I must say it is quite an honor to be charged with writing the year’s first column, one that ranks a close second in my 2004 Yale experience to being allowed to cut the line to the keg at the BD House last week. Sadly, the as-of-yet-not-quite-underway Ivy League college sports season has given me no pertinent local material with which to work, but has nonetheless afforded me the opportunity to write about something less relevant to anyone here.
So, in lieu of turning to hockey’s World Cup (hopefully some old-fashioned September hockey will keep me warm on those sleepless winter nights when I’m thinking about the lack of an NHL) or Kobe’s non-trial (wasn’t it always so obvious he was just a maligned, innocent adulterer and not some filthy rapist?), I’m going to let this weather transport me back about a month to a sweltering summer Saturday in Boston.
On July 31, I had one of my precious few days off from my job at an overnight camp and figured I could do worse than spend a day downtown rummaging through the remnants of the recently concluded Democratic National Convention and attempting to get a decent look at the debacle that turned out to be the free Dispatch concert. Somewhere amid the sea of 100,000 disgustingly sweaty high school and college kids cramped into a space fit for about six people, word started to filter out that the person perhaps most visibly associated with our city for the past decade had been unceremoniously shipped out.
Yes, it was easy to see it coming. With the looming contract expiration, the hard feelings after a botched offseason trade negotiation and the fact that he was exploiting his ankle injury more than the Republicans are currently exploiting Sept. 11 at their convention, all the writing was on the wall. Still, hearing that Nomar — excuse me, Nomahhh — had been dealt was still one of those moments for Bostonians, and it was a real experience to get wind of it in the heart of the city surrounded by thousands of people who were equally passionate about the move one way or the other.
I never felt the same visceral personal attachment to Nomar that others in Boston felt. But even as recently as last year, the notion of trading him during the middle of a pennant race would have fit somewhere on the likely scale between me waiting in line at Barnes & Noble for books some time in the next three days and me seeing 75 percent of the people who were in the backyard of SAE Monday night out once midterms start. Fans will say they loved his drive and his no-nonsense approach to the game, showing up at the ballpark every day with nothing on his mind but winning, and I’m sure that’s true, at least to an extent. Forgive my cynicism, but I always thought most of the affection stemmed from the fact that people just really liked saying his name. It was a perfect moniker for Bostonians to shout while over-dramatizing their peculiar accent. The Jimmy Fallon “Saturday Night Live” skit dramatized this.
Honestly, I don’t mean to cheapen the feelings people had, and in some parts still have, for the man, but I always felt this way. I’ve been in Fort Myers for Red Sox Spring Training the past two years and have seen the same dynamic in play with Kevin Millar, typically in the form of everyone and their vocally-inclined pets screaming “Hey Millahhhhh, come hee-ahh!” I’m telling you, the name means a lot.
But just being in Boston at that moment, four in the afternoon on July 31, you could tell something historic was happening. As cell phones exploded and news filtered its way through the somewhat detached crowd, something just felt historic. You grow up reared on sports tradition, considering similar landmark events as merely two-dimensional moments that happened in some distant and isolated time and place, and then something so blatantly monumental smacks you in the face as you’re standing alongside the Charles River with a ridiculous number of people right next to you. I’m cursed with a perspective on life that perpetually attempts to place each passing moment in some sort of historical context, and at that instant I knew I had hit my jackpot.
With the Red Sox now charging ferociously in the massacre-turned-barnburner that is the American League East, it’s kind of interesting to examine some of the connections between the Sox and the Yankees this season. Perhaps the two games that really sold Sox fans on the idea that Nomar had to go were against the Yankees.
First, on July 1, Nomar sat out the final game of a three-game sweep at the hands of the Bombers and then sat sulking on the bench while the entire dugout stood on the top step trying to help rally the team to victory. Then on July 24, while Jason Varitek was playing paddy-cake with Alex Rodriguez’s GQ mug, Nomar looked like he’d rather be having an enema than throwing elbows with his teammates on the field.
Nomar’s trade not withstanding, it might be worthwhile to consider a couple of other links between the squads. Don Zimmer — who managed the 1978 Red Sox to their famous collapse (one now being discussed as the trademark implosion the Yankees are trying to avoid) — no longer serves as Joe Torre’s bench coach and can’t bring his karma to the Yankee dugout. In another karma matter, it might behoove the Sox in ways previously not pondered to have Curt Schilling, the most prominent opponent of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, in the dugout. I can’t even describe what that does in terms of messing with the alignment of the stars.
When I look back now, the summer seemed to last forever, but that was one of the best days of my life. Back in the summer of ’04. Oh yeah.