Hanging on the wall above my bed at home is a copy of the front page of The Boston Globe from Oct. 28, 2004, expressing the joy and exultation of New England in one simple word: “YES!!!”
The reaction was, of course, in response to the Red Sox’s World Series victory over the Cardinals the previous night, the team’s first championship in 86 years. As Sox fans Maine to Connecticut celebrated with an exhausting mix of joy and manic relief, they attempted to avoid the big question, one that perhaps would have been appropriate for the front page for Oct. 29: “Now what?”
For those of you unfamiliar with New England baseball culture, a Red Sox World Series win was spoken of in the same way that evangelists speak of Judgment Day. It was constantly on our minds, discussed in reverential, hopeful terms while we were painfully aware that it might never happen within our lifetime. With every late-season or playoff loss, I could see it on the faces of the older members in my family—we’re running out of time. When a normal sports fan would experience frustration at bad moments in a game or season, Sox fans felt nothing short of despair. It became the region’s special bond—this destructive, seemingly hopeless wish whose chances of coming true had been dashed in some of the most excruciating ways possible. Pesky holding the ball at short in ’46, Bucky Dent’s home run in ’78, Buckner missing that grounder at first in ’86 … the list goes on, and any loyal Sox fan could tell you about all of them. Such a fan-hood transcended any rational thinking or reflection on what it meant to live a happy life—we couldn’t have turned our backs on the team, no matter how much pain it brought us each October, and no matter how hard we tried to forget it. There was no ignoring the Curse of the Bambino.
This irrational addiction is fueled by the main appeal of sports—that the results are unpredictable, yet cannot be argued once completed. One may complain about questionable calls and bad luck, but such claims cannot make the winner envy the loser. Whereas a theater production or music performance has an expectation of perfection and can leave each audience member with a different level of satisfaction, a sporting event has no such challenge. It is impossible to know who will win a certain game beforehand—and equally impossible to debate it after the fact.
Yankees fans love boasting about the 26 World Series rings won by the pinstripes during Beantown’s drought, but what they fail to admit, at least publicly, is that enduring a lifetime of sports heartbreak only to be redeemed in the most dramatic way possible—winning four consecutive elimination games against one’s biggest rival—brought more joy than all 26 Yankees titles combined. Although a World Series victory was in doubt until Keith Foulke tossed the final out to Doug Mientkiewicz, the indisputable triumph as Mientkiewicz caught the ball allowed Boston faithful to revel in pure and certain joy. And revel they did. The moment held such significance that my parents—to this day never faltering in their conservatism regarding my drinking—allowed my 9-year-old self to sip champagne after the final out. (My fake was pretty good back then.) Phone calls were made, tears were shed, and memories from seasons past were recounted as fans rejoiced in partial disbelief. The moment was perfect.
Ten years later, with the Sox finishing in last place, one year removed from another World Series, I miss it. As a 9-year-old kid who had just experienced two incredible years of playoff baseball—2003 was heartbreaking, but thrilling nonetheless—I had no idea that moments like these happen as rarely as once in a lifetime. Sometimes, I’ll go back and watch Game 4 and 5 of the ALCS that year in a feeble attempt to relive it, but the nostalgia hurts so badly that it’s tough to finish the whole thing.
The 2004 championship team disbanded quickly. Pedro left that winter, followed by Johnny Damon, Trot Nixon, Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez, and many others in the ensuing years. They were replaced with the likes of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Jason Bay, Jacoby Ellsbury, and J.D. Drew, some of whom were part of a likable bunch that captured the 2007 World Series crown. This time, however, there would be no champagne or jubilant phone calls—I watched the clinching Game 4 by myself. Nobody else in my family cared enough to stay up. Red Sox Nation once again rejoiced, but without the same relish as three years before. We were just ordinary fans following an ordinary team. It was everything we wanted, until it wasn’t.
This isn’t to say we can’t appreciate special sports moments. Following the 2013 championship team made for a spectacular fall, as watching a cohesive, lovable group of castoffs heal a disgraced franchise and a broken city made New Englanders remember how special sports can be. Once again, David Ortiz—the lone remaining player from the 2004 team—rallied his team and city behind him, cementing his legacy as one of Boston’s greatest athletes ever. It was captivating to watch.
Yet, still I miss the days when a World Series ring and beating the Yankees were matters of life and death, when Sox fans generations apart could bond over their mutual everlasting hope for deliverance. I will continue to follow my team religiously—memorable sports moments can happen at any time, and I’ll want to be watching. But with the satisfaction and relief of a Red Sox championship, each ensuing one became a luxury, not a necessity, and fan-hood seems more fickle and childish than before. And so, that same question that lingered in the aftermath of 2004’s celebration continues to haunt Boston fans in moments of reflection and recollection: now what?
Featured Image by Charles Krupa / AP Photo