Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Afterglow

It's been a week now since the Sox finished the most amazing eight-game winning streak in post-season history, and here are my thoughts as I continue to relish one of the most satisfying events of my life.

*Although I was sitting alone in a hotel room in Texas, between email and cell phone I was celebrating all night long. Most touching was an email from a college friend who Googled an email address of mine and let me know he remembered what a Sox fan I'd been 20 years ago. That was great!

*I loved hearing so many Sox fans recalling parents and grandparents who made them Red Sox fans and who never got to see their team win the Series. I certainly was thinking of my Dziadziu, John Solak, who, along with my dad, took me to Fenway Park for the first time in 1971. I was eight. I had never seen grass so green in my life. I got a yearbook for a dollar; I still have it. Dziadziu had season tickets for a while in the '40s, and often took my mom when she was a kid. He also had a team-autographed baseball that sat in his garage in Florida until he died. When my mom gave it to me I looked up the players' names in the Baseball Encylclopedia to see which year they were all teammates. The only year that fit was 1946, the lone Sox AL champion team between 1918 and 1967. Ted Williams' autograph is the clearest one on the ball. Thanks for making me a fan, Dziadziu.

*I was in the Charlotte airport Friday night on my way home from Texas. There was a Lids hat shop near my gate. Stacked in the front was a pile of Sox caps. There was another large display inside. A young guy was trying on different Sox caps: red, camo, '70s-vintage tri-colored. Then it hit me: the Sox are winners now. People outside the Nation will want to identify themselves with the Sox now. Casual fans will look at my team differently now: the team that felled the mighty Yankees in historic style, the team that swept the Series. My team, the winners. Amazing.

*I am not a curse believer. In fact, I'd blame the Sox's lengthy era of futility on poor management, one part of which was racist. The Sox were the last team in baseball to integrate, waiting 11 long years after Jackie Robinson to bring in Pumpsie Green in 1958. Pumpsie was no Jackie; he was also no Willie Mays, who worked out for the Sox but didn't get an offer. How different the franchise's story might have been if Say Hey had patrolled Fenway's center field for a couple of decades. The Sox also overpaid for guys whose best days were behind them: Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, even Dante Bichette come to mind. They traded Sparky Lyle and Jeff Bagwell for almost nothing. These are just the first guys who come to mind, but these are more tangible reasons than a silly curse.

*Since I see no curse to lift, then credit for the Sox's triumph has to be for reasons of sound management. They have owners who were willing to spend--despite the underdog nature of their defeat of the Yanks and their sweep of the Cards, the Sox did have the second-largest payroll in baseball. They have a bright young GM in Theo Epstein, who could probably get elected governor of Massachusetts today. He relied both on traditionally-trained "baseball guys" and newer-style analysts like Bill James to create a roster that both produced tons of runs and pitched a devestating stretch of games in the playoffs.

*But the ultimate joy of celebrating this season comes from watching this great group of guys play so well and like each other so much. I cannot imagine A-Rod being part of this team; in fact, for all his individual brilliance he has not been much of a teammate anywhere he's played. Nomar sulked his way out of town; the Sox took off once they knew they had a guy who could pick it at short every day. On the other hand, guys like Pedro and D Lowe did not mope when they didn't get the deals they wanted. And how about Manny, who was put on waivers--offered for free--last winter, who thought he was going to Texas for A-Rod, but who turned around and had an MVP-style season, and then won the Series MVP. The Series MVP could have been any of several guys--they won because everybody chipped in. Schilling's amazing two starts on a bleeding ankle was astounding, but it may overshadow the deep desire to win all his teammates shared. That kind of integrity, will, and character have made these guys champions today and will make them legends as the years pass. Thank you, 2004 Boston Red Sox, for helping me, just another member of the Red Sox Nation, realize a dream come true.