An impending sense of doom.
I’m suffering all the symptoms of a Red Sox World Series appearance.
I should be happy my beloved Sox are a win away from their third championship in 10 years. After all, nobody in April expected the team to play so deep into October. Even diehard fans such as myself had modest expectations. I boldly predicted 84 wins before the season started.
And my father thought I was being generous.
The Red Sox road to redemption started in New York with an 8-2 drubbing of the Yankees on Opening Day. The game offered Sox fans, many of us still disgusted by the franchise’s historic collapse in 2011 and a drama-filled 2012 campaign, a glimpse of the gritty brand of baseball to to be played in Boston all summer long. The revamped Red Sox had started the season with a spark.
You’ve seen Sox players’ gnarly beards. Well, Opening Day was the stubble.
Another 96 regular season wins and 10 postseason victories later and the Sox have an opportunity to win their first championship at Fenway Park since 1918.
So yes, I’m happy. Thrilled. Ecstatic.
I’m also stressed. Scared. Neurotic.
Let me explain.
My memories of the 1986 World Series are fuzzy at best. I was 6 years old and only vaguely remember the buzz surrounding the Red Sox matchup against the New York Mets. Mercifully, my young age spared me the horror of watching a ground ball skip through Bill Buckner’s rickety legs and cost the Red Sox a series-clinching victory. The infamous play came to epitomize “The Curse.”
But I remember the aftermath clear as day.
Roughly a year after the Sox broke Boston’s heart, my grandparents gave me Dan Shaughnessy’s book “One Strike Away.” It’s a terrifying re-telling of the failures of the 1986 Red Sox and how the team managed to blow it on the game’s biggest stage. It was the perfect book to indoctrinate an impressionable 7-year-old Red Sox fan.
It also explains why I still don’t like scary stories.
Growing up a Red Sox fan in the 1980s and 1990s was a weird experience – an equal mix of optimism and pessimism. Season after season started with confidence and ended in disappointment. Games which began with high hopes ended with my father cursing, tossing a dish towel at the television and storming out of the room to sulk.
“I can’t watch this,” he would say to my sister and me. “Tell me when it’s over.”
Expect the worse.
My father wasn’t alone in his frustration. My grandfather was a deeply religious man, but even he couldn’t resist the urge to call in a favor from time to time. I’ll never forget one Easter Sunday at my grandparents house, watching my grandfather fidget nervously on the couch during a close game with his rosary clutched in his fist.
“Please,” he begged. “Please help Mo Vaughn hit a home run.”
My father chimed in.
“Eddy,” he said. “I think the big guy has bigger things to worry about, today of all days.”
The Red Sox must need an act of God to win.
It’s with this emotional baggage I watched the Red Sox lose in the postseason, year after year. Playoff squads failed to reach the World Series in 1988, 1990, 1995, 1998 and 1999. One of my close friends and college roommates began to panic.
“They’re never going to win,” she cried. “I’m going to die never seeing the Red Sox win a World Series.”
We were 19 years old.
“It’s okay,” I told her. “It’s going to happen.” I believed it. I had to.
Then came 2003.
The Red Sox took a comfortable 5-2 lead into the 8th inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Against the hated Yankees, no less. Never before did I believe so strongly the Sox were going to the World Series.
Everything unraveled so fast.
Manager Grady Little inexplicably allowed Pedro Martinez to take the mound after the star pitcher struggled to finish the 7th. Hitter after hitter reached base. One run scored. Two runs scored. Three runs scored. In a horrifying instant, the game was tied 5-5. Yankees’ third baseman Aaron Boone delivered the dagger to Sox fans’ hearts with a game winning home run in the bottom of the 11th inning.
I was crushed.
I phoned my father hoping he could explain what happened.
“Well, they finally did it to you,” he said. “You’re officially part of the club. It’s miserable.”
He was right. Aside from 1986, which I didn’t remember, the Red Sox had only disappointed me. Never before had they lured me into believing they had exorcised their demons only to break my heart in such a spectacularly cruel fashion.
The Red Sox turned the tables on the Yankees a year later, punching their ticket to the World Series by becoming the first team in baseball history to win a seven game series after falling behind 3-0. The Sox went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first championship in 86 years. They added another title in 2007, beating the Colorado Rockies.
But the damage was done.
I grew up expecting the worse, believing supernatural forces were at play and that a miracle was needed if the Red Sox were to succeed. World Series titles in 2004 and 2007 did take the edge off a bit, but doubts will always creep into the back of my mind. It’s a part of me and many Sox fans my age and older.
That explains the frayed nerves.
The sleepless nights.
The impending sense of doom.
But you want to know the truth?
I love it – and go Sox!