Monday, October 29, 2007

Thank You, Red Sox.

Remember how Christmas used to feel when you were a kid?? That's EXACTLY how I feel right now.

The past few months and weeks have been like a dream come true for me. As some of you may know, I was asked in mid-summer to direct Barksdale theatre's 2007 season-opening production of 'The Member of the Wedding,' which allowed me to work with some of the finest theatre artists I have ever known. I learned a lot about team-building, ensemble work, sacrifice, unity, and dedication as I watched every designer, props person, stage manager, actor, light board op, and set builder do what they do best. The result was something wonderful: A beautiful flash of brilliant light across the stage. A joyous expression of the poetry of living came to life, thanks to the enormous talents people of wildly varying ages and backgrounds. The entire effort was a labor of love. The show was received very well by the critics, and the houses were consistently full. Yesterday was the closing matinee, and it was an emotional 'goodbye for now' for the cast and crew. I am so proud of their work. They'll never know just how much they mean to me.

Then, last night, my beloved Boston Red Sox won their second World Series title in four years, sweeping the Colorado Rockies four games to none. I was--and am-- still absolutely stunned.

I have been a Red Sox fan for as far back as I can remember, and the 2004 World Championship ranks among the top five things that have ever happened to me in my lifetime, right up there with getting married, graduating from college, and getting my first professional job. A second championship in four years is absolutely unimaginable to me. I am so happy that I think I'm going to burst. Now, to some, that may sound, shall we say, 'a tad excessive'-- I assure you, it is not.

You see, I come from a little town in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts called Pittsfield, nestled in a baseball-obsessed New England region of loyal Red Sox fans. Pittsfield actually boasts the earliest historical reference to the game of baseball in North America, dating back to 1791, almost a full seventy years before it was supposedly 'invented' by Abner Doubleday in New York (Sorry again, Yankee fans.) The official slogan for the Pittsfield baseball connection is "It All Started Here." There are actual 'vintage teams', like the Pittsfield Hillies, who play by '1880's rules' at Waconah Park in Pittsfield. So, basically, We're a little nuts about the game. And we're even nuttier about our Red Sox, who play their home games about two hours' drive east at historic Fenway Park in Boston.

When I was a kid, I moved around a lot, but the Red Sox were my tether to my roots, my lifeline to my family and my sense of who I am and where I'm from. It was my connection to my Grandfather, my Father, my Uncles, and cousins. I'm a New Englander. I take enormous pride in making that declaration, and anyone who knows me can tell you that. As a child moving and changing schools, I followed the Sox in the Scranton, PA news papers and ate up the box scores like so many Alpha Bits. I wore a Sox hat in my first professional play, by choice. I went to my first game at Fenway in April of 1984, appeared in a NESN TV Commercial for the Sox in August of 1988 (the footage of 13 year-old me was also featured on 'This Week in Baseball'), and I share a birthday
(aug 30th) with Ted Williams, perhaps the greatest Red Sox player of all-time. His daughter, Claudia, was my classmate in elementary school. I can recite the team's history backwards and forwards. I remember little moments and random stats from seasons long past (Example: Did you know that in 1988, the Sox were 4-0 whenever an animal appeared on the field? Well, now you do. Stuff like that.) I have had three favorite players in my lifetime: Dwight Evans, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez. (and now I'm finding that it's a tie between Dustin Pedroia and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Jacoby Ellsbury is just... Phenomenal. The second coming of Fred Lynn??? Wait-- I digress.)

Anyway, growing up, I 'suffered' through many a torturous season with the star-crossed Sox...(I use "quotation fingers" to denote the fact that sports "Suffering" doesn't really count as real suffering, especially not in a world where madmen kill children for money and the needy and sick often starve in order to satiate someone's lust for power-- to be clear, it's just a term)...Basically I endured the grim heartache of facing the all-too-real prospect of living my entire life without seeing the Sox win the World Series. (My Grandfather passed in 2001 without ever seeing them do it) All the while, watching expansion teams from places like Arizona and Florida, places devoid of our hardball heritage, win it all. Arizona? Florida? Please. I'm sure the people there are very nice, but it is very different when one talks about baseball fandom. Not exactly diehard fans, those Marlin & D-Back folk. The "Fans" in those cities enjoyed winning WS Titles, waved their towels and banged their thunderstix or whatever they were given as they entered the ballpark, and supported their teams for awhile-- before getting bored with mediocrity again and casting the same team aside when the Ice capades came to town.

It ain't exactly the same up north.

For me as a fan, it supremely sucked having to watch that kind of bandwagon-eering... But the absolute worst was watching the Yankees rake in four WS Trophies from 1996 to 2000 while the SS Red Sox continued to take on water year after year without management ever adequately addressing the leak. The Yanks drank champagne and ate caviar while the Sox watched hungrily from behind the glass. They took our players in the off season. And then they won titles with them. Wade Boggs. Roger Clemens. THAT hurts.

Now that I think about it, I take it back. That IS real suffering.

Anyway, the really weird part of all of this is that it wasn't always so. The Sox used to be the best team in baseball, hands down. After winning six out of the first 15 World Series from 1903-1918, the idiotic Red Sox owner, Harry Frazee, subsequently sold Babe Ruth to the NY Yankees for $125,000 (to finance a musical!! AAAHH!!) and the Sox--how shall I put this--Never quite recovered. They were ever-so-close to winning it all again in '46, '48, '67, '72,'75, '78, '86, '88,'90, '95, '99, and '03, but they never could quite get the job done. Always a miscue of some sort-- often a defensive lapse, an ill-advised pitch, a temper-tantrum, a managerial miscue, or a combination of all of them kept the Sox out of the winners' circle. They somehow always found a way to beat themselves, while the Yankees sat on a pile of WS Trophies-- totaling 26 in all.

It was hard. It was hard just being a fan!! Living in NYC after college, I was like the whipping boy on my way to work each day, passing construction sites and enduring jeers or sitting across from smug Wall Street guys who laughed at me when they saw the bright red 'B' on my hat. I'd sit in Yankee stadium fearing for my life as the Yankees killed my team, and then I'd get threatened or harassed all the way home on the subway. What also sucked was that often times the Red Sox and their ownership weren't particularly likeable. The front office acted as though the fans should kiss their feet while surly Sox players played like robots and collected their paychecks without ever cracking a smile. I was like "Why do I follow this freaking team?? They hate me!! AND they'll never win it all!! Why am I doing this to myself??" The negativity surrounding the franchise built up on sports talk radio, in bars and farmers' markets all over New England.

The media didn't help, either.

Some opportunistic douchebag Boston sportswriters (who shall remain nameless, and yes, the term 'douchebag' is a charitble axiom in this instance) in recent years had taken to attributing superstitious causes for the Red Sox' baseball futility, and cashed in heavily on the Sox' misery. It was as if these 'media elements' were openly rooting for the Red Sox to lose!! What an outrage!! In the aftermath of the 2003 collapse, another rage-inducing Yankee Homerun into the Bronx October air, the media and fans were at wits' end.

The endless refrain was replayed over and over: "The Red Sox are Cursed."

There seemed to be no relief.

Then, something amazing happened.

The flimsy spook-driven anti-sox marketing empire came crashing down in 2004 when, with their backs to the absolute WALL, a plucky, quirky, hairy, lovable Boston Red Sox team rose up, defiantly fought back, and finally beat the New York Yankees in what would go down as the single greatest comeback in the all-time history of sports. The Sox went on to beat the St Louis Cardinals, and won their first World Championship since 1918.

Earth-Shatteringly AWESOME.

That was one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me-- And just about every Sox fan will say the same. In a span of three weeks in october of 2004, 86 years of heartbreak, negativity and panic, all the hand-wringing and collective doom and gloom was washed away, replaced by smiles and cheers. All of the hurt and frustration of generations of Sox fans down through time was transformed into a brilliant spark of Joy. Evidently, that energy created in 2004 has grown into something much more fulfilling.

The seed planted by that 2004 squad has blossomed into something amazing. It has borne more fruit, and manifested itself as beautifully played, artistic baseball.

I loved watching every moment of the 2007 Sox. I loved the players and their struggles to master this indescribably difficult and humbling game. I loved charting Dice-K's growth as he struggled to prove himself on the mound in the States. I loved witnessing Papelbon's exuberance; Pedroia's swagger; Manny's quirkiness and excellence; Beckett's competitiveness; Schilling's Faith; Papi's Perseverance; Timlin's Tenacity; Wakefield's Selflessness; Lugo's quiet determination; Drew's TIMING!!; Youkilis' Reliability; Lester's journey; Varitek's Leadership; Ellsbury's speed and talent; Crisp's Grace; The Bullpen's Rhythm; Okajima's Dominance; Lowell's Intelligence; Gagne's absence (Kidding!!); Wally's big fuzzy green head; The Guy who threw the Pizza; The Mother's Day Comeback; The Papelbon Riverdance; Bucholz' No-Hitter; Papi's Walkoff; Back-to-back-to-back-to-back Homers against the Yankees; Danny The Anti-Bartman; Manny's ALDS Blast & 'Hamburger Helper Hands'; Schill's One-hit wonder; THE O'S BEAT THE YANKEES!!; Remy's Balletic Post Air-guitar sense of Balance; Tito's Confidence; The ALCS Comeback; Theo & The Trio's vision; and The PASSION of Red Sox Nation.

I learned a lot about team-building, ensemble work, sacrifice, unity, and dedication as I watched every Shortstop, Catcher, Outfielder, Manager, GM, Coach, Scout, Pitcher and Hitter do what they do best. Last night, The Boston Red Sox won the World Series. AGAIN. a joyous expression of the poetry of living came to life this october, thanks to the enormous talents people of wildly varying ages and backgrounds. The entire effort was a labor of love.

I'll say it again. I love the Red Sox.

Thanks, Fellas. Take a bow. You deserve it.