Oct 21, 2004

Red Sox Nation

From the archives, written after the Sox miraculously beat the Yankees to win the AL and in the process stirred something in my immigrant self:
To me, baseball has always been the Great American Mystery. I am aware of why it is a popular pastime, since more beers are drunk and hot dogs wolfed down at games I have attended, as opposed to minutes spent in actually watching the game. However, despite attending both a major and a minor league game at the stadium, nay, ball park (that's "paahk" as of yesterday!) I am still at a loss as to why pitchers don't bat, what fouls a ball, and why a "ball" becomes a "strike" just because the batter (obviously driven by ennui) decides to take a huge swing. I think to myself, what's up with those big goofy mitts? Up until earlier this week, I never knew that the term Grand Slam existed outside tennis and bridge. My routine involvement with baseball was restricted to the following:
• Nodding gravely in the company of denizens of the RSN during the inevitable post-season "wake". There were the usual share of gaffes, "Is Ortis starting the pitching tomorrow ?" but the good folks of Fenwayland merely smiled, and took pains to correct it, adding a small discourse on where this burly hitter stands while fielding.
• Amusement at the annual re-appearance of the "Reverse the Curse" graffiti on Storrow Drive, and at the innumerable discussion of the "bambino".
• Being aware that "Yankees suck" was as good an ice-breaker as any at a party.
A change was brought about, my friends, after the Sox won Game 4 in the ALS. The humiliating debacle (19-8) of Game 3, and the impending 4-0 sweep had rendered a mood sullener than usual around town, and to come back and win the next in a marathon session was the spark that set the fire blazing. Actually, no, it was merely the kindling. The spark was as follows:
I kept hearing the scores of Game 5 off and on since it began at around 5 PM. The 2-0 score at 7 PM made me brace myself for all the somber nodding I would have to perform the next day. At around 9 pm, my wife (that most unlikely of baseball fans) asked me what the score was. I switched on the telly to catch Bill Mueller tie the score at the bottom of the ninth. I kept the TV on, while trying to finish reading the Suskind article on Dubya in the NYT magazine. My eyes kept straying from this racy piece, and I continued watching inning after inning of masterful pitching by Wakefield, tension filled moments when Johnny slipped that easy bunt. The game, as they say, sucked me right in. After 5 hours of a grueling game (I'll admit I only watched the last 2 1/2), I felt somewhat like the 16 year old teen on a late hot night in June 1983, as the incredulous BBC commentator said "INDIA HAS WON THE WORLD CUP".. (lOkay, it wasn't quiet the same feeling, but then I am no longer a 16 year old teen but a 36 year old balding dude.
The other admission at this point is that I did not really watch any of the remaining games fully. However, just turning on the TV at night was reminiscent of walking in with the other 119,999 people into the Eden Gardens Cricket Grounds in Calcutta (that's Gah-dens, as of yesterday 8-). To be able to go to sleep in peace, knowing that it's 4 - zip at the bottom of the 6th. To slip into slumber, watching that Damon send yet another into the stands, and its 8-1 at the top of the 7th. Here again my wife, that most latent of fanatical baseball fans, would keep a firm grip on the clicker, and watch the game long past my departure to dreamland.
A fella told me recently that he watches sports since it represents "Reality TV" for him. He said the games (and back stories) have it all - drama, tension, fear factor, idols, trading spouses 8-).. I finally saw the logic behind his words. The legends behind this match-up are numerous and unforgettable. 1918, the Babe's piano in the lake, Billy Buckner, the inevitable meltdowns and all the other "curse" related legends. Then there are the game related tales -- the "no-other-team-came-back-from-3-down" statistic, the tethered tendon, the Bellhorn miracle homer, and the A-Rod riot police incident. This is all that is needed to transform a slow, uneventful activity by a bunch o' baccy chewin' buckeroos into an epic involving the Fellowship of the Ring. Yes, Frodo lives!!!!
A fan is thus born -- perhaps not the most enlightened fan, and one who will continue to make many baseball gaffes ("So how many steps does the pitcher usually run before throwing the ball?") but a fan nonetheless. I don't know what it is. Some attachment to Boston, maybe? I am not completely immobile yet, but my roots do feel a slight tug from that granite-gravel laced soil on which my house sits. Whatever it is, the thrill is back, at least good enough for a 36 year old who is not able to stay up much past midnight.

Go SOX!!!