Tonight, my beloved Boston Red Sox will face the St. Louis Cardinals in game 1 of the 2013 World Series. After the debacle of last season, I hardly expected to see the Sox in the playoffs this year, let alone make it to the Series. But, this team has a unique combination of skill and perseverance and here we are ready for baseball’s biggest stage.
I have been a Sox fan since the early 1960’s and this will be the 6th time I have experienced a World Series. Each of those experiences stand out in my mind as memorable moments so it seems an appropriate time to look back at the 5 previous occasions and note the lessons I learned each time.
1967- This was the year of the Impossible Dream when the Red Sox who had finished in 9th place the year before and had never had a winning record for so many years surprised everyone by winning the American League Pennant. They lost in 7 games to the Cardinals but it was my first taste of sports joy. I remember the Series so well and especially remember the games that were played at Fenway during school days (games 1 and 6). We could hear the cheering from the Park at our school, less than a mile away. I learned that year the power that sports has to unite a city, to bring generations together, to lift spirits during what was otherwise a turbulent time in Boston as in the nation. That the Sox lost was sad but I remember thinking that it was only the first of many opportunities that I would have to cheer them in a World Series. Optimism is certainly important when you’re a 12 year old and the Sox bred in me that year a sense of hope for the future.
1975- The Red Sox had a great season, rolled through the playoffs against Oakland and went up against the mighty Cincinnati Reds in what was to become a classic series. After Carlton Fisk’s home run to win game 6 in the 12th inning. I and my cousin Dave were there to watch it from the next to the last row of the right field bleachers (and I have the ticket stub to prove it). We were all so optimistic for game 7. How could they lose? But, of course, they did, although the game was very close. I was still young enough and hopeful enough to assume there would be another chance but I felt more let down than in 67. So close, ahead in game 7 by three runs in the middle innings only to lose the game on a bloop hit in the 9th. But, the lesson that I remember from that series is the joy, the joy of Carlton Fisk jumping like a little kid when his line drive hit the foul pole for a home run. All of us in the stands jumped along with him and the lasting lesson from that night and that series was how we all have to and celebrate our successes with unbounded joy.
1986- I wish I had good things to say about the ’86 series. But, in many ways it is too painful to recall. Another 7 game loss, this time to the New York Mets. But, this was especially devestating. The disastrous loss in game 6 (lost long before Bill Buckner’s error in my opinion) and another blown lead in game 7 was almost too much to take. To me, it was so terribly sad because while I was only 31, I felt like time was beginning to slip away and that I couldn’t be as hopeful as I was in 1975 that I would see another chance for a world championship. And, of course, what I felt about myself, I felt even more strongly about my father who was 65 at the time. Dad and I talked on the phone during the 10th inning of game 6 as I wanted to celebrate with him when the Sox won. But, we hung up when the game started to slip away. The disappointment in his voice after the game is what I will remember most clearly. He said it didn’t matter that much in the long run, but I don’t think he really felt that way. I could hear his sadness. 1986 taught me about the pain of getting older and seeing the future differently than we do when we’re young.
2004- Finally, a World Series championship. The Red Sox beat the Cardinals in four straight after their incredible comeback against the Yankees. It was a great night. I celebrated quietly and with dignity (not really) and most importantly, was able to hug our then 11 year old son Avi after the last out and ride through Ann Arbor with him after the game waving our Red Sox flag out of the car. While it is not true that all things come to those who wait, this certainly did and it felt every bit as good as I thought it would be. I learned that the things we look for in our lives, the things we hope for, are worth waiting for and while the waiting might be the hardest part, it makes the things we hope for even more meaningful. The other lesson I learned from that series came during a trip to my father’s grave in Boston two months after the series. I brought a copy of the newspaper with the Story of the Sox’ win to put on his headstone and the cemetery, even two months later, was filled with Red Sox pennants, baseballs, caps and other souvenirs left on the graves by children, grandchildren, siblings and spouses who only wanted to share that moment with the ones who taught them to be Red Sox fans. I learned again the power of memory and this memory was bittersweet as so many memories are.
2007- When the Red Sox won the four game series against Colorado, I celebrated like I had done three years before but now I was an old veteran of such celebrations and could take it more in stride. But, I will never forget the comment made by Red Sox chairman Tom Werner. He said that 2004 was for our parents and grandparents who suffered through so many years. This one, he said, is for us and our children. What a lovely thought. First, you pay tribute to those who came before you and then you celebrate with a full heart for yourself and the future. And, when I heard that, I forgot for the moment that I was now the “elder” in the family. This one was for me.
And that brings us to 2013. I have no idea who will win but I do know that the Series will, as baseball always does, give us lessons to live by and reasons to celebrate who we are and where we have come from. And, most importantly, as happened when Shane Victorino hit his grand slam in the 7th inning that effectively ended the League Championship series, baseball will make me jump up and down and act like a hopeful kid again and that’s why I love it so much.
Update: Of course, the Sox went on to win that Series and brought enormous joy to a city which had been so saddened and so deeply affected by the Marathon bombing 6 months earlier. And, winning a championship at Fenway Park for the first time in 99 years made it that much more special. The celebration on the field during which David Ortiz repeated his famous line, this time censoring himself as he hadn’t in April: “This is our bleeping city” was unforgettable. Sports, particularly baseball, had brought a city, a region together.
So, as I wrote 5 years ago, I have no idea who will win but it is a privilege to watch the team I love in the Series for the 7th time in my lifetime. Can’t wait for it to start and to see what lessons are there to be learned.
Here’s to a great series!