Monday, October 27, 2014

Recounting the greatest sports moment of my lifetime: The 2004 Boston Red Sox

I could start this story as a nine-year-old boy staying up way past his bedtime on October 25, 1986.  I remember my much wiser mother asking "Do you think they're really going to do it?"  And me, a not yet embittered child saying "Of course they are!"

Fast forward 16 years and 356 days and the 26-year-old version of me in 2003 had a much better understanding of her skepticism.  But still, with a 5-2 lead and Pedro on the hill in the 8th inning of ALCS Game 7, my best friend and I discussed going to Miami for the World Series (the Marlins had already won the National League).

As we sat in the Newes Pub in Martha's Vineyard, we talked about how Series tickets at Fenway would be impossible to get, and wondered if it might be cheaper to go to a game in Florida, even with the plane tickets.

We'd been working as bartenders all summer long and now the tourist season was over.  Both of us had time to kill and money to burn--we absolutely would have gone.

Jump ahead exactly one year to the day later, and I was slumped down on a bench outside of the Edgartown bar I worked in.  The Yankees had just taken a 13-6 lead in the 5th inning of ALCS Game 3, and they were about to go up 3-0 in the series.  A friend of mine came outside to comfort me, and I recall saying something to her along the lines of:

"This is so unfair, how can it happen again?  You're not going to believe me, but I would have paid $10,000 to see the Red Sox win this series."  It was all the money I'd saved over the past few summers, and I meant it.

I played poker with some coworkers the rest of the night, and didn't even watch the end of the game.

I decided not to watch Game 4 either.  I wasn't working, and I had no interest in going out.  I didn't want to have to see anybody.  When things don't go well for my sports fandom I hate talking about it, and this was the epitome of that situation.  I just stayed home and watched TV.  On occasion I flipped over and checked the score, but that was all.

However, when the 9th inning came around I decided I had to see it.  This was what being a Sox fan was about, and I would be doing myself a disservice not to watch.

But then the world changed.

As soon as Millar drew that walk I thought "Roberts is coming in.  He's going to steal.  This isn't over yet."  When he slid in safely to second I jumped off the couch and screamed at the television, probably louder than I ever have before.  "YEEEAAAHHH!!!"  A half hour later it was a series again.

The next night a group of us went to Seasons Pub in Oak Bluffs at 5 pm.  Six hours and many, many Shipyard Pumpkin Ales later, this happened:

Clearly we had to go back to Seasons a day later for Game 6.  And while it goes down in history as the "Schilling bloody sock game," the A-Rod play at first base is what stands out in my memory.

My first reaction was to literally fall out of my barstool and crumple up in a ball on the floor.  Seriously.  I'm pretty sure it's the only time in my life I've ever done that.  After everything that had happened so far, how could they lose like this?  But then I saw the umpires gather together, Fox showed the slow motion replay, and I thought "It's OK.  They're going to get this right."

The umps had already reversed one call to correctly rule on a Mark Bellhorn home run earlier; which was incredible because I couldn't remember ever seeing that in baseball before, and now it was happening twice in one game.  But it took them FOREVER to come to the right conclusion (or at least it felt like it).  Those 90 seconds were agonizing.

Obviously we were back at Seasons for a third day in a row for Game 7 (a Game 3 rainout eliminated a scheduled off day earlier).

When Damon hit that second-inning grand slam to make it 6-0, I turned and said to whoever was sitting next to me "Holy $&*%.  This is really going to happen."  The rest of the evening is a blur, but amidst joyous hugs and tears after the final out one of my friends (who was from Michigan and had only adopted the Sox while living on the Vineyard that summer) asked me "How cool a moment is this for you?"  I replied. "Honestly, it's the coolest thing that's ever happened in my lifetime."

When we finally decided to leave the bar that night I remember grabbing the bill for the whole group and telling everybody "I got this" (which was pretty much unheard of amongst generally broke 20-something restaurant workers).  I'd said I was willing to pay $10,000 to see the Red Sox win the series.  By comparison a $350 bar tab was totally worth it.

After that my memories of the World Series are vague.  I can't even recall where I watched Games 1, 2 and 3.  But in retrospect it was about as anti-climactic as a championship series can get.  The Red Sox actually led in every single inning of their four-game sweep of the Cardinals.  Really, there was just one tense moment (in Game 1):

Game 2 featured the second coming of Schilling's bloody sock, while Game 3 including a stellar performance by Pedro and a memorable base running blunder by Jeff Suppan (not to mention unexpected defense from Big Papi).

I left the Vineyard to head to Boston for Game 4.  Many of my closest friends were there, and I wanted to be in the city for the pandemonium.  We watched the game at a bar in Allston, and my most vivid memory is of the manager constantly telling us to stop standing up on our chairs.  But for an occasion like that, how can you not?

Afterwards on the drive back to my friends' apartment the only thing we heard for 20 minutes straight was the constant sound of honking car horns; it's maybe my least favorite noise on the planet, but in that moment it was beautiful.

I had to work on the Vineyard the next few nights, but I was back in Boston for the championship parade, the day before Halloween.  It was a Saturday, and bars across the city were packed at ridiculously early times that morning.  We stopped by The Point in Faneuil Hall and had cans of Sparks (an alcoholic orange-flavored Red Bull type thing) before hearing the deafening roar of the crowd as the duck boats approached Government Center.

And that's my story.

Ten years ago today the Red Sox won the World Series.  Sometimes I still can't believe it.

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