Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Category: Red Sox

The Losing End

Twelve-year-old me would never forgive 33-year-old me. I went to bed at 10 last night. The Red Sox game had just entered a delay, and more, importantly, I’ve been sick. My day job requires me to complete a huge project by Monday. The Rays were losing 7-0 to the Yankees in the seventh inning. The Red Sox were ahead. Even in the event of a Red Sox collapse, the worst that could happen would be a day game today that I would also miss. Given the way the Red Sox were playing, that’s what I expected. I woke up at 3 a.m. and found my phone swollen with text messages. They sent me to the computer, and then I knew what happened.

I have not been angry with one of my sports teams for a long, long time. I really do give X-year grace periods for championships and championship appearances, which means I’ve had nothing to complain about for a decade. This one’s a little different. Nate Silver calculates the chances of a Red Sox collapse were 278 million to 1, given the sequence of events that actually led to their playoff dismissal. My calculus is this: Red Sox = jerks. It’s reductive and it feels correct right now. I’ll take it to the bank, deposit it, and watch it grow interest.

This is the first day since the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series that I feel like I’m entitled to be furious at them, and through the DayQuil haze, I’m determined to do that. Screw pretty much everyone on the team. I’ll love them all again next year—in fact, I’ll love them more for all of this, because I’ll want them to get redemption, but I won’t want it for them, I’ll want it for me. Nothing in my life really changed last night, but it feels like something changed. That’s the greatness of sports, even when you’re on the losing end.

You Don’t Know How it Feels (To Be A Yankees Fan)

Shortly after the Bruins dropped their four consecutive game to the Philadelphia Flyers, losing a 3-0 lead both in the series and in the game, a Twitterer with the handle of JConnole14 dropped a little phrase that was, one presumes, both bitterly and eagerly retweeted by Bill Simmons: “Now I know how it feels like to be a Yankee fan.” It’s a joke that writes itself, and one that urged Bruins fans to laugh rather than cry. You just suffered a devastating, scantly-precedented defeat. Why not make yourself feel better and twist the knife that’s still wedged into the back of the average Yankees fan, six years and their 27th World Championship removed from the darkest moment in their history?

I like the pluck. I like the motivation. I like everything about it except that it’s not true.

Let’s be careful not to equate hyperbolic situations just because it’s easy. The Bruins loss was horrid, and, for diehard followers of the team, must have felt like being hit by a cement mixer careening down Mt. Washington with busted brakes and a razor wire-barbed cowcatcher on the front. The facts are these: the Bruins have a long history of disappointment that was exacerbated by this newest glorious way to express futility in the face of success; it was an infection that got worse. It’s not Aaron Boone-level pain yet only because it’s merely Bucky Dent-level pain or even, at this point, Bill Buckner-level pain. Being the second round of the playoffs, though, maybe Buckner would be a stretch. Still, it sucked.

Now let’s look at revisit what happened to the Yankees. They are the winningest American sports franchise of all-time. They have won about a quarter of all World Series ever contested, and just to piss you off, have lost 13 of them. They were coming off maybe their most satisfying elimination of the persistently, unapologetically losing Red Sox, and had built a three games to none lead in a sport that’s fickle enough that the Sox were the first team to ever even tie it at three games after that, let alone win the series. Beyond that, the Yankees were beaten in back-to-back overly winnable extra inning games by the same batter in the same day; they followed that up by losing to their most willing gum-flapping antagonist who was pitching with a very obviously injured ankle tendon that was bleeding through his sock, and they lost largely due to their new prized acquisition’s illegal, un-“Yankee”-like open-handed slap of an opposing player; and followed that by being blown out of their own building, their only solace being their one-inning, two-run crusade against the Pedro Martinez vanity experiment. The sport was never the same, and the sport will never be the same. Hockey will continue more or less as it should, even if the headache for B’s fans lingers into August. The pain will eventually fade, and in hockey’s anything-goes playoff system, patience will eventually be rewarded.

Yankees fans who are waiting to reverse what happened in 2004 will have to settle for winning 10 World Series in a row, or having A-Rod break the all time hom runs record in their uniform, or having all civil liberties suspended on their new lockdown campus. I suspect if those things happen, they really won’t care about 2004 any more. But I will, and while I’ll know what it’s like to see my favorite hockey team get felled by four swift kicks to the nuts, I’ll still never know what it felt like for Yankees fans to be so humiliated. Don’t let this one go until you absolutely have to. You earned it.

Cannot WAIT for baseball

Spring sprung once but went away and it’s 35 degrees today. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s Opening Day in the freezing cold. Cubs Cubs Cubs: it’s always about the Cubs. A few years ago I went to Game 2 of the season, Mets/Cubs, with my uncle. Sammy Sosa was on 499 home runs and belted one to left. Everyone stood up, but the ball froze midair and dropped into the outfielder’s glove. We sat back down and drank hot chocolate. A few years before, I was in Chicago, at Cubs Opening Night, or something resembling it. All I remember is the freeze.

I know it was like this when I was a kid but it doesn’t always feel that way. I remember in 1994 it had to be (or 1992 or 1993) when I rushed home from school on April 1st-ish to watch the Sox play Toronto. Afternoon game. Got there after the piece de resistance: Jack Clark grand slam. HOOOOOO doggies. That’s all anyone talked about the next day. Might have been his first year with the team and the expectations were set, but never met. Last year Dustin Pedroia homered on Day One following his MVP season and basically stopped going deep after that. But he had a flair for the dramatic.

Then there were all the Pedro moments, good and bad. Pedro was never really ready to go on Opening Day, as far as I could remember, and I (and we) always attributed this to him being so little and so Platonically Dominican. He doesn’t warm up until May. Unlike Clemens, who brought the noise one year so hard he was 6-0 or something like 10-0 and there was talk of winning 30 games and I was like I can’t believe this guy is on my team. It’s the big legs that do it.

I don’t like Sox/Yankees to start. I don’t like it much at all. Too many times into the fire for me, taking abuse at Yankee Stadium. I could basically do away with the Sunday night game. As a showcase of baseball, it’s painfully limited. Gotta get every team in around the Sox, Yankees, Mets, and Cubs. Schedule the Giants and pray for Lincecum, but get stuck with Kirk Reuter (not really, but you get it). Fitting that those games won’t be on and I’d have to watch the game at a bar. I hate baseball at bars. I get too drunk to follow what’s going on. That’s why I like that beers are so expensive at the stadium. Keeps me in line, even if it’s hard enough to follow shit in the crazy environment, and then I’m calculating fantasy points and batting averages…

Here’s what I want this year. I want to maybe go to Yankee Stadium, but not for a Sox game. Too much trouble. I want to go to a Braves game to finish out the comet tail of the Everything Comes Back to Atlanta phase. Could be at Sheatifield, but I’m not going for the Mets’ sake. Ever. I want to watch as many Sox games as possible on my computer and know the little things the players do that don’t show up in the box score or game story. I want to see Pedroia knock doubles down the line and I want to have an opinion on who’s cooler: Beckett or Lester. I don’t want Dice-K to get within an Acela ride of the pitcher’s mound unless he’s learned how to throw strikes, but it’s probably too late for that. I root for the guy, but I don’t.

It’s 35 degrees out and baseball starts in eight days and I’ll probably go to a bar to watch it and get too drunk.

Sox Aiming For Halladay

That’s the gist of a post on right now. The Red Sox are going after Blue Jays starter Roy Halladay. I hate to break the news to them, but no sh!t. We all know the Red Sox are going after Roy Halladay. It’s what the Red Sox do. It’s what makes them so loathed nation-wide among non New England ex-pats. “You hate the Yankees? You are the Yankees!” When you can’t afford your players, we take them.

I have mixed feelings about this. I like seeing the Red Sox win but I don’t like seeing smaller-market teams losing their best players because they can’t afford to pay them. In this case, it’s on priciple, because Toronto can go f*ck itself (that’s another story). At least in the world’s other great uncapped sports leagues—European soccer leagues—there’s an element of teamwork that’s incumbent for overpaid players to learn playing together. In baseball, it’s as simple as calling for a fly ball so you don’t knock heads; otherwise, just do what you’re going to do. There’s very little chance for a team to get any element of “teamwork” down to overcome their enormous disadvantage. It’s either shrewd management or luck. Usually the second one.

That being said, my favorite thing about watching the Yankees win this year was Mark Teixeira. That guy knows how to play defense, which is refreshing for an AL first baseman. Not knocking Kevin Youkilis, who’s also very good, but Tex made a few plays that I’d never seen anywhere else. Sometimes it’s nice to see that if you pay for the best you do get it, and there is some sort of aesthetic reward for those who get to watch. Most modern iterations of the “buying the championship” team aren’t as lively and obviously multitalented as these Yankees are; such is the result of the wild card and the resulting “two great pitchers and you win” ethos.

Blah, blah, blah, baseball. That’s how I feel about Roy Halladay stories on Let me know when there’s actual news.

The Sox, Pats and the Moon

I’m not sure this column makes any sense.

In last night’s episode of Man Men, hotel impresario Conrad Hilton tells ad genius Don Draper that he wants a campaign so grand it would put a Hilton Hotel on the moon. When Draper returns with a clever, modern pitch that emphasizes Hilton comfort in all corners of the globe—Rio, Toyko, Paris—Hilton admonishes him. “I wanted the moon,” he said. He leaves in a snit, and it’s unclear who’s at fault: Hilton, for making such a grand request, or Draper, for failing to take it seriously.

A handful of hours earlier, the Patriots lost the Broncos in overtime in their once-and-present house of horrors in Denver. A few hours before that, the Red Sox lost in tremendous fashion to the Los Angeles Angels, giving up a two-run lead with only one strike to go in game three of their best-of-five series. The Sox are done for the year, a year in which they won 95 games and almost by acclimation just “didn’t have it” this year.

That’s quite a luxury as a sports fan, but it’s wholly understandable. Red Sox fans never asked for the moon. We just wanted them to win a World Series in our lifetime, and they did it. I’m not sure what we want from here on out, other than to have a great team that plays with passion. The adjustment from title-starved to dignified in defeat has been difficult, but I think it’s finally been achieved. We’re finally okay with losing. Insofar as things like passion, heart, and hunger actually exist for a baseball team, it always seemed like this team didn’t have it. A good team gave it a good try and came up short.

Can the same be said for the Patriots? Maybe, but it feels different. With the Patriots, we’ve asked for the moon. Any loss is unacceptable, a result of the Pats’ lapses more than their opponents’ greatness. Two years ago, a large subset of the Pats fan population would have been crushed by a regular-season loss, and Bill Belichick plunged his team into the space race. He would go for the moon. When the ship crash-landed on the surface, it was made to feel like the problem was one or two plays that could have gone either way, not that the Giants were simply the better team. The fact is, it doesn’t matter what the reason was. They lost. The lesson should have been learned.

Pats fans weren’t always this way. The first Super Bowl season, it was good enough just to make the playoffs. Then beating the Raiders was pride-inducing, and beating the Steelers was divine. By the time the Super Bowl came around, the Pats could see the Rams and their NASA-inspired gameplan, and they licked their chops. The brought the pass-happy Rams back to Earth, and won in dramatic fashion. Does anyone doubt now that the Pats were the better team? And if we don’t, what does that tell us about the 2007 Giants?

I put these pieces together, and yesterday didn’t crush me the way it would have 10 years ago. Part of it is growing up, and part of it is seeing my teams succeed, but most of it is knowing that sports can’t bring you the moon. I wish the Sox won, but if they can’t close out a game like that, they’re not champions anyway. It’s still early for the Pats, and I’m confident they’ll do well, even as Tom Brady enters his golden years. The oughts are finally starting to pass us by, and, like a traveler in a foreign country at the end of his trip, I’m only now starting to get used to them.

The Reminders

The reminders are there, just off to my right. They’re on each level of the bookshelf. Red Sox Century. Patriot Reign. Now I Can Die In Peace. Faithful. Hell, even John Adams.

I am not where I belong.

The books are taunting me, like a child on a playground. What did I watch today? I watched the Jets play the Titans. The Jets.

Flying start aside, watching the Jets, for a Patriots fan, is like the varsity football team for the much smaller school across town. New York may dominate Boston in size, but the Patriots dwarf the Jets in stature. The Patriots resonate across six states, even in the lean years. The Jets can’t even make it out of the Giants Stadium parking lot.

I was walking around this morning when I considered sidling up to a bar to watch the Pats, but it’s just not the same. The three hours, drinking piss beer under cover of darkness, cheering against everybody who’s cheering for every other team? That’s not Patriots football. For me, Patriots football is the slow anticipation of gameday on my hometown soil of West Tisbury, confident that, whatever happens, it will be dissected six ways to next Sunday in the hours and days following the final snap. Of course, it only matters if they won. When the Patriots lose, I don’t want recaps — I want a re-do. All is not right in the world, and there’s no way to fix it. Either way, the only way to catch it is on my own TV, with the real or virtual accompaniment of good buddies. That is, and always has been, Patriots football.

I know how people root for other teams, but I don’t get it. I feel the Patriots in my bones in a way I don’t even feel the Red Sox. The Sox, with their connection to the soul of New England, represent something different entirely. The Patriots make me think of walking out to the car, seeing my breath in the second week of December, bundled up against a blue slate sky and the frost that radiates from the ground up.

As far as I can tell, being a football fan in this city means something different. But then again, being any type of fan in this city is different. The first question you ask isn’t, “Did you see the game?” but “What team do you like?” The fact is, the New York region is either underserved or overserved on teams, but it’s far from on the nose. The popular teams like the Yankees and Giants are so popular that you could halve their fanbase and get one to rival that of the Mets and Jets. From the beginning you’re either a bully or burning with resentment, and in the common case that your allegiances cross those lines, a mess of contradictions.

That’s not the New England way, but it’s a way I’ve come to embrace if only to survive in this sports wilderness. It’s a bit of “water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink” — there will be football on all day, every Sunday, and more baseball than I can handle, but not the right football, or the right baseball. When the Pats do grace my screen, it’s a gift that I know will be gone too soon, and I’m not able to totally enjoy it.

The promise of the 21st century was that you could follow your teams wherever you lived, whether you were in New York, Newark or Nairobi. The reality is that you might just remember how far you are from home.

Hub Kid Bids Updike Adieu

John Updike wrote many things, but I am mostly familiar with his essay on Ted Williams’ last game, with its egregiously compact, famous first line.

The blog is getting good

I take a critical look at Me and Pedro today and I must say I’m happy with our work over there.

I photoshop for my ladies out there


Oh yeah. You feel the love.

Just Another Friendly Reminder…

To check out our new Red Sox blog, Me and Pedro Down By the Schoolyard.

Also, if you haven’t read my A-Rod essay, The Huckster, this will be my last shout-out for it.

And just for fun, we’ll dig into the vault for an old column of mine from the Queens Chronicle, apropos during election season.