It was just about a year ago that I stumbled out of the Santa Barbara Brewing Company blissfully starry-eyed on a cool October night. The street lights twinkled a particular shade of red and a gentle north wind blew at my back as a young man with a familiar look on his face and a Boston T-shirt came running at me. “Yeah baby!!! F@K yeah!!!” he screamed and I knew exactly what he meant-the Red Sox had just crushed the New York Yankees in game 7 of the American League Championship Series, breaking the 86-year-old curse of the Bambino. Feeling like the world was forever changed, I walked slowly toward the James Joyce, found a seat at the bar, ordered a couple dozen Budweisers, and settled back to enjoy the ESPN highlights playing on a TV above the bar. I cried, I screamed, I borrowed a stranger’s cell phone to call my family, and then I cried some more-the whole time passing out cold Bud bottles to anyone who inquired what all my excitement was about, assuring them that “that’s what they are drinking in Boston right now.”
The beast had just been vanquished and a lifetime of ill will toward all things New York had been usurped by a hoarse voice and pure contentment-it was like the sweet spot of my soul was being tickled by the gentle hand of destiny. The story is old news by now but in case you were lost at sea last fall it goes a little something like this: The Red Sox did the impossible and achieved the greatest comeback in the history of sports, against their dreaded arch rival the Bronx Bombers, no less. What had happened next was unknown to all those who have lived in Red Sox Nation since 1918; the team reversed the curse and bucked their much-heralded history of snatching loss from the jaws of victory. As a lunar eclipse darkened the skies over Santa Barbara that wondrous night of October 27, 2004, the Red Sox swept away the hapless St. Louis Cardinals and became World Champions for the first time in nearly a century. I can honestly say I slept better that night than I ever have before in my 27 years on this planet.
Oh, but what a strange year it has been in the 12 months since. Without frustration, anger, and the proverbial “wait until next year” to fall back on, it has been an odd dreamlike existence for me as a baseball fan in 2005. There was very little cursing this summer, nary a nail bitten, and even less doomsday speculation that the hometown nine would implode by July (even über Sox fan and master of terror Stephen King’s new book, which he penned in the afterglow of the Red Sox championship, is being heralded as “philosophical and happy”).
The Red Sox were on cruise control-lovably defending their title with their own brand of goofball baseball-and sitting comfortably in first place. And for the first time in my life I wasn’t worried about it. So confident was I that even as the wheels began to come off the Red Sox bandwagon in late September-in an all-too-familiar fashion of errors and brokedown pitching-I remained calm, cool, and collected. I honestly believed that the likes of Manny, Big Papi, and Johnny Damon would prevail. It was as if the innate suffering and worry hard-wired in my Red Sox fan DNA had left the ballpark as fast as a homerun off of David Ortiz’s bat.
That is until last week when, like a forgotten case of malaria dormant in your nervous system, misery returned to Red Sox fans everywhere as the Chicago-based Sox of a different color sent the Beantown Bashers to an early winter vacation. As Edgar Renteria hit a routine ground ball to shortstop to officially end the Red Sox 2005 season, I shouted something that can not be repeated and kicked an inanimate object just a bit too hard. I suddenly craved copious amounts of hard liquor and screamed at the television demanding a change in recent history and chastising everyone in a Red Sox uniform from the manager to the ball girl who missed a slow rolling foul ball in the fourth inning. It was madness maddened with a side order of bitter and God it felt good.
Buoyed by this feeling, I went for my cell phone and started calling friends and family on the East Coast. With every obscenity-filled rant and paranoid-tinged rave I was reclaiming my status in the baseball universe. I was in a frenzied purge, bemoaning things that had happened months earlier in the season, questioning managerial decisions from a long-lost August night in Tampa Bay and the pitch selection during a critical at-bat three days prior; the spell of a World Series victory had finally been broken and nobody was safe.
Gone was the feel-good fluffy, champagne-soaked Red Sox fan of the Fever Pitch era and in its place was a familiar and hardened veteran of seasons of heartbreak. After the first wave of rage subsided, I heard a hushed aggressive voice, “The Red Sox blew it this year and they have no one to blame but their own miserable selves!” Looking to my left and seeing no one but my sweet San Francisco Giants-loving girlfriend, I realized I was talking to myself again. God it feels good to be back in the gritty grumpy embrace of Red Sox obsession. Only 116 days until Spring Training starts and already the worry has begun.