Red Sox Nation: End of Days

There is a Coors Light ad featuring former Arizona Cardinals coach Denny Green running featuring the fiery coach yelling, “They are who we thought they were!”, from an infamous press conference he did last October. On Sunday night, the same could be said about the Colorado Rockies. The Boston Red Sox knew what they had in front of them, but instead of letting them off the hook, the Sox completed a four-game sweep for their second World Series in four seasons.

Two titles. Four seasons. Read that for a minute and let it sink in. Just a few short years after the Nation became shriveled messes following an Aaron Boone home run to the left field stands in Yankee Stadium, we now have found paradise by the dashboard light…again.

Like in years past, this season was a marathon, a sprint and a grueling triathlon all in one. Somehow, we “survived” the J.D. Drew signing, Julio Lugo’s slow start, the late-summer swoon and the Yankees’ dogged pursuit that got them within 1.5 games of the A.L. East lead at one point. We bitched, we kavetched, we questioned, we cheered and ultimately, we were rewarded with something 29 other teams didn’t get: the shiny ring at the end of the season.

But it didn’t feel the same as 2004, did it?

We have known for years now that we’re not like other baseball fans. We take even the smallest moves seriously. We complain but don’t blink at the notion of paying $75 for the right to enter Fenway Park on a Tuesday night in April against the Devil Rays. We grumble at Sox Appeal but know a few people that would be great for it. We know people complain about the pink hats, but feel a bit better knowing that they look a bit better than those foolish Yankees flourescent caps you can find on most street corners in NYC.

But on this Monday, October 29, the world didn’t feel like it shifted like it did on Thursday, October 28, 2004. After 15 minutes or so of celebrating Sunday night, the emotion died down. There was no dancing in the streets, crying or thanking the big guy upstairs for a World Series win like there was in ’04. It was a World Series victory we were glad to get, but also fully expecting after the first three wins of the series. Let’s be serious: this might have been the most anti-climactic Red Sox clinching victory in team history. With Josh Beckett going in Game 5, there was no way the Rockies escaped past Monday. No way.

So, how did we get here? To me, 2003 and 2004 was like an amazing two-part movie, one season that essentially merged into two. That 2003 club caught the imagination of the region and helped re-ignite the widespread interest from fans across the country. The “Cowboy Up” era was personality-driven and talent-driven, the beginning point for a franchise that needed a re-imagining. Enter the New York Yankees and the return of the Greatest Rivalry in Sports and the dominos were knocked into motion. Following that crushing finale in the 2003 ALCS, the heartbreak of 1986 was understood by a new generation, one that would be unrelenting in its demanding of a world championship. The enemy was seen, the obstacles clear. Part one of what would be known as the greatest 24 months ever were halfway through. Then, the sequel was put into motion.

Part Two started off painfully as our heroes were to get a new weapon in the battle (A-Rod) who was eventually snatched away in the worst way possible: by the enemy Yankees. After two improbable allies were brought on board (Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke), the battleground was set. The Sox went into that 2004 season on a mission, fighting through hell itself to get to the goal, eventually slaying the dragon at the end. There were consequences and unfortunate souls set aside (mainly Nomar) and those two seasons created emotional wrecks of us all. But ultimately, any Red Sox fan will tell you that it was all worth it. No more Babe Ruth talk, no more 1918 chants, no more curse and no more inferiority complex. After Foulke grabbed the grounder and flipped it to first, we became part of baseball history and part of something much bigger. Most importantly, we became just like everyone else…or so we thought.

We expected the bandwagon to grow and for the unseemly side of being associated with a winner to develop. Having never been on the good side of a title win though, we had no idea how much Red Sox mania would sweep over the region. Even the term ‘Red Sox Nation’ changed from a unifying mantra to a full-blown marketing campaign and membership/revenue opportunity. After eight decades of frustration, it was now chic to be a Red Sox fan. This brought on the usual splintering within the group (the inane real fans vs. bandwagon fans debate) but it really didn’t matter to the front office who cashed in HUGE on this seemingly improbable victory.

2005’s first-round exit to the eventual champion Chicago White Sox went by without a whimper. After all, we were still in World Series bliss and it probably would have been inhuman to expect the Sox to gear up for another run after such a dramatic and draining two years. But 2006 rolled around and the pitchforks began to get sharpened. Remember that idea of absolving the Sox of any future World Series win if they could get just one? The phrase “I would never complain again” was never uttered so much as after 2004, but a scant two seasons later, the fanbase was hungry for another winner. The team missed the playoffs altogether that season, falling apart in August/September due to mass injuries. It was as forgettable a stretch as you’d ever want to imagine, but things were still happening like the development of talent that would help us in 2007. Patience is a virtue, but one that very few exalt.

Welcome to right now. Somehow amidst all of the swirling dervish that is Red Sox baseball, Tito Francona, Theo Epstein and the rest of the organization won in spite of us this season. I’m sure there were plenty of times that the front office would have loved to open up their minds and opinions on media/fan reaction, but they didn’t. They kept their head down and moved ahead into the oncoming army like a scene out of ‘300.’ They refused to air their dirty laundry in public which grated those who wanted to see an explosion of Billy Knight-level proportions from Francona during the team’s struggles in the second half. Everyone was to blame and everyone had answers, as irrational and irritating as they were. Right now, we look foolish, absolutely and utterly foolish. It’s our right as fans to voice our opinions, but we have to take our medicine when we’re wrong.

Red Sox Nation: we were wrong.

Last night, the fans responded, celebrating in the streets, high-fiving in bars, sipping celebratory beverages all throughout the Nation. But if you thought the ending to this story was a bit anti-climactic, you’d be right. After winning the first three games, we knew it would end Sunday night or Monday night with Josh Beckett on the hill. Much like in 2004, our World Series was truly the seven-game ALCS battle that preceded the Fall Classic. As we were out in the nightlife watching the game, I got a sense of just wanting it to be over already. It’s a long season for players and for fans alike as being a Sox fan 24/7 can be an exhausting process. A friend of mine told me he thought about being embarrassed to congratulate on us on the victory, but then decided he wasn’t. Why? Because the emotional ties we make to this team – a group of men whom we will most likely never, ever meet – are deeper than they should be. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, I guess.

And this is where we find ourselves on this Monday, October 29th: we’re used to it. Following three Super Bowl titles with the Patriots and the 2004 uber-celebration Sox win, there’s a sense of ‘been there, done that.’ Considering the way we’ve gone about World Series wins (eight victories in a row and counting), being a little expectant of hosting another trophy could be expected. Call it cocky, call it arrogant but call it what it is: a great organization that puts a winner out on the field.

But I’m not ready to finish talking about this title yet. I will rejoice in talking about all that was this season, while eagerly looking forward to next season. I was embarrassed at today’s media coverage (especially the mind-numbing Yankees talk by ESPN today that was amazingly disrespectful), but I will save that for a post later this week. I plan on visiting Fenway Park in the next month as part of an annual off-season pilgrimage when things are quieted down a bit and you can breathe in all that is Yawkey Way in a much calmer fashion. We have been with this team since Spring Training, so why does there seem like there’s a rush to stop talking about this team now? Isn’t the idea to win the World Title and then (gasp) enjoy it?

But like many other fans, I will always miss the way it used to be. I liken it to ‘the chase,’ an old booking tactic used by pro wrestling promoters that wanted to find the next great challenger for the champion’s title. Throw the kitchen sink at the guy and make people root for him as an underdog, someone that people emotionally put themselves into to the point they feel vindicated when that title finally goes across his waist. Up through 2004, the Red Sox took the chase to a whole new level, more emotion-inducing than anyone in recent memory. The notion of keeping the faith swept over us like a red haze and after it was over, we were left with an overwhelming sense of ‘what now’? After this second title however, there is just one question left to ask:

Who’s next?

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