A bunch of crazy-looking bearded freaks have just won the World Series. YEAH!!!!
They’re our beloved 2013 Boston Red Sox, led by the massively good-humored Dominican slugger David “Big Papi” Ortiz and a Japanese relief pitcher half his size.
All season they’ve played like a cross between Biblical zealots on fire for their craft and crazed hippies out dancing around the campfire—just like it should be when grown men devote themselves to a kid’s game.
They pull each others’ beards, laugh, high five, yell and hit. And they have just now blown organized baseball, with all its slick hype and moneyball millions, back to where it belongs.
So too the Hub, city of my birth.
This spring it was shattered by a senseless bombing at our gorgeous Marathon. For more than a century the town faithful have packed streets once run by the Sons of Liberty, now by Marathon runners from everywhere, conquering Heartbreak Hill to bask in the glories of a hard-win finish and a tank of Sam Adams.
It was hellish to have all that so insanely assaulted. It’s a hurt that will never entirely go away.
But in 2001, after the Word Trade Centers went down, the New York Yankees won the World Series. For the first (and only) time many of us actually rooted for the Bronx Bombers.
After Katrina and official negligence horribly hammered New Orleans, the Saints won their first and only Superbowl.
Now the Red Sox have come to salve us. This was the last major league team to bring a black man onto its roster. It hasn’t won a World Series at home since 1918, when the Babe was still a babe.
But it’s also been a club with sense enough to not tear down Fenway Park, the Sistine Chapel of baseball.
Last year they hired an uptight, unworthy coach and finished last. This year they dumped him and some overpaid superstars and put together an actual TEAM. A bunch of very talented guys who love baseball and each other. They proved beyond a 5 o’clock shadow that intangibles DO matter, that no matter how much blood money is sloshing around the world of sport, it’s still a game.
And that those who are loose enough to PLAY it and hug each other while doing so can win it all.
For decades Boston hosted the opposite. They were led by my childhood hero, Ted Williams, maybe the greatest of all natural hitters.
Now he seems a sour, tortured soul. The Sox always had great talent around him, but never won it all. In Fenway with my grampa, we saw him hit a beautiful low, looping line drive home run to right, then spit at a fan in left who was heckling him. What was it like in that clubhouse?
John Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” immortalized Ted’s last game. In a prose poem that revolutionized sports writing, we are in a Fenway frenzy on September 28, 1960, as Williams comes to the plate for his final at bat. Right out of the story books, he clobbers a homer to the deepest part of center field. The whole city goes crazy, weeping, cheering, stomping, bowing to one of baseball’s greatest statistical careers.
But Ted Williams could not bring himself to come out of the dugout to tip his hat or hold his heart. For ten, fifteen, twenty minutes they cheered. And he sat there, until silence once again reigned.
All that’s behind us now. “This is our fucking city,” Big Papi yelled at the Fenway memorial for the Marathon’s dead.
The season that’s unfolded has been a joy to behold. There were no bad guys. The Dodgers, Pirates, Tigers, Cards….they were all fine teams of decent spirit.
But they didn’t shave their heads, then pull at each other’s facial hairs when they hit home runs. They didn’t have Koji Uehara who can’t speak English, or Big Papi who seems to invent his own. They didn’t prove once again that the “intangibles” like fun, camaraderie, goofiness and loving the game can win championships.
That baseball is, after all, a beautiful ballet, meant to be embraced for its own sake.
For a city still healing, and for so many of us daily buried in places like Fukushima and global warming, long hours and the legal tender, it has been a wonderful confirmation.
Thanks, guys. Thank you thank you thank you.