By Michael Raven
I just want to see my son grow up… before I die.
I just want world peace… before I die.
I just want to experience Disney World… before I die.
I just want to see the Sox win one… before I die.
The Sox are the infamous Boston Red Sox who represent baseball fans all throughout New England, including those folks in the remote state of Maine, where I’m from. “Winning one” refers to the World Series, the ultimate and sweetest end of a six-month, 162-game season that is grueling to both players and fans. The quote belonged to countless fans throughout New England, and maybe even the country, who were in nursing homes, hospice, and deathbeds throughout the land when I graduated high school in 1986 – eighteen years before they, “won one.” My father, Freddy, and God were the recipients of this supplication for many years. When I was growing up he volunteered to sing to and entertain the elderly throughout the county, many during their final days, and I don’t know the number of times he would tell me, “so-and-so died today and all he ever wanted was to see the Sox win one before he died.”
After I left home, in 1986, I often wondered if he would see the Red Sox win a World Series before he passed away; then if that had happened I would have begun to be concerned for myself. He passed in 2016 having seen the Sox win three, in 2004, 2007 and 2013.
I never moved back to the home of my beloved Sox but the umbrella phrase, “Red Sox Nation” covered fans like me who, like immigrants, wave the flag of their fathers and carrytreasured memories of hometown teams. For several years I found myself rooting for the Orioles out of extreme proximity and a continued thirst for the diamond theatre; but they never came between me and my Sox. So, in 2003, against our sworn enemy it seemed we were destined – let me try and take you back there. First, some perspective – If you were born and raised in New England then you can skip the next paragraph because I won’t be telling you anything.
When my son was born the first thing I said to him was, “Welcome to America – you have already started your life more fortunate than I, for the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots are both the champions of their sports.” When I was born my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, read my great-great-grandfather’s proclamation to me: “You do not have to root for the Red Sox, though it will bring you favor, but if you root for those damn Yankees you will be disowned!” In my home the Yankees were hated; they weren’t just Goliath, they were Goliath with gingivitis – who had an affinity to close the elevator door on you – who had the audacity to be that car that doesn’t make the light so sits in the middle of the intersection while you miss your turn (gridlocking) – who was just so FN annoying that he beat you up, stole your lunch money, kissed your sister, and kicked your dog all while giving you the finger in front of the deacon… but you’re the one who gets in trouble! I could go on – really I could, but it’s likely you get the point by now. I was born to hate those Yankees, and all through my childhood they gave me more reasons beyond my father’sproselytization. People like George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Bucky Dent, the 1978 Boston Massacre, and the myriad times the Red Sox fell short to their rivals – it got to the point where I thought a rivalry meant the Red Sox lost every important game to the Yankees – period – it’s not much of a rivalry when the same team loses ALL THE TIME! To sum it all up; during Boston’s 86-year drought, the New York Yankees won the World Series Championship 26 times – that, my friends, is no rivalry.
So here we are, the year 2003, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and from Boston’s Jurassic Period came the likes of David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, Pedro Martinez, Tim Wakefield… to face Yankee legends Derek Jeter, Roger “Red Sox turned Yankee” Clemens, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams and on and on and on… For the drama leading up to that year’s ALCS game 7 between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees think Breaking Bad meets Lassie sprinkled with a touch of Chainsaw Massacre heated at 450 degrees for 3 ½ hours then toss in a dash of 13 Reasons Why. During game seven the Sox had it, I mean had it, Martinez v. Clemens… top of the 2nd Sox up 3-0… …top of the 8th Sox up 5-2; uh-oh bottom of the 8th – and, although a superstar, the tired, over his 100-pitch limit, wiggly-armed, tennis-elbowed, carpal-tunneled, Pedro Martinez was left in to face Yankee dominance to tie the score. FF to the bottom of the eleventh inning to envision tears welling up in the eyes of Fox Sports guest-announcer Bret Boone (Seattle Mariners) who watched his brother, Yankee Aaron Boone, hit a walk-off home run against Boston’s Tim Wakefield to propel the NY Yankees to their 39th World Series Appearance. Now picture your author, Michael Raven and his father, Mr. Raven, with tear-stained cheeks and hopes of Pennants turned to Peanuts, as flat on our backs as Charlie Brown after Lucy moves the football at the last second for the infinityieth time.
In the ensuing days and weeks after that loss, eventually turning time’s corner to head down 2004 I began step two, the transition from grief to anger, then quickly into step three, vengeance. Could it be? If I were still feeling this way, me, just a lowly fan, a voyeur of those summertime boys, a poser of a passenger of the pilgrimage to the Pennant, then, how must the elite be feeling? Could it be? Is it possible? Would this 2003 crew of ne’er do well’s be so motivated to seek justice that they would use it as fuel to break the curse in ’04? Were they all Libra’s like me?
Yes I say, Yes! But, it didn’t come without a cost. I watched every game that season, with the exception several that appeared during the competing summer Olympics. Something in me said watch, don’t look away, don’t miss a thing, and so I did, and for more than 6 months their schedule was my schedule, day-night double headers, west-coast late nighters, afternoon delights, rain delays, extra innings, I watched them all. At the end of the season, after 162 games, those damn Yankees won 101 games and the American League East. The Red Sox? Well they did ok, coming in second in the East with 98 wins; enough to secure the coveted position of Wild Card, an honor bestowed to only two teams that do not win their division outright, but usually fodder for division champions. That year the divisional round put the New York Yankees against the Minnesota Twins and the Boston Red Sox against the Anaheim Angels; the Yanks won in 4 and the Sox swept in 3; each team doing their year-long part to provide an encore like the baseball world had never seen before.
In 2004 I experienced some things I had never experienced before, the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series and the gestation of my son, who was the sole denizen of my wife’s womb. Why do I put it this way? Because if I had been pregnant would have carried, and swung, a baseball bat through all three terms, but, cajoling my wife into doing this was a bit of a challenge. On September 10, 2004 the Sox had a late game against the Mariners who were at home on the West Coast. A couple of innings into the game, around 11ish I’m guessing, my wife came to me with the periodic, “I think I’m pregnant, we need to go to the pharmacy to get a test kit.” But… Curt Schilling is on the mound tonight and it’s late and… and… and… and off we went into the night to show my wife that she comes before baseball, and the likelihood I could make it back home before the top of the sixth inning. I will never forget this night, the first CVS we went to closed – merely two minutes before we arrived. I spoke to the employee, through the locked glass doors, and asked if there were an open-all-night location nearby. Over off Route 1 she replied and away we went – 15 minutes farther from the game. We returned around the eighth inning and I resumed the position: leaning on a backrest on my king-sized bed, with my “B” hat on, RS T-shirt, and pure fanitude, while my wife urinated in the next room. I don’t recall who was up at bat, or who was pitching or the name of the fan sitting in Section 224 row 7 seat 6 of Safeco field but I do remember the word, “Pregnant” appearing from the mist of the ether of the pregnancy test – much like the words, “ask later” appear on the window of a magic eight ball – and it was not preceded by the word, “not.”
The next morning I went out and bought a T-ball bat; it was the first gift for what was, ostensibly, the zygote growing in my wife, and since he, being a zygote, couldn’t swing it properly I cajoled my wife into swinging it – over, and over, and over. Because, as I told her, I wanted him to be so familiar with the motion that by the time he comes out of her he will be able to instinctively generate “bat speed.”
By the time of the 2004 ALCS my son was minus seven months old and I was doing something that I hadn’t done since I was young; not quite that young, but, in my youth, I enjoyed scoring the games. So there I was scoring the ALCS between the Red Sox and the Yankees. The title section of each scoresheet started out collegiate enough, Red Sox v. Yankees, Sox v. Damn Yankees, Sox v. Stoopid Yanks, then, after being down three games to the Yankees turned absolutely vitriolic, The Red Sox v. those mfing *&^%$* Lying, Stealing, Cheating &^%$$^& Yankees… it got worse from there. If you don’t know the details of this EPIC series then you wouldn’t be wasting your time to go back in the video archives and have a look, but here’s my perspective. In a best of seven series no baseball team had ever come back to win four in a row – the Sox were done, it seemed, and no amount of hope, or divine intervention, or destiny, or birthday wishes, or magic eight ball proclamations, or anything was going to change that – so it seemed. In game 4, headinginto the bottom of the ninth inning, the Red Sox were down by 1 run going up against the pitcher who is arguably one of the best closers ever, Mariano Rivera. What’s this? He uncharacteristically blew the save and the game went 12 innings when David Ortiz hit a two-run walk-off homer. Game 5 was a panic attack covered in anxiety that went 14 innings but was, once again, punctuated by an Ortiz hit; this time a single that drove in the winning run. Game 6 of that series, though not as heart-pounding as the others, has been called the “Bloody Sock Game” because the ace Boston pitcher, Curt Schilling, delivered the ball from the mound while antagonizing a torn tendon sheath in his right ankle causing blood leakage to the point where his white sock turned red – talk about bleeding your team’s colors! The Red Sox won in regulation nine innings to force a game seven. Déjà vu? Not quite 2003 this time – the Red Sox blew the doors off the Yankees in anti-climactic 10 to 3 fashion for the win and a well-deserved appearance at the 2004 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. A series in which the Sox handily swept in four games for their first World Series Championship in 86 years.
It’s almost fifteen years later and these were quite simply the greatest sports moments of my life; the Sox coming back from three games down against those damn Yankees then going on toclinching the World Series. My son? Well, he played little league ball; one season voluntarily and one season because he was threatened, but it didn’t stick and provided more comedy than intensity but that’s ok – he’s pretty good at physics.
My Fan’s Tribute is to the 2004 Boston Red Sox – Thank you for winning one before my father died. Thank you for winning one before I die, and thank you for finally giving me new meaning to the word rivalry – sometimes my team does win.