Friday, October 29, 2004

The Quest To Be Ordinary

The irreverent Bill Simmons of has a column on the Red Sox victory that is (dare I say it?) a bit...touching. It helps soften the blow of the Cards, World Series collapse.

There is a strong father/son element in baseball (see "Field of Dreams"), and there's a lot of that going on here. It's why I went to fairly great lengths to take my own son to game 4, and why I've been thrilled that he's embraced the Cardinal faith of his father with great zeal. So it's hard not to be happy for them. Heading into game four, Simmons quoted some of the posters from a Red Sox website, as they closed in on victory:
  • "Win it for my Grandfather (1917-2004) who never got to see the Red Sox win it all but always believed. And for my Dad who watches each and every game wishing his Dad was there to watch with him."
  • "Win it for my 10-year-old son Charlie who fell asleep listening to Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS assuming the Sox would win. When he awakened the next morning, he asked me, eagerly, "Did we win, Dad?" When I told him, gently, No, we did not win, his anguished moan startled me. I knew I had raised him as a Red Sox fan and I began to question whether that was a good thing."
  • "Win it for my grandfather, who succumbed to Alzheimer's in 2002. In one of my last conversations with him, he asked me how Ted Williams was doing. During Game 7 on October 20, his birthday, he was smiling down on the Red Sox."
  • "Win it for my boss, a dear friend who lost his dad unexpectedly in March of this year. More than once this season, I've seen him glance at the phone after a game, half-expecting his father to call to commiserate, rejoice, or just shoot the breeze -- I've also seen the sadness in his eyes as he realizes that the call isn't coming. Win it for his dad, a lifelong fan who never had the opportunity to witness his beloved team taking it all."
That's why baseball's not like any other sport. It just isn't.

Still, I have to wonder if the victory might not leave the Sox fans feeling a bit empty after the euphoria wears off. I know that most Red Sox fans have ridiculed the notion that it was a bad thing to have the "curse" removed, but I'm not sure we should be so quick to dismiss the idea, absurd as it might seem at first blush.

A major piece of the identity of the Red Sox fans has been taken away. Of course, they wanted it to be taken away and they're glad it was taken away. But in their heart of hearts, I wonder if a year or two or ten down the road, they might not miss it more than a little bit. Boston fans (whether they admit it or not) milked that legacy. They thrived on it. They reveled in the "cursed, lovable loser" image, at fate being cosmically aligned against them.

(If you don't believe me, check out nearly any randomly chosen 15 minute segment from [Sox fan] Ken Burns' 9-part, 18-hour epic documentary "Baseball." Two-thirds of the entire program seemed to about the poor, bedraggled, cursed Red Sox. "Here's Doris Kearns Goodwin on the hearbreak of being a Red Sox fan. Now here's Stephen Jay Gould on fate conspiring against the Red Sox. Oh, by the way, Stan Musial and Al Kaline's careers happened. Now here's former Sox pitcher Bill 'Spaceman' Lee on the Curse of the Bambino...")

It's like the proverbial guy who walks with a cane for years until being cured of his malady. After a while, he finds that he had grown quite attached to the cain and misses it, even though being cured had been his deepest desire. I'm truly glad for Red Sox fans like the sons above who have been waiting all their lives to celebrate this with their fathers.

Simmons said in yesterday's column:
The Red Sox were about to win the World Series. And I was about to become Just Another Baseball Fan again.

Because that's all we ever wanted. Nobody understood that. Outsiders made up fake curses, called us losers, pointed to a legacy of failure, questioned our sanity. We kept hoping. We kept the faith.
They got what they wanted. They're now Just Another Baseball Fan again. I hope they'll find it's what they always hoped it would be. But I just wonder.....

I keep thinking of Alexander the Great.

"When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer."

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