Time, Hope, and the Friendly Ghost of 2004

“The years shall run like rabbits …. all the clocks in the city began to whirr and chime: ‘O let not Time deceive you, you cannot conquer Time … In headaches and in worry, vaguely life leaks away, and Time will have his fancy, tomorrow or today.”

–  W. H. Auden, from As I Walked Out One Evening (1940)

Before Sunrise

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) & Celine (Julie Delpy) at Cafe Sperl in Vienna from “Before Sunrise”

I first heard the above poem while watching Before Sunrise in 1995, and while I could write for hours about that amazing film and its two outstanding sequels, tonight I focus on another topic.  The Red Sox – Yankees Rivalry.  Even more specific, how it’s almost impossible to believe it’s been fourteen years since those teams last met in the playoffs.

Tonight Boston beat New York and celebrated in Yankee Stadium just like they did in 2004. Exciting, amazing, and as a lifelong Red Sox fan, still in so many ways hard to fathom.  And while I was extremely happy and I made several toasts, I had one question that kept coming back.

How did 2004 become 2018?

When I rewind time fourteen years, all the way back before we broke the so called 86-Year Curse of the Bambino, the first thing that comes to mind is hope.  The team’s unofficial slogan in those days was Wait Until Next Year.  In 2018, this is difficult for a lot of people to understand.  Today the Sox just beat their biggest rival again, have three recent championship trophies, and the decades long image of the lovable loser has been completely transformed.

But in 2004, most people believed the Sox had as much chance of beating the Yankees and winning the World Series as Charlie Brown did in kicking the football.

Although I was a child in ‘78, I remember Buddy Bleeping Dent’s homerun off of Torrez and Yaz popping out to lose to the division to the Yankees on the 163rd game of the year.  As a teenager in 1986 I experienced a whole new level of heartbreak when the ball went under Buckner’s legs in Game 6 of the World Series (our first appearance there since 1946), and we eventually lost in seven to the Mets (another damn NY team).

Flash forward to 2003 and The Curse became a lot more real when the Red Sox would lose the American League Championship Series (ALCS) to the Yankees in agonizing fashion.  It was like taking the feelings of 1978 and 1986 (as well as 1999 ALCS defeat to the Yankees) and pumping them with performance enhancing drugs.  When the current coach of the Pinstripes hit that walk-off homerun off beloved knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in Game 7, it was truly the nadir of my misery.  I was simply too young in ’78 or ’86 to get it.   Soul-crushing was not a word in my childhood vocabulary, as you just don’t have a firm grasp on the concept of time when you’re young.

In October 2003, I was on intimate terms with time and I was devastated.  The hangover from the Game Seven loss lasted for months, and I wondered if I was going to become one of those pessimistic people who always expect the Red Sox to lose.

Thankfully that didn’t happen, and I never gave up hope.

We signed Curt Schilling in that off-season as well as closer Keith Foulke (not having a shutdown reliever for the 9th inning was a big reason why we lost to the Yankees).  We added these two huge pieces to an already amazing team, and 2004 had lots of promise. I was still living in LA when the season began, but by late summer I had moved to San Francisco.

It was a very important time for me personally, and I’m so glad the Red Sox success back then mirrored mine.  I not only began an eight year stint in one my favorite cites on the planet, I started writing my novel Lost in the Fog, and commenced working at a job that would give me a career in hospitality and human resources.  After experiencing failure in Los Angeles trying to make it as a writer, it was so wonderful to find these victories in San Francisco.

A lot has happened in fourteen years.

I’m not going to lie … I still take the Red Sox and the rest of my teams a lot more seriously than I should at my age.  But I can truly say that I’ve “grown-up” since 2004, and I no longer let the losses affect me as much as they once did.  Yes, I experience complete joy when my teams win championships and utter despair when they lose them, but I can put everything in better context now.  I let the joy linger for longer periods of time, and I make sure the gloom only stays briefly before I put it in the past.

This year’s Sox -Yankees playoff match-up was exciting, and I was so happy tonight when we won the series in an old-fashioned stress-job.  We were up by three in the bottom of the 9th, and while Craig Kimbrel was shaky, he eventually succeeded.  After the Yankees scored two we finally got the last out on an excruciatingly close play at first base.  This is an outstanding achievement for the team and a terrific memory for me.

But it never quite approached the emotional level that 2004 had.

How could it?

Fourteen falls ago the Red Sox had not won a World Series since 1918, were on the brink of being swept by their biggest rival, and were losing by one run in the 9th with the greatest closer to ever play the game on the mound.  And then a speck of pixie dust got blown our way.  Millar worked a walk, Roberts pinch ran and stole second, Mueller drove him in with a hit, and then Big Papi, the greatest clutch hitter in the history of the game, hits a walk-off homerun in extra innings to extend the series at least one more day.

It was electrifying, and it gave us hope.

I can remember exactly where I was and what I felt at every point in the ALCS in 2004.  I was in a bar at SFO for Game 5, having missed most of it while flying back to San Francisco.  But I watched all the innings unfold from the 8th to the 14th when Big Papi hit the single to score Johnny Damon for the win.  The guy next to me, a Yankees fan, said arrogantly to whoever was listening, “who cares.  We’ll win it at home next game”.

Game 6 I watched at Dave’s in San Francisco on 3rd Avenue, which unfortunately no longer exists.  The owner of the bar grew up in Boston and was a Red Sox fan, and there was memorabilia all around the place.  A few years later I got to meet Dave, and we had a lot of great conversations about New England and the Sox.  Helluva guy, and I hope he is doing well.  That night we jumped out to a 4 run lead on the Yankees and Keith Foulke was able to close it out to force a historic Game 7.

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No team in the history of baseball had even made it to a Game Seven after being down 0-3.  Such a possible scenario had happened 25 times before.

For this legendary night I left work early and made it home in time for the start of the 2nd inning (on the West Coast the games began around 5 pm).  I considered watching it at Dave’s, but I knew I needed total concentration with full sound up and no distractions.  The night was going to be monumentally amazing or soul crushing.  I just couldn’t be around strangers.

It was October 20, 2004, almost exactly one year from Aaron Bleeping Boone and that terrible ALCS loss to the Yankees.  I remember saying “another Game 7, how could this be happening again?”  Sitting there in my apartment on Elm Street, I was praying it would not be a nightmare.  If we lost, I wasn’t sure if I could endure it.

Losing again to the Yankees would have been Dante’s “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate“.  In English, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

I doubted I could even handle the stress of a close game.  Just thinking of another extra innings affair gave me what Hunter S. Thomson used to refer to as “The Fear”.  Although in my early 30s then, if that happened I was sure my hair would have been shocked into pure gray.

Thankfully it didn’t.  The Red Sox scored early and often at Yankee Stadium, and Joe Castiglione’s call of “Grand Slam Johnny Damon” is one of the best things I ever heard.   We got up 8-1 after four innings, and by the time it ended, the scoreboard would read Boston 10, New York 3.  We would then sweep the Cardinals for our first World Series title since 1918.  The Curse was reversed.

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The End of the Curse (October 20, 2004)

On some nights I have to remind myself it wasn’t all a dream.

Nearly a decade and a half later, how cool is it, in a world where everything changes instantly, that the century plus year-old Red Sox – Yankees rivalry is still going strong.  With due respect to that team over in the Bronx and all their titles, this year we were better.  And I hope in the next three or so weeks we can roll out the duck boats on the streets of Boston and celebrate our fourth World Series title this century.

But if not there will always be next year.

World Series Preview

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2013, such a magical ride for the Red Sox

Sports is not real life.

Or rather, watching sports and rooting for your favorite team and linking your happiness or sadness to the outcome of a game that you are just a spectator to is not “real life”.  Win or lose, you’ll still get up in the morning, get dressed, go into work, and deal with things that would be happening if that game never took place.  If your team celebrates a championship or laments a failed playoff run, you will not be shaking champagne with them or patting anyone on the back in consolation in the locker room.

I’ve known this since I was young, and I am even more acutely aware of it now that I’m older.

So why do I still take sports so seriously?  Why do I get so elated when my teams win, and descend into depression when they lose?  Why did I get so upset a couple of weeks ago when the Red Sox lost to the Indians in the playoffs?

I’m sure it is tied into simple Freudian-type analysis.  For most of us, our lives are devoid of the opportunity of glory of the larger than life variety.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  While rarely epic, we still have the opportunity on a daily basis to make our significant others, family members, friends, co-workers, or even strangers happy.  We should always have that as a goal, and when it happens should celebrate it as a great day.  I surely do.

Glory should never be a pre-requisite of satisfaction, and such a concept is so far removed from our everyday lives we don’t even consciously seek it.  But the Epic Moment, the (as Lloyd Dobbler once said), “Dare-to-be-Great-Situation”, is something we still crave on a deeper atavistic level.

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“I am looking for a dare to be great situation.”

If you’re lucky, you might get one in your life.  Or if you’re blessed by the gods of chance, maybe two or three.  But most of us will never experience something that fits the “according to Hoyle” definition of a Heroic Moment.

So for me, and millions of others whether they realize it or not, that is an allure of sports…the chance to witness and vicariously have a “Dare-to-be-Great” situation where you have ultimate victory.   And “sports” is actually not the apt word for this.  I can watch Tiger Woods playing golf and root for him, but at the end of the day I don’t really care if he wins or loses. The New England Revolution is the pro soccer team of the area where I come from, and while I hope they do well I have never followed them.  Rooting for Team USA during the Olympics is fun and there’s national pride to give a tendril of emotional attachment, but those games/matches will never have the same meaning as ones by the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics.

For the wins or the magic moments of a sporting game to mean anything to me, there must be a deep emotional attachment to the team and to the players.

This feeling cannot be faked.  It cannot be manufactured after following a team for a few games or even a few seasons.  You earn emotional attachment by investing your heart and soul into years and decades of following and rooting for the success of a team in which you have zero control over.

And if you’re lucky, well actually let’s just say “really f’n lucky”, you’ll get to see your team win a World Series, an NBA Championship, a Stanley Cup, or a Superbowl.  And if you are “off-the-charts-stupid-lucky”, there will be amazing moments during that championship run that bring your team back from sure defeat.  Walk-off homeruns, epic 4th quarter comebacks, three goal deficits erased against your rival, and maybe even an interception on the goal-line to get your team the Lombardi Trophy.

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I still cannot believe that this is my photo, that I was at this game!

 

I’ve got to witness all of that and more in the last 15 years, and I am extremely grateful for this amazing luck.   Four Superbowl victories (the last one I witnessed in person), three World Series titles, one Stanley Cup, and one NBA Finals victory.  There has been Tom Brady and Big Papi and Paul Pierce and Zdeno Chara and a host of other legendary Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins that I have been lucky enough to have on my side.

As we head into the World Series, I wish the fans of both the Cubs and the Indians the best of luck.  Chicago hasn’t even been to the Series since 1945, and it’s 108 years since they won it all!  Cleveland made it to Game 7 of the Championship in 1997 (their last appearance), only to lose in the 9th inning to a then five-year-old franchise when they could not close it out.  Their last title was 68 years ago!

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Although I have no deep emotional attachment to the Cubs, I do feel a kindred spirit with their fans and I love their ballpark

I’ve been to Wrigley Field and still have that Cubs fishing hat I got there decades ago.  I’ll be rooting for them, but at the end of the day with no true emotional attachment I am hoping for a competitive and fun World Series.  But no matter what happens it’s nice to know that one team will make a long-suffering fan base collectively experience that Dare-to-be-Great-Situation, that ultimate feeling of victory.