In Search Of Lost Time
As recently as the spring and summer of 2004, I would daydream about what it would be like when the Red Sox finally won the World Series. Most of this happened every day as I walked from the subway station to my newspaper’s office in Queens, but this had been going on more or less constantly for 10 years. Would they win by holding a lead, with a Red Sox pitcher retiring the last three opposing batters in front of a raucous crowd at Fenway Park? Would they win on an unlikely but dramatic home run in front of the Fenway faithful? What would the radio announcers say, and what would the TV announcers say? More importantly, where would I be? And most importantly, how would I feel?
Here is how I felt: hung over. Not from booze, but from the Red Sox’ exhilarating run to the finish after 86 years of disappointment, the final 26 years overlapping with my life. I drank some beers, to be sure, but the real hangover was from the fusion of reality and unreality. Was I different? Well, a change had taken place both inside of me and outside, but most of the rest of the world kept plugging along as if nothing was different, so I tried to plug alongside it. And then, the next spring, things seemed so promising: there were so many Red Sox fans everywhere! They wore the hats and shirts and everything! A Red Sox utopia!
Of course, it was far from a Red Sox utopia. I love that so many new fans are interested in the Red Sox — the Sox are, after all, my team. But it seemed like a lot of these new fans had skipped a critical stage of becoming a sports fan, that of watching the game by yourself and internalizing the goings-on. That’s what I did for countless hours as a child, either alone or with my brothers and extremely close friends, and it’s how I learned to love sports. I love thinking that I can affect the game with what I say or do, even though it’s not even irrational, it’s insane. One day when I was in junior high and watching the varsity basketball game, waiting for my junior varsity game to start when Carly Simon, whose son was on the varsity team, came and sat next to me. It must have been a close game, because our team had two important free throws toward the end of the it, and just before the shooter let them fly, she looked at me and said: “Now is the time where you just close your eyes, and imagine the ball going in.” I sort of nodded in approval, and the ball floated through the hoop. I told my mom about it, and we both thought it sounded kooky, but what I was really flummoxed about was how she succeeded. What was I doing wrong? If I couldn’t get dates, and I couldn’t, I needed the Red Sox.
And so, when the summer of 2005 rolled around and I received many invitations to watch games with friends all over the city and elsewhere, I began to get the feeling that these people were not like me. Most of them wanted to watch the Red Sox in large groups, as a social event at Red Sox bars throughout the city, but I felt really disconnected from them and even some of the older fans who had undergone a smooth metamorphosis in October 2004. It seemed to me like a lot of the newer fans had actually missed most of the 2004 season, jumped on the bandwagon (again, with my blessing) during the playoffs, and rode the bandwagon into 2005 with one goal: ultimate victory. Even after the wonderful 2004 season, I was not so foolhardy to conflate the Red Sox’ success with an ethos of dominance; baseball is far too dynamic a game to do that. It’s hard enough for the best team to win in a given year, and the Yankees are the exception that proves the rule. They’re the de facto favorite every year, and for this Red Sox fans should be ultimately grateful. There’s nothing lonelier than a real Yankees fan, burdened with all the weight that comes along with the pinstripes, and that’s why they’re so hard to find these days. (The last place to look is Yankee Stadium. Trust me.) It’s easier for them to hide behind the bluster, to use success as a hammer, and to treat failures as aberrations.
That’s the attitude I’ve gotten from Sox fans recently, especially at sports bars and such, and even from my Red Sox fan friend who lives nearby and with whom I have watched too many games to count, both in Yankee Stadium and at his house. When at a Red Sox bar, the fans seem quite upset when the Red Sox lose, but I sense it’s because they are consciously trying to invest time in a winner, and the three hours at the bar represents time wasted. They’ll go home, have dinner, go to sleep and wake up happy. Or at least, not despondent. The opposite was always true with me: as long as the game was going on, I willed a world of possibilities — The Red Sox score 10 in the ninth to win! Pedro throws a perfect game! — and when the game is over, the crushing sense of a loss would come upon me. It was my own personal failure. I was invested in the game beyond the game, not trying to re-create 2004, to complete the dream season in reverse for those who only tuned in for the playoffs.
And so my great hope for the 2007 season is that Red Sox fans calm down. We won again, and no one can say this one took us by surprise: if you saw the whole thing, congratulations. I would say it doesn’t get any better, but it does. For the players, it’s about winning, but for the fans, sports is often about learning to deal with a whole host of crap outside of your control, and accepting it. Don’t love the Red Sox because they’re winners. Love them because they’re the Red Sox. The games will continue. They always will.