I’ve never stepped on a major league pitching mound. My name is not Curt Schilling, but my Sox are bleeding anyway.
I’ve written a number of times about my love of baseball. The beauty I see between the white lines, the sweat and prep and luck it takes to reach the majors, the joy of watching people play.
I also appreciate baseball. During the 1980s I discovered Bill James, a writer/statistician who significantly changed the traditional paradigms of evaluating an individual player’s talent, and team statistics. He analyzed baseball from a perspective so different it opened my eyes to an entirely new way of seeing the game. And you know he had to be one hell of a writer for me to understand what he was saying since I still count on my fingers.
But there is another side to the love of the game: being a fan and rooting for a particular team. Truth is, I have many team allegiances, but I’ve lived in Boston longer than anywhere else so I’m first and foremost a Red Sox fan.
Hell, at one point I lived close enough to Fenway Park to hear the voice of announcer Sherm Feller, through my open windows. Or to walk over before an afternoon game and score a ticket. In those days, tickets were available and affordable.
Neither are true today–though you can still get tix through re-sellers. If you don’t mind turning your pockets inside out.
Just one of many downsides when you finally field a championship team.
Before the Sox were winners, they had a different karma–heart breakers. I remember a World Series game that was one out away from winning the whole enchilada. It was the middle of the night so I ran around the house waking up Sue, Matt, and even Jake who didn’t know a baseball from a Big Wheel. I wanted them to see history. They did; they saw a ground ball dribble through our first baseman’s legs instead of the championship out.
But that was then. New century, new ownership, new general manager, new attitude. Theo Epstein, the youthful GM, even hired Bill James as a consultant. Still, it took a while for the karma to change. There was one last hammer to the head season when, during the definitive play-off game that would send us to the Series (and a game we were winning), our manager sent pitching great Pedro Martinez back to the mound in the eighth. Everyone in the stands, watching on television, listening on the radio, knew Pedro was gassed. Done. Nothing left. Need I say more? We’re talking another heartbreaking season.
2004 changed Red Sox fever. We felt the decades of heartache and hatred–even the Curse–were in the past. We could actually hope. And succeed. After 86 years and a record-breaking three game comeback during the play-offs against our arch rival Yankees, we actually won the World Series. How sweet it was. How sweet it was.
There was a new attitude. Big-time spending on players by the new owners (Baseball economics creates a huge differential in terms of wealthy and less wealthy teams. For years the Yankee’s were vilified about “buying pennants” but, though true, a number of teams are now in that club including the Red Sox). Management hired a fresh manager, Terry Francona, who bought into the relatively new statistical analyses that James and Epstein believed in. (Read Money Ball by Michael Lewis for a lucid explanation of these new tools.)
Our bright view was rewarded. Another World Series ‘W’ in 2007. Fan life was good. Fan life was good. Very, very good.
But now it’s 2012 and something is rotten in Red Sox Nation.
After last season’s historic September collapse, Francona was sacked, Theo Epstein left to try to replicate his magic or luck with the hapless Chicago Cubs, our new GM crapped on by ownership when they rejected his managerial choice.
And ownership’s choice for manager is looking like a pitcher who lost his fastball. For a team that still relies upon statistical analysis, when the manager doesn’t know whether the opponent’s pitcher is left or right handed, you gotta raise your brows.
(To be “fair” around $70,000,000 of talent is injured so you could argue the teams’ dismal end to last season and beginning of this is out of their control. You could, but it sure doesn’t feel that way.)
Drought has dug in and suddenly the old break your heart fear (come close but no cigar) is sliding into the 60’s mindset of “they stink,” with a litany of reasons and numbers.
But there are other indications that don’t fit into baseball’s stat game. Snakebites. And while I’m not a superstitious person, when the fan has hold, then hold the damn phone. Everything is a sign.
Which all point to the cellar. Which makes me hope I’m very wrong. (I’ve said “the season is still young” a ton of times. True, but not really reflective of my gut.)
Sue, whose best sports moment is Hoosiers, watched and suffered through the Pedro pitching fiasco. As is our custom, she fell asleep while I worked the clicker. About an hour later, she burst out of a very deep sleep, lifted up onto her elbow, turned toward me, eyes closed, and said; “If this is what it means to be a sports fan, then I say fuck it.”
I say, good for her, ’cause I can’t. I’m gonna bleed until my Sox are in the washer. Or not.
“Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.” Marilyn vos Savant