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MARRYING THE RED SOX
I didn’t marry a Mets fan. My wife is from Massachusetts. She was a Red Sox
fan, until October 25, 1986.
When I first met Sheila, in 1976, we enjoyed the fact that we were both such
baseball fans. We joked about how lucky it was that although I was from New
York, I was not a Yankee fan. Nobody ever thought of the Mets and the Red
Sox as rivals. We were united by the intensity of our hatred of the Yankees.
The Mets became Sheila’s National League team and the Red Sox became my
American League team. We loved our new teams in the way in which you can
love your in-laws. The love was genuine, but it wasn’t supposed to be the same
thing as what you felt for your parents.
The Red Sox were a great team in the late seventies. The Mets stunk. When we
were with my family, everyone was filled with love and hope for a team that could
never win more than 70 games. When we were with her family, there was love
for a team (Rice, Lynn, Fisk, Yaz, Evans, Scott, Tiant, etc.) that could not win
fewer than 90 games. There was also hope, but it wasn’t like any kind of hope I
was familiar with. It wasn’t a happy kind of hope. This puzzled me. Mets hope
is always happy, even when it is entirely without justification.
I did my best to understand what Red Sox fans felt. I don’t claim to have
succeeded, because I think that outsiders can only expect to have a very partial
understanding. As a sympathetic New Yorker who was not a Yankee fan, I
imagined that Red Sox love embodied the bleak yet beautiful mystery of New
England. It had something in it of the hope and fear of the early Puritan
settlers. It seemed to me to be like the love a shy, lonely mill hand, in a red
brick mill town would have for a beautiful, indifferent woman. Red Sox love was
a suspicious love. It was deep, but it expected, and had already accepted, the
inevitability of betrayal. It was a dream of happiness in the mind of someone who
is convinced that happiness is just a dream. It was powerful and complicated and
older than the Boston Red Sox.
Mets love, by contrast, felt like something a puppy would feel for its master.
Mets fans were as loyal as dogs and their love was like that of a stubbornly
optimistic child. But there was nothing dog-like or kid-like about Red Sox love.
It was all grown-up and painfully human. It was tragic and it was scary. To be
perfectly honest, as a Mets fan who had just begun to root for the Red Sox, I
didn’t like it. I wanted the freaky spell or curse to go away, to be wiped away by
the kind of success that such a good team, and such a dedicated fan base
deserved. I didn’t think it would take long. I had never seen a Mets team with a
lineup like what the Red Sox had in the late ‘70s. I wanted the Red Sox to win it
all once so that these poor people could turn back into ordinary hopeful baseball
After Sheila and I got married, our friends would ask us what would happen if the
Mets and the Red Sox ever faced each other in the World Series. I remember
calculating that, all things being equal, the odds against any two teams facing
each other in the World Series was 143 to 1. There was less than a 50% chance
that it would happen in our lifetime. When both of our teams made the playoffs in
1986, I still didn’t think that it was going to happen. The odds were 3 to 1 that it
wouldn’t. As I watched the fifth game of the American League playoffs, and the
Red Sox were behind 5-2 with two outs in the ninth inning, I thought about how
interesting a New York-California World Series would be. Then the Red Sox, on
homers by Don Baylor and Dave Henderson, scored four runs to take the lead.
Though the Angels tied it in the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox won it in the
11th and of course they would go on to win the next two games and the pennant.
After the Red Sox came back from the dead in the fifth game of the
Championship Series, I wondered what Charlie, my father-in-law, was feeling. I
called him as soon as the game was over. He hadn’t watched one of the greatest
moments in Red Sox history. At the beginning of the ninth, he had gone out to
his barn to work in his workshop, to spare himself the pain. I warn you. Mets
fans will not be able to understand this. Red Sox fans will.
So the Mets-Red Sox series started. Everything was fine between us. We
rooted for our teams and that was that. But the Series was nothing like what it
should have been. You could hardly recognize the teams from the way they were
playing. People wondered if the Red Sox and the Mets had been exhausted by
their struggles against the Angels and the Astros. All I know is that late in the
evening of October 25, we were sitting on our couch in our little living room in
Hoboken, New Jersey, boyhood home of Sinatra, in an apartment on a street that
looked more like old New York than most streets in New York. There had been
a carnival atmosphere in Hoboken all day. You saw Mets flags and Mets
banners everywhere. But now, as we watched the game on our little black-and-
white set, behind the Venetian blinds that blocked our view of the street, we saw
the Red Sox, in the top of the tenth inning, take a 5-3 lead. In the bottom of the
tenth, we saw Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez quickly and weakly fly out.
It now looked as if the impossible thing was going to happen. The Red Sox were
going to win the World Series. Sheila couldn’t wait to call her parents, and both
sets of grandparents. I was happy for her, genuinely happy for her, in spite of my
disappointment. I felt that there was no question that the Mets were the better
team. But hey, the 1973 Reds were a lot better than the 1973 Mets. The 1969
Orioles were one of the best teams of all time. Enough said. The Mets had
blown this one. It was their fault. They had played a weird series. Yes, I was
disappointed, but this was the way it was going to be. And the Mets were so
good, and so young, they would have plenty of chances to win the World Series in
the next few years. I could live with this. I would not cry. And it would be easy
for me to be civil and enthusiastic on the phone to my in-laws.
Locked in their eternal embrace, every Mets and Red Sox fan knows what
happens next. Gary Carter hits a single. Kevin Mitchell hits a single. Calvin
Schiraldi, exhausted, remains on the mound. Ray Knight hits a single. Stanley
replaces Schiraldi, and with the count two and two on Mookie Wilson, after two
foul balls, Stanley throws an inside breaking pitch that gets past the catcher,
Rich Gedman. Mitchell scores to tie the game. The runners move up. There
are two more foul balls. Then Mookie hits a mysterious little bouncer down the
first base line, throws his bat away, and starts running with all his might. Old and
hurting, Bill Buckner watches the strange ball bounce towards him. He knows
how fast Mookie can run. When the ball comes, he bends to receive it. It
bounces, as all will know for all time, through his legs and down the right field line.
What I hear at this moment is the immense and glorious thunder of voices united
in triumph. Hoboken erupts. People open their windows and scream into the
night air. I hear voices on the street, the sounds of people running and laughing
and cheering. My parents had always said that when Brooklyn won the pennant,
there was dancing in the streets. I always liked the idea of dancing in the streets,
of the city becoming a big family celebration, all because of baseball. People
outside our Venetian blinds were, I guess, dancing in the streets. I was shaking
with excitement, pressing my lips together to prevent any sound from escaping.
Sheila had dropped to her knees in front of the television and it looked as if she
was praying. But she wasn’t, she was weeping, and mourning, and keening. I put
my hands on the shoulders of the woman I loved more than the whole world
combined. I was amazed that she let me touch her. There was nothing I could
say to console her. I just moved with her rhythm of rocking back and forth. Of
course I was not sad. But I felt in her shoulders and sobs the bottomless sadness
of the Red Sox fan. I knew she was right when she said through her tears that
neither of her grandfathers would live to see the Red Sox win the World Series.
There was no point in saying that maybe they would. Sure it was possible that
the Red Sox could win the Series next year, or the year after. The grandfathers
might live for quite a few more years. They did, in fact. But of course they never
saw the Red Sox win the World Series. I knew they wouldn’t. I knew she was
right. Just as she and I and everyone else knew that the Mets would win the
1986 World Series, even though there was still one more game to play. I don’t
think there is any such thing as fate. I think it is a ridiculous concept. The only
thing that ever gives me a sense that there might be such a thing as fate is
Sheila didn’t watch the seventh game. I watched it myself. I saw the Mets fall
behind 3-0. And I remember the eerie, yet totally matter-of-fact sense I had that
this was nothing to worry about. Never before and never since have I been as
certain that the Mets were going to win a game in which they were three runs
behind. At breakfast on the morning of the seventh game, Sheila announced that
she would never again be a baseball fan. She said that she had wasted enough
time and emotional energy on the sport, and that it wasn’t worth it. I said of
course it wasn’t worth it, by itself. The time and the emotional energy we wasted
on it were what made it worth it. She looked at me as if I was crazy. I don’t
remember exactly what she said, but I do remember that it was profane and
Sheila never came back to the game. Charlie still follows them but he loves and
hates them as much as he always has. Over time, his loving bitterness has grown
barnacles. It is something old and hard and sharp and, I guess, New England-y.
In 2004, the man who had missed the comeback against the Angels stopped
watching the Championship Series after the Yankees won the first three games.
When he heard that the Red Sox had won their first game, he said, “So what,
they’re still going to lose it, after the season they had.” He said the same thing
when they won the second game, and he said the same thing after the third. Only
after the Red Sox won the fourth game and the pennant was he glad. And he was
pleased to see the Red Sox beat the Cardinals in four games in the World
Series. But he would not lose himself in contemplation of the unimaginable glory
of the most dramatic eight game winning streak in postseason history. He
wondered why, if they could do it now, they couldn’t have done it before.
Baseball is not necessarily about having fun and being happy. Neither is life.
That makes no sense, of course, since it seems as if a game should be different
from life. It should give us a rest from it. But that’s not what baseball gives us.
Baseball fans aren’t looking for a way to escape their lives. They’re looking, I
think, for something that can run parallel to life, and look like it, something that
has ups and downs, pleasures and pains, but is clearer and easier to grasp than
life is. I see so much of myself in my baseball. Charlie must see himself in his.
Sheila got tired of looking in this mirror and thinking that what it showed her was
©Dana Brand 2006