The Red Sox winning the 2004 World Series is a moment I'm not likely to forget. While I don't have a geographical connection to the Northeast or a family recipe for clam chowder, I was certainly a Red Sox fan.
My baseball backstory is perplexing; it wasn't easy for me to find a team allegiance considering a peripatetic upbringing that saw me live in 16 different places prior to the '04 victory. I could have stuck with the Reds, my father's team. I enjoyed watching the early 90's Braves in my years in Georgia and even fell asleep every night in a Javy Lopez t-shirt and Braves hat thinking it would bring them luck. When we left the South I settled on the Red Sox due to their combination of familiar former Georgia Tech players and the insistence of a dear friend who did spend his formative years in the state of Massachusetts. I admired their old ballpark, their underdog story, the uniforms, and the copious amounts of stickers and baseball cards that came in overstuffed mailers from my friend.
Some might label me a dreaded bandwagon fan, but when I chose my allegiance in the late 90s there wasn't yet any bandwagon to jump on; cheering on players like Wilton Veras and Brian Rose, when I could even watch the games since they weren't on locally, wasn't easy. Some may scoff that my fandom is unearned since I don't descend from a lineage of tortured generations. In fact, my dad grew up a Reds fan, so the tales I heard of the 1975 World Series weren't about "Fisking it Fair" but about Joe Morgan's bloop single to score Ken Griffey for the series-winning run. But despite my father's chiding and my nomadic existence, I felt no complicating emotions: I was a Red Sox fan.
After watching the first three games of the 2004 series alone, I asked my boyfriend to watch with me. As we were poster children for opposites attracting, we had partitioned our house into separate living quarters, our own caves for special interests that didn't comingle. His cave was a space for movies and video games, the lounge that books and education had forgotten. Since he made the money, his space was filled with nice furniture, an oversized television, and even a real movie-theatre popcorn machine that I begrudgingly bought him for our anniversary. My cave, a sanctuary of books and baseball cards, had dusty vintage furniture and bins of vinyl records that I listened to on my grandfather's Philco console record player. There was a television, a 16-inch tube set that had been in my possession for years. On the evening of Game 4, I told him how important the game was and how people had been waiting generations for this day to finally arrive. Considering he'd spent his whole life avoiding sports, I wanted to make sure he understood the enormity of the situation; I wanted him to be part of history and my celebration partner. Also, I wanted to use his television.
He fell asleep while Derek Lowe was still on the mound and retreated to the bedroom long before Keith Foulke tossed the ball underhand to Doug Mientkiewicz to end the game. I tried to keep the sofa jumping despite keeping my screaming, champagne popping, telephone calls, and tears to a whisper, but he was a light sleeper. When he came out to the living room, I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, inches from the glowing box, my oversized Jason Varitek t-shirt bunched at my knees and mouth agape as I watched the television. The whole thing meant nothing to him, but my mumbling of, "They did it... They did it..." made him realize it meant something to me. He patted me on the head, kissed my forehead, and retreated back to bed before saying anything stupid to ruin the moment.
Derek Lowe (Getty Images)
The part of that 2004 victory that sticks with me was the look of Fenway Park on the verge of winning the World Series. The feel of it came through the television set. Of course the clinching game happened in St. Louis, but for the games in the postseason that year leading up to the final out had changed Fenway Park from a den of antiquity and a keeper of curses to a place of hope. This October, many have railed against the FOX broadcast for emphasizing fan reactions; they are perhaps justified, especially when important game moments are missed. Nevertheless, it's impossible to forget the moments from the '04 series that demonstrated just how old Fenway Park is and how old the fans who had spent their lives waiting for a victory were. The images of elderly men, some too feeble to stand unassisted, who had supported the team their entire lives without feeling the sweet release of victory were jarring reminders of just how long it had been. And, if you stepped out of the moment, and added your own analysis, there were so many more that weren't there but were older still: people who would have loved to see that day, who waited their whole lives but didn't have the stamina to outlast the curses.
That's a sentiment that resonates regardless of fandom, a moment that many now anxiously await for the Cubs. We know our lives can go by with our dreams unfulfilled, but nothing brings that truth home like a baseball team poised between winning and having to say, yet again, "Wait ‘til next year." Some of us won't have another next year to spare.
Now it is 10 years later, and the Red Sox just collected their third World Series trophy of that timespan. What seemed so impossible to believe would happen back in 2004 seems old hat now, at least to me. Perhaps it's because my connection with the Red Sox has shifted, part of a maturation process that seems to be common from those who make the leap from fan to team blogger to writer about and consumer of multiple teams. There was a time when I enjoyed singing along to "Sweet Caroline"; one of my first writing gigs was here at SB Nation as a contributor to Over the Monster, though that feels like a distant memory now. I've become so far removed from the clutches of oversized Varitek t-shirts and yearly pilgrimages to Fort Myers that instead of notes of congratulation I've received a lot of, "Wait, you're a Red Sox fan?" comments instead.
This year's team is compelling, though. The story of worst-to-first will be its own legend, but not in the same way that 86 years between titles was. There was no suffering with this season's team, just growth, camaraderie, advanced scouting, good free agent signings, and the brilliance of our sabermetrics overlord Bill James. I believe them when they say they really are a roster of 25 men who love each other so much they'd take a bullet for each other if necessary, but this year's story isn't about how well personalities meshed as much as that the best team in baseball won the championship. As Steven Goldman put it in his World Series wrap-up this morning, "The Red Sox are not just champions; they are baseball's model franchise. At this point, the rest doesn't even deserve to be called prologue; it was another entity with the same name."
Perhaps the starkest reminder of that came during last night's game. FOX showed home-plate umpire Jim Joyce going over to the seats just beyond the on deck circle. He shook the hand of an elderly man standing there and handed him a game ball. It didn't seem significant at the time, just a token older gentleman who had had season tickets for a very long time on the verge of seeing his team finally clinch the World Series at home. It was a manufactured Hallmark moment, a saccharin-sweet attempt to reenact one of those real moments of '04. It felt forced; the viewer knew what FOX was insinuating with it, and it would have been easily shrugged off had Erin Andrews not talked to the old man a few minutes later.
Erin Andrews with John Farrell (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY)
Andrews asked him what this championship at home would mean to him. It was probably due to my own nostalgia that I hoped he had a tear-jerking story of how he'd worked his way down to those seats over the years, or maybe they were gifted to him because he was dying of cancer or was a war veteran, or both. Maybe he would relate how he missed the '04 and '07 Series due to amnesia. But it wasn't any of that. The 88-year-old gentleman, whose name I did not catch, owns one of the businesses near Fenway Park that sells t-shirts and hats, and when asked what the win would mean to him, he mentioned being "financially set for life" and that he'd need to hurry to his store to ready the merchandise for the celebration.
He had kicked nostalgia and the memories of 2004 to the curb. This is no slight to the store owner, whom I'm sure runs a successful business and has an admiration for the Red Sox much deeper than the interview conveyed, but suddenly we we're no longer talking in terms of, "This is the moment I've waited my whole life for," and more about commerce.
Perhaps that was a fitting ending for a team that seemed to make all of the right decisions. For me, that's the difference with this year's victory: It is sweet, it is rewarding, and above all else, it replenishes those feelings of watching a team that you support and have loved for longer than you've love most things succeed, but it's no longer new. It's no longer a coda or a resolution to something old and frustrating, a departure from the troubled past of a team that couldn't get out of its own way long enough to win it all.
Paradoxically, then, the familiarity of it all -- of being able to recall where you were the last time it happened and having a stockpile of celebratory memories from a ten-year span -- is what makes the 2013 World Series victory feel new after all. It's an adjustment of expectations, but a good one, one that feels way better than worrying how a player with a "B" in their name might ruin your life.