For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘Red Sox

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris, Little, Brown and Company, 2014, 337 pp.

downloadI kept hearing Joshua Ferris on the radio on NPR in recent weeks, but always interrupted—I’d catch an appreciative glimpse from the host or quip from the author, along with the book title. When the title appeared on the “new books” shelf in my local library, it seemed a small miracle. In our small town, I often have to wait a long time for the newest NPR-promoted titles. I grabbed it up, excited to be the first one to take it home to read.

And then I started reading it, and discovered I really didn’t like it. Meeting the narrator, Paul O’Rourke, was like going on a blind date with a guy you met online, only to discover that instead of sensitive and interesting, he’s just a self-centered nerd consumed with his own loneliness, lust, and baseball. He is unable to connect, especially with women, and lacks empathy, which made it impossible for me to empathize with him. At the end of my first date with the book, which lasted for 50 pages or so, I didn’t really want to see Paul O’Rourke ever again.

Yet all that NPR press made me keep going. I realized it was outside my typical style, so I persisted in the hopes that I would be won over. In the end, I can’t say that I liked the book or enjoyed reading it, but I am glad I did bother to finish it. It had its moments, and by the end I found some sympathy for Paul O’Rourke, likely because by the end of the book he became a more sympathetic character.

Paul O’Rourke is a dentist in New York City with an elite clientele, an obsession with the Red Sox, and a terribly needy and disastrous history with social and romantic relationships. His life carries on from day to day, back and forth between his dental practice and his nightly Red Sox rituals, and the narrative we hear of this life is petulant and awkward. The plot of the book begins when someone anonymously creates a website for his dental practice, followed by a strident social media presence. The anonymous “other Paul” begins a prolific public campaign of speech for him, including allusions to a strange new/ancient religious and ethnic sect. At first, O’Rourke is obsessed and angry, but he eventually becomes intrigued and even enamored of the other Paul’s ideas. The experience sends him on a quest for a deeper engagement in life, breaking him free from his strangled approach to relationships and opening him to new possibilities. It is a hopeful story.

I think it was the passages about the experience of being a Red Sox fan that kept me going and made me want to read more. The author captures my own relationship with the Red Sox, before and after 2004.

The single happiest night of my life came in October of 2004 when Mueller forced extra innings with a single to center field and, more spectacularly, David Ortiz homered in the bottom of the twelfth, halting a Yankees’ sweep of the American League Championship and initiating literally the most staggering comeback in sports history, culminating in a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals to take the World Series. It was the validation of all those years of suffering, the cause of an unexpected euphoria, and a total cataclysm. Sometime in 2005 … the unlikely fact that the Red Sox had won finally sank in, and a malaise crept over me. I wasn’t prepared for the changes that accompanied the win—for instance, the sudden influx of new fans, none of them forged, as it were, in the fires of the team’s eighty-six-year losing streak. … I worried that we would forget the memory of loss across innumerable barren years and think no more of the scrappy self-preservation that was our defining characteristic in the face of humiliation in the face of defeat. (147)

He carries on there about becoming the team we’ve always hated, poaching players and buying victory, all the same feelings I’ve had since the Red Sox changed from being perpetual heartbreakers to repeat champions. Winning is great, but it changes what it means to follow my team. Later in the book, he reflects on the end of the 2011 season:

How happy I was that the Red Sox were acting once again like the Red Sox: a cursed and collapsing people. I didn’t want my team to lose; I just didn’t want my team to be the de facto winner. … It was our duty, as Red Sox fans, to root for Boston than it was to ensure in some deeply moral way—I really mean it when I say it was a moral act, a principled act of human decency—that we not resemble the New York Yankees in any respect. (324)

Oh, how refreshing to read someone who gets me about being a Red Sox fan.

So, the book had its moments. Excellent commentary on Red Sox fandom, interesting reflections on postmodern religion and the role of doubt, along with the problems of identity in our social media constructed culture. I may not have enjoyed it, but I finished it—and didn’t regret the time spent.

 

 

 

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Fenway Fever by John H. Ritter, Philomel Books, 2012, 230 pp.

A church member who is a local school librarian, well acquainted with my passion for the Red Sox, told me I simply had to read this book. She even got it reserved for me at the local library before it went into circulation. She was right—this book was a charmer.

Fenway Fever tells the story of Alfredo (“Freddy” or “Stats”) Pagano, a young boy with a sick heart and a passion for baseball. His father runs a hot dog stand in Fenway Park, where Freddy and his brother Mark help out. The Paganos also own season tickets that have been in the family for two generations, but their father has not attended a game since his wife and the boys’ mother died a few years earlier. Through the hot dog stand, Stats (so known because he keeps score and runs numbers, since his weak heart keeps him from playing ball) has befriended Billee “Spacebird” Orbitt, a sophomore star pitcher with a reputation for being eccentric.

When the Red Sox begin to suffer from a disproportionate number of BLRs (bad luck runs, caused by flukes), Billee and Stats believe the curse has returned. With a combination of youthful earnestness, crazy-but-true belief in spiritual forces, and a magical midnight escapade into Fenway Park, Billee and Stats work to put Fenway back in balance and stop the slide into more disastrous games and seasons.

The story is charming whether or not you are a member of Red Sox Nation, although the references to famous Sox moments and miracles will give special joy to those who know them. Billee Orbitt is an updated, imaginative version of Bill “Spaceman” Lee. Stats Pagano and his family make you want to like them, and for everything to turn out alright—not just for the Sox, but for them. The ending made me smile through tears. What a delight!

I’m going to get it for Christmas for the biggest Red Sox fan in my life, my dad (who doesn’t read the blog, so I’m not revealing secrets here). You should too. You’ll find it in the Young Adults section.

Tuesday night, ESPN is airing a 30 for 30 episode called Four Days in October, about the 2004 American League Championship Series between my beloved Boston Red Sox and the Evil Empire of the New York Yankees. I lived in Boston at the time, and my memories of those four days are so vivid that they still brings tears to my eyes and a smile to my face, simultaneously. This is my personal recollection of that amazing series.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

 

Walter Brueggemann

 

I was debating what to do with my evening. Should I stay home and watch the game, or head out to see one of my favorite biblical scholars, Walter Brueggemann, in person for the first time? The Sox were down by three games, and no team had ever gone on to win the series from a 0-3 deficit. So far in the series, the Yankees had been embarrassing them every night.

I consulted with another baseball and Brueggemann fan, my friend P. We decided to go to the lecture rather than risk staying home for another demoralizing defeat. We took turns going out to the car for updates on the score, and shook our heads with resignation. Overhearing us talking about the game at the end of the evening, Dr. Brueggemann (an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan) approached us to talk baseball. This eminent scholar proceeded to smile and ask, “Did you know the Red Sox are in the Bible?” He then pointed us to Jeremiah 8:20: “The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.” P. and I agreed this was funny, but it felt cruel on such a devastating night. We parted from Brueggemann and from each other with the game on our car radios, sadly waving goodbye to each other and to the season. “Maybe next year,” we said.

 

Dave Roberts steals second base in the bottom of the 9th inning, Game 4

 

I got home just in time to see Dave Roberts steal second base.  I honestly didn’t believe it. I saw it happen, I saw them tie it up in the bottom of the 9th to keep the season alive, but I didn’t really believe it. I stayed awake anyway, just waiting for the end to come. Big Papi’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th gave us something to celebrate, and it gave us our dignity back. At least we didn’t let the Yankees sweep us. It did not yet give me hope for a comeback sweep and the breaking of the curse.

Monday, October 18, 2004

 

The Green Briar, Brighton, MA

 

P. and I made plans to meet at the Green Briar, an Irish pub in Brighton Center that held a traditional Seisún every Monday night. We always enjoyed the music, and planned to drink our Red Sox sorrows away at the bar. It was crowded, and people were expecting the game to end so they could watch Monday Night Football. But the game just wouldn’t end. With every batter at the plate past the ninth inning, the tension grew. P and I got up to walk around every inning or so, just to break the tension and calm our beating hearts. Thank goodness for the music. The Seisun was in a separate room, and we would go there to listen for a few minutes just to try to keep from having a panic attack. There was a TV in the Seisun room too, though—and every one of the 20-30 musicians had an eye on the screen, even as they played on and on with one Irish favorite after another. My most vivid memory of that evening was standing the back of the room, watching every eye on the Sox game on TV, hearing them call out tune after tune and playing without ever missing a beat or a pitch.

 

Seisun at the Green Briar. Just imagine the game on the TV.

 

It was tense, and intense, and it felt like that game would never end. When Big Papi came through again in the bottom of the 14th, the bar went mad–and the musicians broke into a wildly gleeful jig. Everyone got up and danced together, like a scene out of a movie. P and I both cried tears of joy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Reality starts to set in. We had forced a Game 6, which had only happened twice before in all of baseball history, but no team had ever emerged a victor to force Game 7. The team had to travel back to Yankee Stadium, and say goodbye to the charm and magic of Fenway. The journey ahead looked arduous, but we still felt faithful and hopeful.

Curt Schilling stepped onto the mound despite his recent surgery to repair (again) a torn tendon in his ankle. We believed this to be an act of great courage and leadership. As fans, we were exhausted from the previous two late nights of tension. We couldn’t imagine the exhaustion felt by the team itself. Game 6 only added to the pressure.  When the sutures began to open and we saw the now-famous bloody sock, we sucked in our breath and stood amazed at his endurance and sacrifice.  On that night, we knew for certain that they wanted to win as badly as we did, and they were willing to give everything they had to do it. And we loved them for it.

 

The Bloody Sock

 

The Yankees tried to make a comeback in the last innings. We foresaw our defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory, but they did not prevail. We lived another day, bleeding, exhausted, teary-eyed, bleary-eyed, and hopeful.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The game started late that night, which gave us all a long time to think about everything. Too much time to think. Tried and true Red Sox fans remained hopeful, but reserved. It had been 86 years since the last World Series victory. My grandfather was born in 1918, and died in 2003. He lived 85 years as a Red Sox fan, without ever seeing his team win the championship. To be a Red Sox fan is to know heartbreak, to get your hopes high only to have them dashed at the last minute. Bret Boone in 2003, Bill Buckner in 1986, Bucky Dent in 1978—and those are just the ones in my lifetime.  This is our history. “It would be just like the Sox,” I said to P., “to make this miraculous run only to break our hearts in spectacular fashion tonight.”

But in the end, the game was uneventful. Other than the unusual relief pitching of Pedro Martinez, there was nothing remarkable about the game, just great hitting by Ortiz, Damon and Bellhorn. When the Yankees scored two runs in the 7th, we thought that might be the beginning of the end, but the Sox came right back. The Sox blew out the Yankees 10-3, and it only took them nine innings to do it. It was nothing extraordinary, except that it propelled Boston to its first World Series since 1986, and eventually on to victory.

 

Celebrating the Victory after Game 7

 

Unlike the previous three games, although the tension was still there, it was diminished. While the celebration on the field and in the bar was still ecstatic, there was also stunned disbelief. We kept looking around at each other, silently asking, “Did this really happen? Did we really just come back from three games back to beat the Yankees? Are we really in the World Series? Do you think this might be the year? Can we break the curse?” I suspect many fans did what I did—awoke the next morning to check the paper, turn on the TV or radio, to make sure the whole thing wasn’t just a dream.

But it wasn’t just a dream. It was a dream come true. Those 2004 Red Sox went on to win the World Series in a four-game sweep of Dr. Brueggemann’s St. Louis Cardinals. At long last, the curse was broken and we were saved. The World Series was great, the games enjoyable, the celebrations abundant—but I don’t remember much about the details. It’s those four days in October that I’ll remember most—the stolen base, the walk-off home run, the 14 innings of tension and Irish music, the bloody sock. If I live 86 more years, I doubt I’ll live to see another sporting event like it. I still can’t help smiling and crying tears of joy every time I think about it.

Thanks for taking us back, Nomar. Red Sox Nation never stopped loving you. We mourned when you got traded. We wanted you to get a World Series ring. We followed your career, injury after injury, and wished life was different. Yet in the end, in spite of being let go and left out by the owners and GM, you still love us, and love the Red Sox life and lore as much as we do. And today, I’m sure I’m not the only one who cried tears of joy to see you come home, to stay.

I wish I was following the lectionary in my preaching this week, because the Gospel story is about the prodigal son. I think there’s something in the Nomar story that connects somehow. He’s the father, not the son—the one whose love persists in spite of rejection, scorn and abuse; in spite of seeing his fortunes lost and his prosperity ended; in spite of harsh judgment by youth who acted as though his hard work and contributions no longer mattered. Yet still he loves, practices grace and forgiveness for past hurts, and yearns for reconciliation and to be a part of the family again.

Ok, it’s not a perfect allegory, but there’s still something there. And #5 is back in the family, reunited with us, so we can all enjoy the party.

We love you, No-mah Gah-cia-pah. You belong in Boston, in a Red Sox uniform, at Fenway Park.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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