartbreaks of 1967, 1972, 1975 and 1978. It was almost good when the Red Sox weren’t, because if they were safely out of contention, at least they didn’t break your heart.
In 2003, I was sitting in a motel room in Eden, N.C., watching with Jim McLaurin, when Aaron Boone hit the home run off Tim Wakefield that put the Yankees in the Series. That was Grady Little’s night from hell, and I got up without a word and just drove aimlessly for 30 minutes or so. Jimmy Mac was worried about having to oversee extrication of my remains from either the Smith or Dan rivers, both of which course nearby.
Thank goodness. That was the nadir. In the first three Red Sox World Series of my lifetime, Boston won nine games and lost 12. In the three since, the Sox have won 12 and lost two.
This team reminded me of 2004 in that, at one time or another, everyone came up big. This year it was just about everyone except the lefthanded relievers Craig Breslow and Franklin Morales, but Morales caught Stephen Drew’s home run in the bullpen, and that was just about as close to the action as I wanted him to be. Breslow and Morales were damned useful during the regular season, though.
Everyone is now safely cloaked in heroism.
Oddly enough, I’ve never regretted being a Red Sox fan. They have always been prone to great successes and failures. For every excruciating loss, there was an incredible victory, such as the stirring comeback against the Angels that preceded the World Series heartbreak of 1986. The Red Sox always won; they just didn’t win enough. I used to scoff when Chicago Cubs fans would say to me, “Hey, I don’t have any sympathy for the Red Sox. I’m a Cubs fan.”
To which I would retort, “It’s easy being a Cubs fans. They’re lovable losers. Usually they aren’t even in contention. The heartbreak is mild by comparison. The Red Sox take years off a man’s life. They make you suffer constantly.”
This year’s Soggy Bottom Boys never even sang about being men of constant sorrow.
Most seem to agree that David Ortiz’s .688 Series batting average is going to punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame. I expect “34” is going to be posted on the wall one day along with Yaz, Williams, Doerr, Pesky, Cronin, Rice and Fisk.
It’s silly for a grown man to be so deeply affected by a baseball team, but that train has left the station. This isn’t a dynasty in Boston. This team was mixing volatile chemicals, and the winning compound may be impossible to recreate.
Three world championships have rid me of chronic baseball pessimism, but all the years before leave me with the full knowledge that glory must be savored and appreciated at the time its blessings fall. Baseball, like life, has no guarantees. We’ve all got to earn our way from the cradle to the grave.
Now, if two boxes of books will just arrive at my doorstep, I will be overjoyed as well as happy.