Ode to a Past-Time

Oct. 8 - There's a lot going on in Denmark today. The engagement of Crown Prince Frederik to Australian babe Mary Elizabeth Donaldson will be officially celebrated. The Danes love their royal family and seem to be quite taken with Mary. She's cute, has an Aussie accent, and hangs out at the track—what's not to like? I'm sure she'll be a great queen some day.

But I was raised in the Boston suburbs and spent a good chunk of my adult life on Chicago's north side, and both the Red Sox and Cubs have advanced one step closer to the World Series. So the hell with the Royals.

I should have predicted Boston's victory over Oakland. On Sunday Trine and I had been watching the early football game at the only American-sports-friendly sports-bar in Copenhagen. Giants-Dolphins. Yawn. When the game ended, Trine and I pulled on our coats and got ready to leave while a bartender switched the television over to the Sox-A's game. An American girl in a Tufts sweatshirt who'd been abiding the football in silence suddenly crackled into life.

"Oakland's up!" she squealed. I scrutinized her sweatshirt again. Sure enough: Tufts.

"You're not from Boston?"

"Hell no. Just college. Oakland all the way! They're gonna kick Boston's ass tonight."

"Well," I murmured, wanting to defend the Sox somehow. The words didn't come. They couldn't. The Sox had beat me down too many times before. I shrugged and we made our way down the stairs and along the length of the bar toward the exit. Believe it or not, by the time we reached the television by the front door the Sox had pulled ahead.

"Heh," I said.

"You gonna go back up?" Trine asked.

I glanced toward the little loft in which we'd been sitting—a little loft in which an American girl was just waiting for her comeuppance.

"Not worth it," I said, and we left.

"No," Trine said. "She's definitely not."

I didn't tell her I'd been talking about the Red Sox. It might have looked like magnanimity, but it was just despair.

* * *

I'll admit I haven't been a big fan lately. In fact, I've tried to avoid the sport altogether since 1986.

My story is much too sad to be told, which is as good a reason as any to tell it.

I loved baseball as a kid. I loved the Red Sox. The first time I ever skipped school was to sneak into Boston and catch a game at Fenway. One of my prized possessions was a baseball autographed by Carl Yazstremski, Jim Rice, and Fred Lynn. (It's in storage now.) So 1986, the year the Sox made it to the championship, was pretty exciting for me.

I was twenty-one years old.

I was living with my parents, overloading on courses at college, working one full-time and one part-time job, and teaching myself how to use the computer at home. (Morons have to try harder.) I was especially interested in a database program called "dBase," and, casting about for something interesting from which to build my first database, I struck upon the idea of compiling all the Red Sox statistics I could.

Every night when I got home from school I loaded the box scores from the Boston Globe into my little database, which very quickly became not so little. I tracked everything I could, from batting averages and ERAs to weather, time of day, and attendance figures. I could ask my database how often Wade Boggs hit for extra bases off a left-handed pitcher in the seventh inning on evenings when it was under sixty degrees out and there were less than 45 thousand people in the stadium.

Naturally, paying that much attention to something tends to make it seem more important to you than it otherwise might. I'd always supported the Sox, but 1986 seemed special to me—hell, it was special to me, the way being twenty-one is special to anyone.

I had the highest hopes for that World Series because my own statistical analysis had proved conclusively that the Sox should win.

I was dating a girl from Haverhill and drove straight up from work to watch the game with her. The Sox were leading the series 3-2, and as that timeless Game 6 drew near its conclusion, with the Sox up 5-3 in the 10th inning, we could hardly even speak.

Bottom of the tenth. Two outs. Gary Carter of the Mets steps up to the plate. . . strike one. . . strike two. . .

A pitch away from closure. . .

The Sox were gonna win the Series. First time since 1918. Take that, New York! Take that, everyone! Okay, the Pats had been blown out by the Bears in that year's Super Bowl, but here was our vengeance—delivered, deliciously, from a cool October evening in Queens. At last we were delivered! At last we were the champions!

The production credits started scrolling up the screen. Cars all over Massachusetts—even in that remote outpost of civilization known as Haverhill—were honking wildly. People opening their windows and howling their joy to the world. The television showed dejected Mets fans filing morosley out of Shea. For all intents and purposes, it was a done deal.

Alas for intents and purposes.

Carter swings and hits. A routine grounder dribbles down the first-base line, straight toward the first baseman. . .

Here's a joke that made the rounds in Boston just a day or two after the Series finally ended:

"Did you heah Bill Buckna got run ovah by a bus?" you'd be asked.

"No!" you'd exclaim, trying to hide your satisfaction.

"Yeah," came the answer, "but he's awright. Went through his legs."

I deleted my database when I got home and haven't followed baseball since.

* * *

Yeah, okay, I got sucked in briefly a few years ago when the Sox got to play the Yanks in the pennant. I wore a Red Sox shirt to a bar in Queens on the worst of all possible nights: I watched in horror as Fenway fans began hurling debris at the Yankees on the field in Boston. The vibe in the bar turned a little sour, and I hadn't thought ahead to bring a change of shirts.

"Ah, well," I consoled myself on the run home, "baseball's just not meant to be for me."

Then 9/11 happened and, living in New York, I decided to show my solidarity with my adopted city (which I was actually born in) by sucking it up and becoming a Yankee fan. I failed. I held onto my Sox loyalty and watched in anguish as my girlfriend—now my wife—embraced the pinstriped bastards completely.

And here we go again. Here come the Yankees and the cool October nights and the brilliant green of Fenway Park shining up at the night while millions of invincibly optimistic souls cling to the improbable, irrational, and ultimately self-destructive hope that this time, yes, maybe, this time, perhaps, if only. . .

But we dare not utter the thought.

We barely dare to think it.

Go Sox! Go, go, go, go!

Extra Reading

Here's the conventional wisdom on the woes of being a Red Sox fan ("Anticipating Failure, Red Sox Fans Turn Suffering into an Art Form," NYT registration required). The article's New York bias shines clear through, however, and the author never even mentions the Cubs. "Sawx" fans may have turned suffering into an art form, but Cub fans are the Rembrandts of the genre.

* * *

Today is the birthday of Matt Damon (1970), Sigourney Weaver (1949), Chevy Chase (1943), Jesse Jackson (1941), and Juan Peron (1895).

It's Navy Day in Peru.

Happy Hump Day!

2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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