Let Us Be Kings Together

From my graduate school thesis, It’ll Be Amazing Eventually, an essay about the 2004 Red Sox and watching sports with my Dad

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Right now, the Red Sox are tied with the Detroit Tigers at two games a piece in the American League Championship Series. Stories upon stories have been written about the team, their beards, the road to redemption they have been on since this season started and the mess of the 2012 campaign falls farther and farther off in the distance with each word written, with each game played.

How happy of ending this season has hinges on tonight’s game, Game Five. Of course things could change, but all signs point to tonight’s game being a must win for the Sox. Detroit’s pitching has been too good and the Sox offense has been too bad for this to go on much longer. The Sox need to win. Flat out.

But of course Sox fans know that nothing is over until it’s over. It’s one of the many lessons taken from 2004, the year the Red Sox won the World Series.

The 2004 season and the 2004 Red Sox live in this current Red Sox team. The spirit is there. The fight and the heart. Memories have been rekindled and the memories of the good times that happened in the fall of 2004 have started to run rampant through my brain. It’s a warm feeling. I like it.

Instead of writing about this team, I decided instead to dust off an essay from my grad school thesis, It’ll Be Amazing Eventually, an essay about the 2004 World Series and what it meant to me, in terms of watching sports with my dad.

I hope you like it.

Let Us Be Kings Together

Curt, Pedey & Papi

More often than not, Dad watches sports alone.

Sometimes Mom sits in the living room with him. Mom though, spends her time reading the paper (who’s getting married, who got arrested, who died) falling asleep in her chair (just napping,) or saying players’ names out loud (Red Sox or Patriots.)

Paaaydro.” (Pedro Martinez)

“Big Paaaapi.” (David Ortiz)

“Bledsooooo.” (Drew Bledsoe)

Sometimes Dad watches sports with Gram. But Gram only watches golf and occasionally baseball. Dad enjoys golf, just not as much as Gram does. Gram, being a healthy skip over 90 years old, gets unchallenged dibs when it comes to the television at my parents’ house. She’ll watch Red Sox games, but she refuses to watch football (too violent,) hockey (too fast,) and American Gladiators (too 80’s.) Gram liked basketball for a long time and she still will watch a game if I tell her it’s important or if she reads about in the paper. But as she got older, her attention shifted more to golf and rooting for Tiger Woods.

Gram really cares for Tiger.

When Tiger has a rough tournament, Gram will passionately list off why he is doing so poorly. When Tiger is really smoking, Gram will cheer and clap her hands every time he drives the ball or makes a big putt.

“He’s really got it today!” she’ll say, laughing as she rocks back in forth in my mom’s chair.

But other than those times (those are usually Sundays,) Dad watches sports alone. He doesn’t go out to bars or go down the street to the Parrott’s. Nope. Dad just watches sports at home.

***

In middle school, being friends with Brad Fries made me a Buffalo Bills fan. A big Bills fan, and I cheered fiercely for Thurman Thomas, Jim Kelly, and Andre Reed. During that time, the Bills made it to four straight Super Bowls, each one I watched intensely over at Brad’s house. His family was from Buffalo and they had a Bills’ flag hanging out front that only got taken down when the Bills’ season was over. Bills’ games were serious business. Lots of sitting on the edges of the couches and pacing back and forth, between the living room and the kitchen that was stocked with loads and loads of ambitious junk food that stared us all in the face when we entered the kitchen, wiping off the counter of imaginary crumbs and dust, and then walking back. It was serious business, and at the time, the most serious of all business I was involved with. More serious than Prep League baseball, deciding what kind of music I liked, and learning how to smoke pot out of crushed soda cans.

Yes, man.

That serious.

That serious until high school, when Brad and I went to different schools and lost contact. When football season came around now, I routed for the Patriots, anyone the Cowboys were playing, and only down deep in my heart, the Bills. This worked out well because in 1996, only two years after the last Bills’ Super Bowl, the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl. It was the underdog Pats versus Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers, who I liked up until the exact moment when it was announced that the Super Bowl was Patriots versus the Packers.

To hell with Brett Favre…for the time being.

I watched that Super Bowl with my Dad. My mom watched some and my sister was there. The Pats lost, which was not very surprising because they didn’t have a really good shot. But they made it interesting at one point until Drew Bledsooooo remembered who he was, a mediocre Quarterback with lead feet and a cannon of an arm, and started throwing the ball away.

Oh well. It was still fun.

It was.

The next two years, I watched sports mostly with my Dad, although I didn’t really passionately follow anyone. This was at the start of the Yankees’ dynasty of the late 1990’s and the void between the ’96 Pats and the 2001-02 Pats who won the Super Bowl behind Tom Brady and the bulging human spirit stirred up by the attacks of September 11th. The Patriots’ win over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams was a massive upset predicted by no one except die-hard Pats fans, homer New England sports writers, and Chris, a guy I was working with at Summit Moving, who felt very strongly that the “Pats were due.” The massive upset was only intensified by the last minute heroics of Brady, kicker Adam Vinatieri, and the rest of the Pats pulling together, getting introduced together, and being infectiously lovable. The win very strangely just seemed to make sense. There was Bono of U2 at half-time, wearing a jacket with a lining of the American flag on the inside and the Patriots themselves, with their red, white, and blue uniforms. They were poster boys of the Administration, heroes of America, and benefactors of a genius coach who managed to dismantle the Greatest Show on Turf.

I did not watch that game with my Dad.

I watched the 2002 Super Bowl in Parkville, Maryland.

Parkville is just outside of Baltimore, where Wilson and Todd’s joint was. The house was full, wall-to-wall people, and there was very little interest in the game. They were there for the event, not the event that was the game. I was there for the game, not the event. I kept track of what was going on through numerous games of Beer Pong and reckless drunk flirtations. As the fourth quarter started, I couldn’t help but notice that the Patriots and this guy Brady, who I only found about when the playoffs started and the Pats were on national television, were making a game out of it.

As the minutes clicked off the game clock, it was starting to look like the Patriots might actually win. I called my Dad numerous times, usually after positive plays and he called me, usually after bad plays. Dad was more realistic than I was. Still is. He sees the big picture little. I see the little picture big.

There was barely a minute left and I sat only a few inches from Wilson’s big television. Army sat next to me and it seemed as if we were the only two people among all of the others who were totally and completely interested in what was taking place. The talking was deafening and at one point, I felt beer drip down onto the back of my calf. I didn’t care. I looked straight ahead with manic eyes, eyes that seemed to know that if I turned away I could easily miss one of the greatest moments of my life as a New England sports fan.

After a late Rams touchdown tied the game, Tom Brady proceeded to lead the young Patriots back up the field. New Englanders shit their pants far and wide as they watched the Patriots…the fucking Patriots, bastard sons of New England sports, march up the field and land within the range of money kicker Vinatieri, the man from North Dakota with ice running wild through his veins.

He’s going to make it. Bryan thought so. I thought so. Dad wasn’t so sure.

The kick.

It’s up.

Oh my fucking god…

It’s GOOD!!!

After that, I called my Dad from out on Wilson’s front porch. The year before I had stood on the same porch, listening to fireworks and cheering from Baltimore Ravens fans after they won the Super Bowl. I called Miller up, but he was so drunk and so fired up that he couldn’t form sentences. This night I called Dad. He was happy. Mom was up, wanting to know what my Dad was yelling about. I talked to her too and through her grogginess, she mumbled something about watching the game with Dad.

Good night, Mom.

***

The following spring I moved back home to Portland. Home in Maine was now full of hopeful sports fans, people whose confidence had been bolstered by the Pats’ Super Bowl win and Red Sox fans who were starting to even have more of the usual amount of hope that comes with the start of the baseball season. Even the Celtics were playing well.

Things were good.

That fall the Red Sox were home in October and the Patriots lost in the first round of the playoffs.

Well, the Pats can’t win every year, and at least the Yankees didn’t win the World Series.

Now I watched games with my Dad. Sundays were Patriots games and during the summer, Red Sox games. It was usually just the two of us (not including our dogs, Misty and Callie) with Mom floating in and out of the room, asking who was winning and what the score was. Dad as a sports fan is a realistic and pragmatist. He’s a bottom-line kind of dude who wants and expects results.

Dad does not listen to excuses.

Dad does not tolerate any kind of abandonment of the fundamentals.

Dad does not like pitchers who take too long.

Dad does not care for a lack of hustle.

Dad does not like wide receivers who drop easy balls.

Dad does not like players who wear baggy shorts. He says it looks like they took a shit in their pants. He would always say the same to me if my pants dipped too far below my waist. He’s not so much old-fashioned as he is all business.

If Dad encountered a group of Mormon fundamentalists, he would shake his head at polygamy, but admire their work ethic. Dad’s dad was a bus driver and drove the route from the middle of Maine to the top. Neither one of my dad’s parents are alive anymore, both passing at odds times. My grandmother died on my sixth birthday and my grandfather died on father’s day. Dad’s a tall dude, over six feet, and those were the only two times I can remember where he looked small.

The Top 3 Phrases Used by My Dad While Watching Sports:
(in no particular order)

1.)    You gotta be kidding me? The amount of money they’re paying him, he should be able to make that catch.

2.)    I just don’t think (insert pitcher or Quaterback’s name here) has it today.

3.)    You gotta catch it first! What did I always tell you in farm league, Ry? Eyes on the ball and you have to catch it first, think about throwing it after. How many times did I tell you? The amount of money they’re paying him…(see #1)

I, however, am an erratic, faith-based fan (Mom’s side of the family) with inherent ties to reality. This means I watch games with an “abundance of emotion.” Such an “abundance of emotion” causes me to move a lot, pace a lot, talk a lot, drink a lot. Yet I also am a realist (Dad’s side of the family,), which balances everything out through a deep-rooted desire to expect the worst.

It’s a troubling dynamic.

In the winter of 2004, a cold winter that saw temperatures in Casco Bay dip way down in the negative 40’s, even lower with the wind chill, the Patriots made another powering, beautiful run to the Super Bowl. In another close game, the Pats beat the strikingly similar Carolina Panthers. Two Super Bowls in three years, and people were starting to talk about how great the Pats had become and how were knocking on the door of becoming a new dynasty. Everyone knew Tom Brady now and my Dad could never get over the lack of emotion showed by Pats’ coach Bill Belichek.

“He never smiles,” Dad would say.

“I’m sure he does,” I’d say. “Just on the inside.”

When spring came and baseball season started, the buzz was the acquisition of stud pitcher Curt Schilling and how promising the team was. Right off the bat, Dad liked Schill. We both felt pretty good about that year’s team.

Until the season got going.

Shit.

For the first half of the season, the joy provided by the Pats’ win was fading fast and with the dreaded Yankees looking to be a force again, Red Sox fans were again being put to the test.

Then it all changed…

Twist!

Foreshadowing!

Allure and Suspense!

We were down in Philadelphia for my cousin’s wedding and I was lounging in the hotel room, flicking through the channels. I stopped on ESPN News, sports news being the perfect dull roar when you’re nursing a multi-state hangover.

The ticker on the bottom of the screen rolled by:

nomarRed Sox trade SS Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs for…

The Sox traded Nomar. Nomaaaaaahhh!!!!???!! It was crazy. There had been talk about it for a while now and everyone knew how unhappy Nomar was, but the team finally did it. My stomach felt as if part of the deal was to punch me there and knock the wind out of me. Insult to injury I guess.

Nomar was an institution in New England, slowly inching his way towards the same level of immortality as Maine lobster, Vermont maple syrup, Foxwoods Casino, and Bob Dylan going electric at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island.

But that move, orchestrated by the Red Sox new homegrown, wonder boy General Manager Theo Epstein, ended up serving as a brilliant and ultimately necessary catalyst to one of the most amazing periods of my life. The Red Sox tore through the second half of the season and came crashing into the playoffs like someone who had just lost his virginity or was shit-faced for the first time. The Sox quickly swept the Angels in the first round and were moving on to the American League Championship.

Then like any good drunk or an ill-advised love affair, it came to a crashing, abrupt halt and all you could do was take aspirin, avoid phone calls and hope that that would help.

In the best-of-seven American League Championship series, the Yankees quickly and methodically took a three game lead.

There was little hope.

The year before, the Yankees beat the Sox in the seventh game of the American League Championship series, a defeat that had left the entire region in a state of shock. As we moved on, the Pats’ Super Bowl win had helped soften the blow, but the crummy, completely god-awful start by the Sox brought it back. The Sox hot second half gave us a reason to live, but losing the division to the Yankees was a snap withdrawal. The win over the Angels made us felt great again, like superheroes, but there we were again, struggling to pay the bills and dope sick. Our jobs suffered, our relationships suffered, our eating habits suffered. We were a goddamn mess, sloshing our way across the bathroom floor so we could hug the toilet and vomit blood a few more times. Tomorrow we’d be out begging for change and eating our shoes.

That time of year is just about boot season.

No one was happy about it.

***

Game Four was in Boston and people were just hoping for a win to avoid a sweep. For the past three games Dad and I had watched every pitch and neither one of us were sure we could do one more game. We both had ferocious bags under our eyes and our breath continually reeked of beer and peanuts.

But we weren’t alone and that was somewhat comforting. All of New England, Red Sox Nation, was in a state of sleep-depravity and mind-numbing desperation. Inside I just wanted it to be over. But come on, win one game, and at least they’ll avoid a sweep. It was no longer about victory, but about pride. The year before we came so close that to lose again, but this time with a sweep, would be…embarrassing.

Those goddamn Yankees…

And then…

The Red Sox won Game Four.

The Red Sox won Game Five.

The Red Sox won Game Six.

The Red Sox won Game Seven.

That was it.

The Sox were going to the World Series.

No team in any sport had ever come back from being down three games in a seven game series. The Yankees had been dismantled. The fabled Bronx Bombers looked as if Manny Ramirez had kicked their dog and Big Paaaapi had punched their favorite grandparent right smack in the kisser. Dad and I stayed up until late into the night to watch every game. Game Six, I was down in Boston with Mavo at a Death Cab for Cutie concert, but we caught the end of a game in the shadow of Fenway at Jillian’s. I was back in Maine for Game Seven to watch the Sox cap off the making of history, and then it was onto the World Series versus the St. Louis Cardinals.

Whenever I high-five my Dad, I have to reach. Dad is tall. I’m not. Fortunately what happens is that whenever something good happens, something high-five worthy, I jump up and do a little dance. The dance is never choreographed, it just happens and that’s that. The dance includes fist pumps, hip gyrations, knee bends. It’s pretty amazing. After the dance I’ll shoot a high-five my dad’s way and thankfully he’ll be sitting back in his recliner.

So height-wise, it works out perfectly.

And that is very important. It’s reassuring to know that some things in life have a way of working themselves out.

***

Game One of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals had perhaps the same level of anticipation and excitement that I would imagine would be the same as that of my first child being born. Everyone was happy. It was as if nothing else in the world – famine, AIDS, Iraq – was a problem. Nothing else mattered and we were a happy nation.

But…

My rock band had a gig scheduled for the same night as Game One. One in a fucking million shot and we had to get out of it. There was no question! I wouldn’t want to play a show for someone who chose coming to see us over watching Game One of the World Series. I wouldn’t want to be friends with such a person and if they were behind me and it was windy and the wind was blowing at us I’d spit so that the spit would fly back in their direction.

My hate for such a person would be very well calculated.

With it being settled that we weren’t playing, getting out of the gig was going to be tough given the short notice of the situation and our relationship with the bar, which was tepid and uneasy to say the least. It was one of the Irish pubs in Portland and the owner, a freakishly tall son of a bitch who drove a freakishly small car, already sounded pissed when I called him.

“Yeah, so we won’t be able to play this Saturday,” I said.

This Saturday. But today is Thursday.”

“I know.”

“How am I going to fill your spot this soon?”

“Well…”

“Do you know anyone that would want to play?”

“Uh…probably not.”

“And you guys can’t do it? Why?”

“Corey’s uncle died.”

“Recently?”

“Yeah. This morning. The service is Saturday. It’s in Texas.”

“All right. I mean, if you can’t do it, you can’t do it. Next time, try and give me a little notice though. This is kind of unprofessional.”

“But Corey’s uncle died.”

“I understand that, I do. But it’s still somewhat unprofessional on your part.”

“It was a car accident. A complete surprise.”

“As long as you’re here next time.”

“Totally.”

Each night of the World Series seemed to be completely isolated. It was as if we were jumping from planet to planet and each night were engulfed in a totally new environment with new surroundings. The game was emotions firing on each and every fucking cylinder and when it was over you took a deep breath and turned your attention to the next game. It was the hour leading up to the game that was the hardest part, the spinning of wheels and biding your time, trying as hard as possible to stay positive, but knowing that anything is possible and nothing is guaranteed. An entire hour spent reading off of index cards covered in sports clichés and empty affirmations.

My eyes felt beaten up.

And the games went on.

Mom made food and Callie the dog slept in Dad’s chair. Dad and I assumed the positions in the living room that we had grown so accustomed and addicted to.

Dad in his chair: properly reclined, drinking Coors Light out of one of his frosty mugs, lacrosse shorts, and an old t-shirt.

Ryan on the couch: lounged in various, sprawling positions, teetering on the edge of the couch, drinking some kind of alcohol out of either a bottle or a can, board shorts, old t-shirt, Red Sox hat.

At no point during the Red Sox playoff run was Dad or I in another spot. I don’t think it was rooted in luck or superstition. I think it was just how the cards fell. I need room. I can’t be confined to just a chair, no matter how big or expansive that chair may be. Dad stays put unless he has to use the head or refill his beer.

Callie doesn’t move until she decides it’s time to go to bed. Then she jumps down, checks out the front door, and darts up the stairs.

***

Up three games to none, things were looking good for the Sox heading into Game Four. The series against the Yankees had left us with conflicting belief systems, and as a result, we would not rest until the final out.

The game was in St. Louis, and I don’t remember anything before it. It just happened. Longest game ever, baby! Endless and drudging on for centuries. Mom lasted until about halfway though before going to bed. She wanted us to wake her up though, when  the game was over. Only if the Red Sox won, though. If not, then sleep was more important. It was completely understandable.

When the game was over, the Red Sox had won…

It was important that the Red Sox won.

It was.

And it was a lot of fun. I danced around the living room like a lunatic and Dad sat in his chair, clapping. Mom called down from upstairs and asked what had happened.

“The Red Sox won the World Series, baby!” I yelled.

“Well that’s good. Now it’s time for bed.”

I had told Gram, my sweet little grandmother, that if the Sox won, I was going to call her and tell her. Sure enough I did; waking her up with hoots and hollers but no expletives. Got to keep it clean for Gram.

The title was the Sox first in 86 years. A World Series championship had always seemed like an impossible dream, far away and unattainable. There was an entire generation of Sox fans who had missed this, but suffered so much. My generation, we were the lucky ones. And those younger than me, it was as if they were being born into the money their parents had cried and bled over. They hadn’t earned it, but should it enjoy nonetheless.

But that was that.

This was about winning and how it washes everything away except for the good feelings winning creates.

The Boston Red Sox, World Series Champions.

pg2_g_redsox_04banner_576

***

Reading about that title run and those games does not make me think about baseball.

No, it does. That’s a lie.

It always makes me happy and covers my skin with goose bumps. Sometimes I may even get a little giddy. Giddy like wearing a big, foolish grin.

But the giddiness is all part of it. It’s a sign that this feeling of emotion is lasting. Goose bumps are good like that. They’re a reminder of a good time. Goose bumps. I don’t understand the name, but I do understand what they mean.

What it means…

There was that summer when I was constantly broke and barely made it through until the semester started and there was the time when I quit the college soccer team. There was Gram’s 90th birthday party and that time when Mom and Dad came to visit, and how happy I was, seeing them pull up in front of the Student Center. There was Gramp’s funeral, Dan’s dad’s funeral, and Granddad’s funeral, which I don’t remember, but know I was there. There was the time I first smoked pot and faked being high and there was the time Dad busted me for drinking the first time I got drunk and he said I smelt “like a brewery.”

There was the time the Red Sox won the World Series and Dad didn’t watch sports alone.

Some things happen to happen and some things happen to make things happen. The Sox won the World Series on a groundout to the pitcher and Dad and I watched it happen.

Yes we did, Paaaaapi.

Yes we did.

  1. […] 2004 was the bees knees and numero uno of the three Sox championships. No question. 2007 is the middle child and will be the one most overlooked as time moves on. 2013 will be the special one, the one that no one saw coming, the child born because Mom and Dad got a little drunk one night and…well you know. You love all your kids the same, right? But maybe you just think about each one a little differently when the light of truth shines brightly on you. […]

    Reply

  2. […] in Philadelphia I’m going to become a Phillies’ fan. I’ll still be a Red Sox fan- I will always be a Red Sox fan, but the Phillies play in the National League so there would be no conflict of interest. My […]

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