Wednesday, October 30, 2013

1918! 1918! 1918! 1918! 1918! 1918! 1918! 1918!

It used to be Halloween haunting whenever any conversation about the Boston Red Sox ultimately came back to Babe Ruth. It was ghostly. It was gasping. It was gripping.

Now it’s funny. I’m smiling tonight because the mere mention of “1918” no longer brings a grimace to New England. It’s cause for celebration in the Red Sox Nation.

The so-called “Curse of the Bambino” may have been lifted when the Red Sox ended their 86-year World Series championship drought by staging the greatest comeback in the history of baseball by rallying from a three games-to-none deficit in the 2004 American League Championship Series to stun the hated/dreaded New York Yankees.  Think David, with a shot glass full of Jack Daniels, finally slinging Goliath in pinstripes carrying money clips. That catapulted the Red Sox to a four-game sweep of the Cardinals in the World Series ending in St. Louis and led to the greatest duck boat parade in the history of mankind in Boston’s dirty water down by the banks of the river Charles.

Now, by finally beating the Cardinals again tonight in the World Series nine years later – this time in historic Fenway Park – the Red Sox and their loyal fans can rejoice and relish a World Series championship ending on their home turf for the first time since 1918. That’s when Babe Ruth pitched for the Red Sox and they defeated the Chicago Cubs in six games, sending the Cubbies into a 95-year tailspin and Steve Bartman remorse.

Unfortunately, it also evolved into a gut-wrenching punch line for repeated Red Sox failures. Red Sox fans came to cringe at the cryptic sound of 1918 – especially when Yankees fans tauntingly chanted it, a mocking reminder that the Red Sox never, ever won the big one once they sold the Babe to the Yankees a year later for less than the price of a utility infielder – or bat boy -- these days. It was if the Yankees married the former girlfriend of the jilted Red Sox and never let them forget it as they were ball-and-chained to the altar. Alone with their thoughts and grief.

Hence, when Fox announcer Joe Buck noted at the conclusion of the Red Sox win in Game Five on Monday night in St. Louis that “the Red Sox have a chance to win a World Series at home for the first time since …”  well, I finished the sentence for him word for word. Nineteen eighteen. Oh, no.  There is that number again.

You see to be a Red Sox fan the face of skepticism always masks the heart of optimism. Inwardly, you hope and pray and almost expect they will win, but outwardly you fret that they won’t.  To be a Red Sox fan, you count on fate yet you brace for failure. You cheer from your seat with air bag in front of you.  You wait for the good times to come to a crashing halt, as sure as the leaves start falling in October.

It was that way in 1967 and in 1975 and in 1986 – and everything in between -- whenever the Red Sox came close to contending for or winning the World Series. So many long L.L. Bean winters of discontent.

Winning it all in 2004 – and gleefully shaming the Yankees and their fans in the process – brought needed relief as much as great satisfaction. My daughter bought me a “Now I Can Die” Red Sox T-shirt.

Well, after waiting for what seemed like a lifetime to see the Red Sox win just one World Series, I now have seen them win three in less than a decade. The first one will always be the most revered and treasured, but this one took me back to 1967, the “Impossible Dream” year when the Red Sox overcame odds longer than autumn’s shadows and unexpectedly won the American League pennant on the final day of the season. That changed all expectations surrounding the franchise forever. They were expected to deliver wins like Dunkin’ delivers donuts.

Nothing has been the same since, but this year’s team was different and it goes beyond the hair on their chinny-chin-chins and tugging beards like milking cows.  Red Sox fans, as is their inherit rite, were guardedly reveling this year as the Olde Towne Team kept reeling off improbable wins. Yet we were all waiting for the banana peel. The other shoe to drop. The proverbial rug being pulled out from beneath our feet. We all were waiting for Allen Funt to tell us we were on Candid Camera or Ashton Kutcher to tell us we were Punked or the Wizard coming out from behind the curtain to tell us this is not real.

They’re going to stop winning at some point, right?

The reality of being a Red Sox fan is the team will tease you and hurt you wicked hard before it rewards you. That’s why they have Craig Breslow in the bullpen. Nothing is given and nothing is ever easy. Nothing! Ever! Easy!

But that’s the beauty and joy of being a Red Sox fan – it’s a friggin’ roller coaster ride through thick as clam chowder and thin as the tentacles on a lobster. The journey, my friend, makes it all worth it in the Hub.

I’ve had my share of down Red Sox moments. Bucky Bleeping Dent. Ball between Buckner’s legs. Grady leaving Pedro in. My last lowest moment was on the night of Aug. 31, 2012 when I was sitting in a field level box at the Oakland Coliseum on the first base side that allowed me to see up close a 20-2 loss by the Red Sox – their worst in 12 years – and see Boston manager Bobby Valentine standing on the dugout steps, hands stuck in his jacket pockets, staring out at the field with that Bobby V grin/smirk on his face looking indifferent and oblivious to what was happening all around him.

F U Bobby V!

Now look. It’s wee time. Climb back to the top. See the Red Sox happy. See the Red Sox winning. See the Red Sox at last celebrating another World Series championship at Fenway Park, the most beloved ballpark in America in a city now known as Boston Strongest.

It was our destiny. The final out of the game tonight was recorded by Koji Uehara, whose Red Sox uniform number is 19. The biggest hit in tonight’s game was recorded by Shane Victorino, whose Red Sox uniform number is 18.

1918? It’s a mystical, magical number now. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

AlBee STRONG at World Series

One of the blessings of being a parent is that someday your children inherently acquire the same deep love, loyalty and passion you have for something or someone, be it work, hobbies or holiday traditions.

I say this because my daughter, Damianne, and my oldest son, Drake, will be at Fenway Park for Game One of the World Series tonight and this rite of October pleases me to no end. This represents a split-fingered fastball passing of the torch in our family.  The bridging of a generational gap that now extends from the Summer of Love to the Summer of Twerk.

You see, we are AlBee Strong. We all love the Red Sox. For better. For worse.  Forever.  With or without the Curse of the Bambino, the Bobby Valentine Error or Ducks Dynasty facial hair in all shapes, sizes and shades of grey.

Damianne, who travels the country in the cheerleading industry for Varsity Sports, flew into Providence, R.I. yesterday to conduct a cheerleading clinic after she had driven home to Jacksonville Beach after attending the Clemson-Florida State football game in South Carolina on Saturday night. From Providence, she drove to Boston to pick-up her brother, who took a red-eye flight out of San Francisco via Charlotte on last night after finishing a mid-term at Dominican University of California. Drake (who has a season-ending injury) plays for Dominican’s NCAA Division II men’s soccer team and, as a business major with a minor in sports management, has internships with the Oakland A’s and Golden State Warriors.

Hence, sports are in their blood and, like mine, it pumps though the Red Sox like the news through Ron Burgundy.

This Green Monster-like obsession all started with me in 1967, the “Impossible Dream” year in Boston. Older Red Sox fans still romanticize about that like a Beatles Reunion. It was when the Red Sox Nation as we know it was born and bred throughout New England from Eastport to Block Island when so many fans listened to the Sox on radio that you literally could walk down a city street and not miss the play-by-play account of their games.

Similar to this year, the Red Sox in ’67, led by Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Lonborg, rebounded from an utterly embarrassing 90-loss, next-to-last place season to an incredibly and wonderfully unexpected one. They won the American League pennant on the final day of the regular season at home. Three days later, still hungover from the pandemonium on the field, they faced the St. Louis Cardinals of Bob Gibson and Lou Brock in the World Series.

In those days, all World Series games were played during the day. So school kids, like myself, had to try to sneak a transistor radio (the 60s equivalent of a cell phone) into class with an ear plug to listen to the game. If you weren’t fortunate enough to escape the notice of your teachers as I was behind a strategically well-placed, cover-up open book on your desk, everyone managed to get the score shouted up and down the hallway between classes.

This is when my love affair with the Red Sox started.  Eventually I had a daughter before Bucky Bleepin’ Dent came along and remarried soon after the ball went between Bill Buckner’s legs and had two sons at old Novato Community Hospital following Aaron Boone’s home run off Tim Wakefield in Yankee Stadium.

Along the way my kids inherited my undying love for the Red Sox and unbridled hatred of the Yankees and longed for the day we would all witness Boston winning a World Series in our lifetimes. Thank God, that happened and they savored the significance of me faithfully saving a bottle of Samuel Adams beer for 18 years only to open and drink on such occasion of the first Red Sox World Series championship in 86 years.

So, too, was I fortunate to be a card-carrying member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. With that come three privileges: 1) You get to watch and write about the most talented, gifted players in the game working alongside some of the greatest reporters and people in the press box 2) You get to vote for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. and 3) At the end of each season you are afforded an opportunity to purchase two tickets to the World Series.

In 2004, Damianne and older brother, Dick, attended the first game of the World Series as I watched from the press box at Fenway Park.

In 2007, Drake and youngest son, Brock, skipped school to attend the first two games of the World Series as I watched from the press box at Fenway Park.

Now, in 2013, my two oldest children are flying from thousands of miles away at the last minute to re-unite in Boston to together attend the first two games of the World Series at 101-year-old Fenway Park, the Most Beloved Ballpark in America, now the epicenter for the Fall Classic.

I will watch this one from home with Brock, who has a varsity cross country meet this afternoon. Naturally I wish I could be there in Boston with them, but it makes me so proud knowing my kids are in a cherished place for the game’s greatest event watching their favorite team. My favorite team.

And for that I am blessed.