It’s not that the goddam Tampa Bay Devil Rays are about to play in the World Series, giving their legion of faux fans at least a few more hours to learn all the players’ names before first pitch.
It’s that just little more than 48 hours ago, the Boston Red Sox lost game seven of the ALCS, and I feel perfectly fine.
No bruised knuckles. No churning abdominal pains. No hangover like thunder cracking across my head. No bloodshot eyes. No tear-stained cheeks. No dried vomit in my beard or on the floor. No bullet holes in the wall. No punched-out holes in the ceiling. No glass shards. No search warrants. No dirty looks from the neighbors. No leg-buckling torment threatening to pull me into the earth’s core.
I feel quite f@#king awesome, to be perfectly frank. I’m at peace with the world and the Red Sox’ place in it.
I think that’s a big step for me. And I guess it’s just another fringe benefit of the magic of 2004.
Look, like most of you who stumble through this site on a daily basis, I was baptized into Red Sox fandom as a kid. It was day games with Dad, Chuck Rainey baseball cards in my schoolbag and diggin’ on the channel 38 telecasts, back when televised baseball was free. But it came with one caveat, repeated time and time again by my dad, my mother, my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, my older cousins and the guy who ran Dute’s delicatessen on Center Street in Westie: They’ll always break your heart.
After a while, I began to believe it. And expect it. And brace for it. But it didn’t stop me from crumbling into a million tiny pieces those few times they came justthisclose. In 1986, when the Mets closed us out in game seven, I literally dropped to the floor in a crumpled heap, as my friends wondered aloud if they should call 911 or just divvy up the beers I was gonna drink. They chose the beers.
It didn’t get much better through the next decade. The Yankees got stronger. We kept scuffling–a couple first-round exits from the playoffs interspersed with some truly miserable seasons (Dante Bichette, anyone?). Things looked promising in 1999, the Year of the Pedro, but we used up every ounce of magic when Troy O’Leary went all Hulkamania on the Injuns in the ALDS.
Then came the 2003 ALCS.
You were there. You know how it felt. I happened to be on a business trip, in a crowded hotel bar in New Jersey, my insides literally burning as the Sox went up in the early half of game seven. When’s the other shoe gonna drop? I kept thinking. Because it had to. Because that’s the only way I knew these things could end.
Later in the game, when Wells came in and served a meatball to Ortiz, I scampered back to my room. I had to be alone for the last few innings. I kept the lights off, the TV on, and called my dad, because I needed him to walk me through this. It was so close, I remember telling him, that it couldn’t be real. It couldn’t be happening. And a few Grady Little non-maneuvers later, it wasn’t. When Wakefield came in, I felt physically ill. I knew we couldn’t hold them off forever. And I slipped under the covers and watched it slowly fade to black.
But I couldn’t sleep. Tossed and turned all night, waking up, pacing, chugging water, staring out the window onto the Jersey turnpike. In enemy territory, I couldn’t escape it. The headlines, the street talk, it had my head spinning. The four hour train ride back to Boston felt like six weeks in a box car with a dozen naked hobos. My head against the glass. Eyes glazed over. Stomach knotted. Head burning furiously with what might have been.
It was a game, I kept telling myself. A f@#king game. But I was sick over it. And it went on for days. Weeks. I didn’t want to eat or sleep. I just kept thinking of how close we came. And it’s all we talked about in the bars and offices and on talk radio, because we needed to talk about it to keep ourselves from jumping off the roof. My Dad even went so far as attempting an intervention on my behalf, calling me night after night to make sure I was still alive, that I hadn’t taken a busload of hostages, reminding me, “Son, the players have all gone back home to their mansions. No need to give yourself an ulcer over this.”
Hard to believe that just one year later, after being pushed to the brink of therapy and full mental collapse, eveything changed. The whole world flipped upside-down.
All of a sudden, “wait ’til next year” wasn’t some half-assed thing you said to talk yourself down from the Longfellow Bridge. It really meant something. That they weren’t always gonna break your heart. That some times, when the stars aligned and everything clicked into place, some truly amazing shit could happen.
The fact that it happened again just three seasons later? That was gravy. Still bloody spectacular, mind you, but by that point, my soul was already healed.
So this year, as the Sox walked off the field and the Rays got their group-hug on, I simply shut off the TV, finished off a glass of bourbon, read a few pages of a book, then shut off the light and went to bed. Disappointed? Hell, yes. But no screaming, no fists flailing, no sirens blazing down the street to see just what the f@#k I’d done this time.
No reason to, really. Because I know that next year, it really could be us heading off to the World Series.