I’ve been scared to write about the Red Sox.
I can’t match the eloquence of David Halberstam, the timelessness of Roger Angell, the brilliance of Thomas Boswell.
I don’t have the perspective of the longtime sufferers who sat with me every day at the breakfast table in the abyss of my youth — the feistiness and passion of Bob Ryan or the inspired cynicism of Dan Shaughnessy, whose son I coached in a fall baseball league in 2000 and who signed the thank-you card given to my friends and myself by the players’ parents, “Great job — much better than Jimy Williams.”
I’m only 20 years old, not nearly advanced enough to truly grasp the meaning of a World Series championship, not scared enough to say something here that could be meaningful to the older generations to whom this title belongs, not significant enough to write anything that would be accepted universally by people of my generation.
Nothing good can really come from me trying to rationalize the events of the last month. What happened in October means too much to too many people, and I can’t speak to the collective attitude of a nation that has emerged from embodying Rick Pitino’s brilliantly conceived derision, the “Fellowship of the Miserable,” in order to celebrate and smile as fervently as it once commiserated and scowled.
The late-October weeping that has become a New England ritual is a remnant of the fellowship that remained in 2004, but the tears shed across the region (and among loyalists in the vast expanse of the global nation) were no longer a result of a team leaving yet another group of irrationally optimistic fans to endure the same fate as their fathers and fathers’ fathers. No, those who cried now cried because their fathers had believed and suffered so long for their faith in a team that was predestined to annually arouse the most farfetched hopes before painfully succumbing to its doomed reality.
My eyes welled up a few times Wednesday night. Not for myself or for anyone my age. I thought of the 80-year-olds who inwardly never expected to see this day arrive but who dutifully raised their children and grandchildren to never give up on a team that could only be a source of heartache. I thought of the unborn children who would never have to be conditioned to expect eternal autumnal anguish.
Most of all, though, I thought of what this might mean for fans who are alive and who have lived through varying degrees of torment. People who say that Red Sox fans never really did want to win because they are defined by their losing miss the point. What I fear might be lost is not some sort of mythical regional pessimism that we all supposedly embrace. What I hope does not get lost with a World Series in the books are the incredible bonds that an interest in this particular band of perennial losers has forged over the past 80-plus years.
Whether by being bred red — inheriting the deepest yearnings of our older, hardened family members — or by being an acclimated college student or Boston transplant of some sort, anyone who has a attachment to the team has developed kinships both overt and implicit with others based on that affiliation. The now-legendary “Win it For” thread on the Sons of Sam Horn Web site stands as a moving tribute to those both living and dead to whom we have become attached or with whom our relationships have blossomed thanks to this team.
For too long, I considered myself somehow on a higher rooting plane than others just because I watched more games or spent more of my life reading newspapers to satiate my rooting appetite. But when it comes down to it, none of that matters. I’m just like everyone else — a member of the nation who is bound to the team inextricably through my family and friends.
I’m bound to my uncle who gave me my first pack of baseball cards when I was four and reacted in mock horror at my admission that I had no idea who Wade Boggs was. (The next day in preschool, I adopted the same indignant posture when one of my ignorant classmates dared not know who the great slap-hitting third-baseman was.) He who never let me turn off an April game to watch “Inspector Gadget,” who taught me to read a box score, who convinced my mom to let me skip school to go to three Opening Days, who redirected my excitement when I told him in the early 90s that Mo Vaughn would be on the All-Star ballot some day over Carlos Quintana, who gave me a ball signed by Dwight Evans before I knew what an autograph was and who has devoted countless hours to talking with me about the team even in its most dire years.
I’m bound to my stepfather who tried to ingratiate himself to a six-year-old kid with a hopeless passion for a team by waiting in line at Fenway Park on a February day when single-game tickets went on sale and buying seats to over 20 games despite his total apathy and stubborn refusal to acknowledge the existence of any baseball milestone that occurred after 1966. He married my mom two years later, and the qualifier in the title “stepfather” has long ceased to exist in my mind.
I’m bound to my mother who raised me as a hopelessly romantic fan, never once betraying her battle-induced resignation until I was old enough to scoff and call her a cynic. She was the first person to call me after each playoff game and is the only person besides myself I know who stays up to watch regular season games on the West Coast until the seventh inning, at which point the frustration boils over and she lies in bed listening to the outcome on the radio.
I’m bound to my grandmother who indulged my pathological interests as a little kid and who fears for my safety each time the team loses; to my brother who dressed as a Red Sox cowboy on Halloween last year and who will never have to reach an age where he realizes his favorite team will never win; to my friends — even the Yankee fan of the bunch — who took the T into Boston with me on Saturday mornings in middle school and sat with me in wide-eyed awe in the bleachers of that national treasure while we listened to seasoned fans complain about Lee Smith having driven them to alcoholism; and to my friend who took a spring break trip with me to that hub of “Girls Gone Wild” Fort Myers, Fla., to spend a week watching a team that had just broken our hearts five months earlier.
Each person who gave the Red Sox their hearts over the past month and over their whole lives has built tremendous personal relationships that are at least in part based on the team. I pray that this trend was not contingent on the object of affection being forever ill-fated, forcing us continually into the arms of others to shield some of the pain. I pray that the unique bonds formed within the nation, the true defining factor of Red Sox fans as opposed to some silly fetish for punishment, survive a championship. That — and not avoiding a slide into arrogance or a yearning for the good old days of misery — is the biggest challenge for us in the wake of winning.