RED SOX BASEBALL|
|Clinching the Wildcard|
I must say that after Sunday night's rout of the Tribe I am remembering how soundly the Sox beat the Angels in '86 after going one strike to the brink of elimination (Gene Mauch on Angels' dugout steps and all).
Instead, I wanted to write (even belatedly) about the Red Sox wild-card clinch at Comiskey Park a couple weeks ago, which I missed because of class and a meeting, and the second game of that night's doubleheader, which I sat through with Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette (the man who comes to mind each time I read Ginsberg's "American Change": "No movie star dark beauty--O thou bignoses") and what seemed like about only 30 or so other fans at the cold ballpark that night. Since the Sox are still alive, my night in Dan Duquette's nearness still seems relevant.
As I put on my coat to leave my office, the Yahoo sports ticker showed Rod Beck coming on in the ninth to save the clinching game, the first of two played that night because of rain-delay the night before. I still wait for Beck to implode, hoping it occurs in 2000 and not this month, so I admit I was a bit nervous that the game might still be
going on after my subway ride from school to Comiskey. But by the time I had my ticket--you buy one as late as the third inning and take your pick from thousands of empty seats, just like at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium--the second game had begun, and I found out from a passerby that the Sox indeed clinched the wildcard in the first game, (despite/because of Beck). Thus I was here for game 2, with the Red Sox AAA team playing the White Sox regulars, essentially a AAA team in itself. To heighten the feeling of anticlimax, I graded papers between innings.
As tempting as metaphysical variations might be, I'm feeling these days that Red Sox failures are resoundingly materialist.
With the crowd so sparse, I easily could have been watching a modest minor league game in a medium-sized city. Crowd was announced at 12,000+, but it did not look more than 5,000. At one point the White Sox PA announcer said, "We handed out white socks to the first 1,000 fans tonight. Let's show our support. Wave your white socks for the White Sox!" No more than 50-100 fans, mostly small children, answered the call with their socks.
My seat was upper-deck box, but with the sparse crowd I settled into a seat behind home plate, about 20 rows back. But what was dramatic for me, and what prompted this sketch of the game, was that Dan Duquette was in the section next to me, about 20 seats away. Had he not been engaged in robust conversations with his friends--one of whom sported three earrings and a long ponytail, precisely the type of appearance that, I think, would cause Duquette to call the police rather than let down his own close-cropped hair for a night at the game--had he not been talking with his friends, I would have approached him and said, "Didn't Mo Vaughn's ass get on your nerves last year?" Or, "Why do you think the Sox attract divas like Clemens, Greenwell, Canseco, and Vaughn?" Or, "Globe columnist Bob Ryan admires your baseball intelligence, but describes your personality as mentally impaired. I agree with him on both counts. Prove us wrong."
I watched him watch the game for several innings. He demonstrated an angry tic during the fifth inning, when the Red Sox defense collapsed--a defensive breakdown caused by two of his least favorite players (once favorites), Lou Merloni and Jeff Frye. Merloni and Frye made major errors that inning that contributed to the loss. In the next inning, Frye misplayed a second ground ball. As their play grew worse, Duquette nervously stroked his mouth with his right hand, eventually covering it entirely and drumming his fingers against his cheek. When Frye misplayed the second grounder, the ball skipping beneath his careless glove, Duquette's mouth went agape, as if he just saw a car speed through a red light at a busy intersection.
By the 7th inning, the crowd had thinned so much that I could sit right behind home plate, so I decided that this closeup view was more appealing than watching Duquette watch. I saw Gordon's return from the DL, his scythe-like curve and slicing fastball, and, sure, Paul Konerko's towering, game-winning homer against him.
Good to remember these successes--sans Konerko homer--for tonight's game. I was bothered that after Thursday's loss, Saberhagen said (to paraphrase): "My stuff was good today. I just think I was over-excited. Too much adrenalin." This is why the Sox got him--for his skill and his playoff experience. Why would a former World Series MVP become nervously excited for a first-round playoff game? Saberhagen concerns me slightly, though he has been impressive for two straight years now. Time, I guess, for me to make sure I have something to do during the game--weatherproof our windows, grade papers--so that if Saberhagen, the grizzly veteran, gets too excited again and the Sox lose, I at least will feel like I did more than ritually sacrifice my evening to another Red Sox playoff loss.
|Winning the Divisional Series|
How about deadpan John Valentin--his gaze just as blank and pitiless when he crippled the Sox with throws from third as it was when he won Games 3 and 4 with his bat? After Monday's playoff clinching game, he told the Boston Globe, "If I have one message to send to [Red Sox fans], it's 'Please believe in us. Don't be so negative. Mistakes happen. It's part of the game. We want you to be on our side." After the game, Valentin was seen clutching a champaigne bottle and pumping his forearms in the locker room. He let loose a war whoop and Fox broke for its final commercial.
As for Valentin's remarks, I don't think Sox fans have trouble "believing." In 1988, overmatched by the Oakland Atheletics in Game 1 of the American League Championship series, the Sox nevertheless seemed plausible contenders to me, until Boggs fanned against Eckersley to kill a ninth-inning rally. "Belief" was not an issue in 1990--but then Clemens was ejected for arguing balls and strikes and the Sox were swept. Bill Lee believed he could throw a ninth-inning floater to Joe Morgan in Game 7 in 1975. Yaz believed he could hit Gossage in the bottom of the ninth in 1978, just as Gedman believed he could catch Bob Stanley's sinkerball in Game 6 in 1986. (Buckner would not have been required to believe in Mookie Wilson's grounder had Gedman matched his own belief with action.)
When I think of Sox fans in the playoffs, I think of a favorite student of mine, Amir, from a few years back who was having a terrible time navigating an overload schedule of difficult classes that semester. In my office one day, I innocently asked him how his semester was going, and he said, "Right now I am living on hope."
Like many Sox fans during Monday's Game 5 clincher, I was on Boston's side--as Valentin would want--but I feared that I was "living on hope." As Monday's game approached, I hoped that by the end of the evening I could put some weatherproof plastic on a couple windows, mop the floors in our apartment, and maybe bag newspaper recyclables. Each task was one more defense mechanism for watching the Sox in the playoffs. If they lost, at least I could feel like I accomplished something. Too often, I've sacrificed three or four hours of an autumn day to the Red Sox for a playoff game, and came away with a loss, knowing I would want those hours back--in one grand accumulation--on my deathbed. Thankfully, last year when Gordon blew the save in Game 4, I was hanging a clothing rod in our closet. The rod is still there holding our clothes, a monument to the victories one can shape from defeat.
As the bottom of the ninth started Monday night--as I kept myself busy stuffing two months of old newspapers into recycling bags--I told my wife, Shelly, that Pedro nearly knocked down the batboy to get to the mound, and that he hopped over the white baseline just like Sparky Anderson used to do. She was on the couch reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, either for her own spiritual development or to suggest strategies for how we could spend the rest of the evening if the Sox collapsed. Our cat, Shimmy, sat next to her. Shimmy had been hypnotized during the seventh and eighth innings--I was on my first bag of recycled news--as Shelly mended a leg on one of her slacks. The needle went in, Shimmy blithely swatted; needle came out, Shimmy drew back, astonished.
I got home late from my afternoon class that night and barely had time to do anything before the game started. I needed to look at some student writing drafts before my Tuesday morning class, so I took out my class folder as a reminder. I would have more task to keep myself busy
in case the Sox collapsed. I watched the first inning on the couch, but by the time the Tribe went up 5-2, I took out weatherstripping for the window in our furnace room. Last year our furnace died three times during Chicago's terrible January storms, the worst winter storms to hit the city since 1967. After the first furnace shutdown, our landlord's mainenance guru, Mark, replaced the thermocoupler, a three-inch long piece of metal that looks like a cross between a trumpet and a satellite. The furnace worked reasonably well for a few days, but the pilot light kept shutting off inexplicably. I know that no draft is coming into that room, but I wanted to seal the window just so that the next time Mark came he would not be inclined to say, "There's nothing wrong with the pilot light. You're probably getting a draft from the window."
The Sox rallied as I fixed double-side tape to the seal. I was measuring a piece of plastic when Garciaparra was intentionally walked--no easy task, because I am anything but a handyman. I pulled the plastic taut, preparing it for the window, when O'Leary hit his grand slam. But by the time Thome homered in the bottom of the inning, I realized that I had mis-measured this sheet of plastic and had to cut another. Things were going much as they did last year when Gordon blew Game 4 and I was hanging the clothing rod.
During Pedro's amaznig no-hit innings, I swept and mopped our apartment floors. Shelly said, "I hope the Red Sox keep winning. There's so much you can do around the apartment." In the bottom of the ninth, with all chores done and nothing left but two outs hit to Garciaparra and the
Vizquel strikeout, I scared Shimmy with my scattered ranting about the "historicity" of a Yanquis-Red Sox championship series. From knitting to "one strike away"--always living on hope, I guess.
I've said a bit about Valentin but nothing about O'Leary's own phantasmic redemption from an awful 1998 playoff series. Or, as John Milton might say, were he a Sox rooter following the indispensible O'Leary through his past four underrated years, "I have writ too little thus far of 'Paradise Regained.'"
|The Curse of Oedipus|
On my way to work Thursday morning, I stopped for coffee before hopping on the subway at Damen and Milwaukee Avenues, about a 15-minute walk from our apartment. This intersection actually triangulates with a third major artery, North Avenue, and the resulting chaos from this discordant convergence reminds me of the intersections of Commonwealth Avenue, Beacon Street, and Brookline Avenue in Boston. If Oedipus were alive today, his destined place where "three roads meet," would be there at Commonwealth, Beacon, and Brookline--just a three-minute walk from Fenway Park--and there he would succumb to his own particularly Theban version of road rage and smash the man who would be his king, father, and love-rival.
So, sure, I'm saying that at this triple crossroad, Damen/Milwaukee/North, the day after the Sox lost Game 1 to the Yanquis, I nearly could pretend I was back in Boston, dodging traffic and remembering bitterly a Sox loss from the night before. Where once was Schiraldi, now is Beck.
I was in Caffina, a tiny thimble-hut cafe that looks out onto the triple crossroad intersection, drinking an espresso shot and reading an old New Yorker from this past summer. I was fascinated by an article on smallpox. The New Yorker has covered worldwide infectious diseases these last couple years with a gaudy mixture of seedy apocalypticism, hard-as-nails realism, sober journalistic distance, and hissy-fit anxiety. This article was no different, detailing the global disaster that could occur if just one person in the world developed smallpox, and noting that only one dose of vaccine exists for every 12,000 people on the planet. To punctuate the tension, the magazine included a two-page photo reproduction of a late-medieval painting of smallpox sufferers.
Behind me, one of the coffee mavens--their espresso is delightfully tart here--was telling his coworker about the great deal he brokered on the Internet for plane tickets to Seattle. "I told them my price," he said, "then forgot about it after I sent the email. I mean, no way were they going to match that price. They say they get back to you in 24 hours. They took two days, but I got it. Can you believe 150 round-trip from Chicago to Seattle?"
Seattle. I remembered the trading-deadline deal in 1986 that brought Dave "Hendu" Henderson (and Spike Owen) to the Red Sox. Henderson did not hit very well that season, but single-handedly turned around the American League Championship Series against the Angels with a ninth-inning two-run homer. Henderson was scuffing during this at-bat against Angels' closer Donnie Moore. He fouled off a few pitches, and looked miserably off balance each time he swung. The Angels led the series 3 games to 1 and were one strike away from winning the pennant and advancing to the World Series. Angels' manager Gene Mauch, whose own near-misses and general misfortunes are enough to nominate him an honorary member of the Red Sox, was standing on the dugout steps waiting for Moore to win the series. Henderson homered.
I was watching the game on TV in Kent, Ohio, telling my best friend, Kurt, that the Sox had no chance. Kurt knew nothing of the history of Red Sox futility, so he tried to assure me that Boston's comeback was gaining momentum: they had been down 5-2 in the top of the ninth; Don Baylor hit a two-run homer; Rich Gedman (the man whose goat horns Bill Buckner unfairly wears) was hit by a pitch; now Henderson stood on first with a chance to put the Sox in the lead. The game began in the afternoon but it was dark here on the edges of the Kent State campus. Kurt was correct--rationally. The Sox still had a chance. But a historical perspective, my memory of Yaz's ninth-inning popout to Graig Nettles in 1978, was enough to assure me they would lose. Of course, I was wrong. As Henderson's homer hefted itself over the fence, I let loose an infantile shriek and watched a blur of my cat, Speck, as he ran upstairs to hide in the attic from my howling.
Henderson homered. He also homered in the top of the 10th inning in haunted World Series Game 6. His two-run homer was what Calvin Schiraldi, Bob Stanley, Rich Gedman, Ray Knight, Mookie Wilson, and (to an extent) Bill Buckner erased in the bottom, nightmarish half, of that same inning. Twice Henderson defied Red Sox history--as if daring us to imagine that Oedipus could come to those three roads and somehow hold his temper.
Despite the "nightmarish" or "Oedipal" lengths I allow my hyperbole to reach, I cannot help but think back to Donnie Moore. He was California's ace that year. Henderson's homer was an aberration; Moore did not lose games that way. A couple years later, still despondent over that game, Moore killed himself. As penance, each time I think back to my shriek that scared Speck, I try to remember Donnie Moore, too.
As I read the article in Caffina, the cafe clerk kept talking about his trip to Seattle, and I kept thinking of Dave Henderson and Donnie Moore. Butch Huskey came to mind. The Sox picked him up this year in a trading-deadline acquisition--like Henderson, from Seattle--and in his first at-bat he hit a grand slam in an important game against Toronto, who at the time was eroding Boston's wild-card lead. Where has Huskey been in the playoffs? Maybe he will continue Henderson's lineage, I thought, and divert the Yanquis from their triumphal march back to Fenway. Sure, maybe tonight's the night that Huskey defies Red Sox history as Henderson once did, as Oedipus could have done had he just taken deep breaths where those three roads meet instead of bashing the regal man whose carriages sideswiped him. "I killed them all--every mother's son," Oedipus says, recalling prophetically his day of road rage at the triple intersection.
I noticed a wispy man in a Yanquis cap wandering around our tiny boxcar cafe, talking carelessly with the workers but not ordering coffee. He was white, pale as the inside of a potato, probably 35 or 40 years old. He stood slightly curved, stringy really, slouched and taut. His cheeks were sunken, and his oily black hair stuck precariously around his scalp and forehead. I watched him a bit, then plunged back to the article.
A few minutes later I heard over my shoulder: "That's a pretty interesting picture."
"It's people suffering from smallpox," I said. He wore a red T-shirt with the words "Cap'n Jim" in dull, block-white letters cracking from age. His New York Yanquis cap seemed really just an afterthought, as if it was the first thing he found to cover his head this morning, so I decided to say nothing about Rod Beck or Bernie Williams.
"That's a deadly disease," he said, and backed away as if I might be a carrier. He leaned forward and continued: "I thought no one got that anymore. It reminds me of the story of Jesus and the 10 lepers. Remember that one? He brought alms for the 10 lepers and then came back the next day and said, 'Where once there were 10, now there remains but one. Where have the other nine gone?'"
He paused long enough for me to think I was supposed to answer. I could not figure out the logic of Christ's remarks, nor could I remember this story from the Christian New Testament.
At a loss, but trying not to be rude, I said, "Where. Where are the nine."
"You know," he said, looking out the window toward the Occult Bookstore, on North Avenue, "they got a new book out there called Eastern Nazarene. I want to get it. Besides comparative religion and baseball, my greatest passion is music. That's why my wife and I divorced, because I spent every minute of my day playing music. Every minute of the day playing music. Every single year I followed baseball religiously. Passionately. Was my passion until 1978. I knew everything about the players and their statistics and--"
"What made you stop in 1978?" I braced myself in case he said, "Yaz's popout to Nettles."
"Because they had that big strike and didn't play a World Series in what year was it, 1994 or 1995?"
"If I ever left the Red Sox, I never would go to an American League East team."
--Roger Clemens, P
"Right, 1994. I started watching again in 1995 when they played a World Series again." He stared straight at me when he talked. No matter how shaky his sense of time might be--telling me he stopped watching baseball in 1978 because of a strike in 1994--he fixed his eyes lucidly on me when he talked. His pupils were crispy brown, and the whites as clean as porcelain.
He said, "Music is my other way of 'whiling away the time,' as Joe South would say. I am on two record labels. Columbia House and Interlake Christian Fellowship Music Club. I went to Bible study 18 straight weeks where I live. I wanted to stop going because the pastor kept making us read the Old Testament."
He leaned against the bar, his right elbow propping his body and his right hand scribbling his chin. He should have been wearing a smoking jacket instead of a "Cap'n Jim" T-shirt. He did not seem any more distracted than I by the stream of Chicagoans walking past us to the subway.
"I wanted to stop going," he continued, "but the pastor gives us squash at the end of every class. My mother-in-law cooks great squash soup, so I give them to her. My name is Arnold James Jackson Rupert Wellington the Third."
He reached out his hand. We shook.
"I'm Tony." I thought he might be miffed that I did not give my last name, but he smiled. "Happy to meet you," I said.
"That's quite a painting," he said, looking down at the New Yorker smallpox rendering. "I have written many papers on comparative religion and I think that everyone has metaphysical experiences."
"It's true, I'd say."
"Everyone has a set of metaphysical guidelines they follow," he said. He pointed at me as he talked, still propped by his right elbow. "Even a little bit. They might all be different. Some people a lot. But it's in their daily lives somehow."
"I think the metaphysical and physical are linked more than most of us imagine." I fiddled with the magazine, alternately folding it and creasing pages, so that he would be prepared for my departure. I really needed to leave 10 minutes ago, and if I did not go soon I would be late for my 11:00 class.
I added, "Of course, if 'metaphysical' and 'physical' are linked, then can we call it 'meta-physical' anymore? I'm not so sure."
"Right. For some people the metaphysical and physical come together for just one second in their lives. For some, every once in awhile. All the time for others."
"Those are the ones we call prophets. I'm thinking of Ezekiel now." I pressed the magazine pages until they were smooth again.
"That was a rich time in the Promised Land," he said. "The time of the prophets."
I put the magazine in my shoulder bag.
He said, "That's quite a painting. Isn't it true that only two or three out of every five people get smallpox anymore?"
"It's a terrible illness, I know. Actually, no one gets it now, but if one person became infected, it would be a crisis. We hardly have any vaccines." I threw away my empty cup. "It was very nice to meet you."
For some reason, I walked away convinced that, indeed, Butch Huskey would revive the legacy of Dave Henderson Thursday night--that somehow in one swing he would do as "Hendu" did, combine the metaphysical and the physical just once more in Red Sox history. But, like all of us, the Sox are trapped inside their physical bodies, and when Huskey stepped to the plate with the bases loaded Thursday and the Sox down by a run, he shuffled his feet for every swing and dropped his shoulder all over the place and struck out meekly. Three more runners left on base, on a night when Bosox hitters came to the plate like zealous stamp collectors, accumulating runners-left-on-base rather than knocking them home.
These Woe-Sox left 14 men on base in another one-run loss, and now the Series hinges on Pedro vs. Clemens: irresistible force meets immovable object.
|What Shantideva Teaches|
Last night, ex-Cub Shawon Dunston opened the Mets' 15th inning with a hard single, and this hit inaugurated a rally that culminated with ex-White Sox Robin Ventura's game-winning grand-slam single. Five hours to the north in Boston, ex-Cub Rod Beck entered the top of the ninth inning with the Red sox down 5-2 and straightaway gave up his second ninth-inning homer of the series, this one a grand slam by Ricky Ledee. Not even in Chicago--a full day's uninterrupted drive from Boston--not even here can a person evade the implications of Red Sox history.Whether Shantideva's contemporary audience includes those who pay wages or those who receive them, the point seems to be that we cannot hoard the happiness of our hysterical comeback against the Tribe in the Divisional Playoffs. Somehow, Shantideva urges us, we must recognize and benefit from the joys of others, even if those "others" are fans of the Yanquis.
Whether Red Sox fans like it or not, another game will be played Monday night. Enough has happened thus far to attribute these playoff losses to metaphysics: near-miss Boston home runs in the first two games, appalling umpiring calls in Games 1 and 4, and mysterious defensive lapses by an otherwise fundamentally sound Boston team. Who looked worse last night, Mike Stanely flicking Bret Saberhagen a sinker at first, or Saberhagen kicking it?
As much as I would like the series to be frozen in time back to Saturday, the Sox must continue to play tonight. As tempting as metaphysical variations on this series might be, I'm feeling these days
that Red Sox failures are resoundingly materialist. Despite unmitigated umpiring errors, and despite one satisfying squash of Roger Clemens--the man who once said, "If I ever left the Red Sox, I never would go to an American League East team," then promptly scuttled to Toronto and New York--despite these, the Yanquis have played better baseball against Boston during these playoffs. Only slightly better, sure, against a charming Sox team that, unlike teams of the 1970s and 1980s, actually plays with a collectivist spirit. But New York has played just well enough to win.
This is not 1978, with the Sox rallying against the Yanquis in the painful one-game playoff, when right-fielder Lou Piniella, blinded by late-afternoon Fenway sunlight, stuck out his hand and, by chance and random whim, grabbed Jerry Remy's gap shot in the bottom of the ninth and held Remy to a single. Every Sox fan knows that Remy's ball should have bounced past Piniella into the right-field triangle for a game-tying triple or game-winning inside-the-park homer. As Peter Gammons reported later, even Piniella described his catch as "pure luck." Except for this series' astonishing umpiring, our explanations for these losses, attributing them to chance, destiny, or cruel fate--those metaphysical oppositions to materialist history--seem untenable to me. No popouts to third base by Yaz, historically the Sox's best clutch hitter, no Stanley/Schiraldi/Gedman ghostly triads. And this time when Clemens oddly imploded in the playoffs, he was wearing a Yanquis uniform.
I am not sure if I believe myself. After all, those near-miss homers in Games 1 and 2 are difficult to fathom; and the second-base umpires in this series seem bent upon casting the Sox into a lake of fire.
I think I am working so hard to reverse my tortured memories of Fenway as the House of the Seven Gables (as Dan Shaughnessy calls it), because I've tried to make peace with the Yanquis since 1996. That year, I was struck by Jim Leyritz's passionate Fisk-like homer, and Wade Boggs--the same player who sobbed in the Sox dugout after the '86 World Series loss--circling the stands astride a horse as if his name were "Constantine," not "Wade." Sure, Charlie Hayes's exultant leap in '96, with the final out of the Series captured in his glove, frightfully resembled Nettles's ecstasy after catching Yaz's weak popup. Yet Hayes's joy seemed, strangely for a Yanqui, well earned and not at all the product of extra-natural forces: not Piniella's luck; not Butch Hobson's 1978 bone chips in his throwing elbow; not Bob Stanley's phantasmagoric wild pitch, really Rich Gedman's passed ball, unraveling Game 6 in 1986. I think I even made peace with Don Zimmer for starting Bobby Sprowl during the 1978 "Boston Massacre"--the Yanquis' four-game sweep of Boston at Fenway that thrust them into first place--and I almost can root for Zimmer's joy, and certainly would like to rub the top of his claymation pate to see if he might grant me three magic wishes.
So, I've worked hard to negotiate some kind of peace with these Yanquis. For me, and maybe for all Sox fans, the Yanquis have become our greatest teachers in this life. As the Buddhist master Shantideva once wrote: "All enemies are helpers in my bodhisattva work / And therefore they should be a joy to me." Shantideva surely anticipated Red Sox fans' envy of our Yanqui counterparts when he wrote in The Way of the Bodhisattva:
But they're the ones who'll have the happiness," you say.
If this then is a joy you would resent,
Abandon paying wages and returning favors:
You will be the loser--both in this life and the next!
(chapter 6, verse 78)
Such an approach, of course, is still a spiritual work-in-progress for we Sox fans, who each year find it more difficult to imagine a Red Sox World Series championship with the naked, three-dimensional mind. It's like trying to imagine what a quark smells like, or what it feel like to walk through a brick wall.
However, tonight I am taking a risk. For the first time in my life, I will watch a Red Sox-Yanquis game with a Yanquis fan--in this fan's home, no less. And this might be the Yanqui clincher. Shelly and I will watch the game at the home of a newfound friend and neighbor, and New York City expatriate, Ruth, whom I met just last week when she hissed at my Red Sox cap as I jogged through our neighborhood. That night, twenty-four hours before the start of this series, at the corner of Wood and Wabansia Streets--as Ruth's Eskimo Collie pup, Jack, tried mightily to pull her across the street--Ruth and I agreed amicably that this series would make grand history. We decided to dare the geometric boundaries of everyday Red Sox-Yanquis conflict and watch one of the playoff games together. This past weekend, Shelly and I saw Ruth perform at a neighborhood piano bar, Davenport's, and we three decided that tonight, Monday, we would eat pizza and watch the game.
By the last week of the term, Richie had grown tired of my Bosox blabbing. He challenged me to a one-dollar bet that the Yanquis would overtake the Sox by season's end. This was my first male-male baseball rivalry, one of many I would endure with Yanqui fans over the years. No one forgets their first time. I smugly shook Richie's hand, and we became male-male rivals.
After the one-game playoff--after Yaz's ignominious pop-out to Nettles--I faced the prospect of a humiliating visitation in homeroom from my now-eighth-grade male-male baseball rival, Mr. Van Dunn. Even though I lost all my excess weight that summer, and grew four inches in height and developed a deepening, masculine voice, Richie still felt I was ripe for taunting, and our rivalry became venomous during the Red Sox's 1978 September collapse. By the time of the one-game playoff, I wanted to hide in my locker during homeroom--not just because of Richie Van Dunn's immovable presence, but also because I was 12 years old and was convinced that I was the only boy visited by impromptu hard-ons as my voice changed and I got taller and discovered masturbation.
After Yaz's shameful popout, I collected one hundred pennies from the jar atop my dresser, then dumped these coins in a brown paper lunch bag. The next morning, Richie Van Dunn found me at my locker before homeroom even had begun. His taunts were reptilian as he pointed his freckled finger in my face and demanded the one-dollar bounty he rightfully had won as the result of Yaz's failure to win for me my first male-male baseball rivalry. I smiled so wide that I could feel my braces tighten, and I gave Richie the paper bag full of 100 pennies. He was furious and he punched me real hard in the shoulder. Every time I saw him at school that day he threatened to kick my ass. I was pretty scared, because he lived close by the school and as a result hung around with tough guys with calloused knuckles who French-kissed their girlfriends and chewed amphetamines ("black beauties," they were called).
What I'm saying, I guess, is that tonight, as we three Yanqui and Sox fans try to coexist with pizza in a garden apartment in Chicago's near north side--and as the Yanquis try to send the Sox home for another miserable winter--I hope to remember Shantideva's remarks on Red Sox fan envy.
I recognize the risk in turning to religion for guidance in navigating human agency through history. I'm thinking of William Blake's warning in his short poem, "The Chimney Sweeper." In "The Chimney Sweeper," a young boy, Tom Dacre, consigned to oppressive child labor by a London middle-class that treated the child Chimney Sweeps like chattel, is visited by a Christian angel who tells him to keep his mouth shut about the abuse he suffers at the hands of his employers. In the poem, just as Tom starts to make noise about his terrible working conditions (maybe he was ready to organize his fellow Chimney Sweeps), the angel comes along to tell Tom that "if he'd be a good boy"--and keep quiet about
Of course, for Shantideva, as for all good Buddhist teachers, the problem is always materialist and never metaphysical, and maybe this is where Sox fans can make meaning from this series with the Yanquis. As Shantideva writes: envying the rightfully earned success of others is "like resenting fire for its heat" (chapter 6, verse 39).
|82 and Counting...|
Like most Red Sox fans, I am watching the Yanquis-Braves World Series with one eye on the television and one watching the clock as the second hand turns from 81 to 82.
If the Red Sox win the World Series next year. If . . . next year. Folks have been starting sentences with this clause now for 81 years, since the 1918 Sox trumped the Cubs in six games in their sixth year at Fenway Park. Cubs' fans, of course, watched the clock turn from 91 to 92 this past June, when a monumental Cubs' collapse signaled another year without a championship since1908.
Strangely, "The Bostons"--as venerable radio announcer Ernie Harwell calls them--produced the collapses of others during their journeys this season back and forth from BoSox to WoeSox.
Mike Hargrove was heard reciting P.B. Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" as the Cleveland Indians' clubhouse door slammed behind him: The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, If Nomar walks, can O'Leary be far behind?
Roger Clemens, too, suffered this year at the hands of a Sox playoff team. Sox fans could not conceal our schaudenfreude in Game 3 of the ALCS, when we watched Roger assaulted by Red Sox batters, crouched behind the pitcher's mound in the same park in which he promised never to return in an AL East uniform--in the same town where he once complained that Sox management forced players to carry their own luggage.
Such sights--Clemens's fastballs ricocheting around Fenway--such sights of course mock us now that Clemens clinched the last World Series of the 20th Century for the Yanquis last night. In his postgame comments to the Boston Globe, Clemens sounded a bit like Jennifer Love Hewitt's character from "The Time of Your Life," the young Sarah who memorizes all the bridges in the five boroughs as she earnestly heaves her giddy self upon her newly adopted New York: "Tonight," Clemens said, "I feel I know what it's like to be a Yankee.''
For those who feel for the Sox every autumn, seeing Hargrove then Clemens soundly squashed by The Bostons in the Division and League Championships was itself unusual because it is hard for Sox fans to imagine any team, player, or manager cursing The Bostons after a playoff series. The roster of baseballers who have fallen to the Sox is so slim that we happily would invite Gene Mauch into our apartments and basement dens to watch another World Series without a Red Sox championship. If we asked him what he thought on the dugout steps, watching Donnie
Moore's strike-three pitch wafting out of the ballpark and Dave "Hendu" Henderson nearly stumbling over himself to touch home plate, he would tell us what we already know as Sox fans: "82 and counting."
"If I have one message to send to [Red Sox fans], it's 'Please believe in us. Don't be so negative. Mistakes happen. It's part of the game. We want you to be on our side.' "
--John Valentin, 3b
Red Sox fans, then, have seen the "other" of their own histories this year: Hargrove's managerial strategies resembling John McNamara's, stubborn and ineffective; Clemens fastball as eminently vulnerable as Bill Lee's daring palmball in 1975, meaty as anything Mike Torrez threw in 1978 to Bucky Dent. We saw our own perennial playoff suffering oddly displaced on others. Such sights could generate healing, as do moments of re-cathexis for psychoanalytic patients re-experiencing past traumas on their analysts' couches.
Of my own individual re-cathexis, I am happy that my experience watching the Yanquis clinch Game 5 of the American League Championship Series was memorable because Shelly and I watched the game with Ruth, a friend, neighbor, and New York Yanqui rooter. Ruth, Shelly, and I just met the week before, so this game was more an opportunity for pizza and beer, and for the sharing of personal histories that comes with the making of new friendships. Somewhere along the way, Jimy Williams's Boys flailed at El Duque's pitches, and in the late innings--especially a dramatic ninth, with Butch Huskey cast once again as Dave Henderson's understudy--added to their o'erstuffed collection of runners-left-on-base in the series. Ruth's Eskimo collie, Jack, suffered gastrointestinal distress during the game (perhaps he is a budding Sox fan), and we interrupted the game a couple times to take him for walks.
I transferred this refreshing re-cathexis into the New York Mets' series against the Braves as soon as the WoeSox lost, daring myself to prove Shantideva wrong when he reminded me that even the 1986 Mets are
precious to my altruistic designs in this life: "Destroy a single being's joy / And you wil work the ruin of yourself." Bobby Valentine's team crafted the plot of their playoff demise with such care and passion that I adopted them as surrogate-Red-Sox during Games 4, 5, and 6 of the National League Championship Series. Their comeback just to make the wild-card itself was reminiscent of how the 1978 Sox woke from their slumber to win their final 8 games of the season and force the Bucky Dent playoff game. I reveled in Valentine's cuckoo pronouncements, when he exhorted Mets' ownership to fire him if the team failed, while ownership itself strenuously disagreed with Valentine's apocalyptic consciousness and let him manage the team to the brink of a Championship Series Game 7. No one can say how seriously Valentine meant himself to be taken when he demanded his own firing, but his appreciation for performance--including the disguise he wore in the dugout after umpires threw him out of a midseason game--recalls the dramatic tendencies of Red Sox histories, always stringing together redemption narratives while reminding us that all such narratives are grounded in artifice. Each new Fenway team claims to play the game ahistorically, until playoff sufferings wake them like Eliot's mermaids and they drown. Or, as Dwight Evans told Sports Illustrated's Ron Fimrite after the Sox lost the 1986 World Series: "I don't believe in history . . . but maybe I'm starting to."
When Yaz fouled out to Nettles to end the 1978 playoff game against the Yanquis, I stalked out of the house and walked around the block and I had so much anger pumping my little 12-year old body that I didn't know what to do except keep walking around the block a few more times. But I was 12, and it wasn't too hard to get distracted by something else--including my own pubescence and my fear of Richie Van Dunn--and forget all about baseball. Of course, when Yaz is mentioned for the Hall of Fame, I think of including the bat he used for the popup alongside the bat he used to win the Triple Crown in 1967, such was the effect of his popout on my spunky adolescent baseball urgencies.
I nearly missed the phantasmagorical moments of Game 6 of the World Series in 1986, because I attended a poetry reading by Gwendolyn Brooks and Denise Levertov that night at Cleveland State University. Cleveland State was hosting a national poetry festival that weekend. I was chasing an on-again off-again girlfriend, Polly, whom I fell for in 1985 when she drove up to Kent, Ohio, from Columbus to visit my roommate, Deanna. I was standing on a keeling, rickety ladder and spackling a mouse hole above our kitchen cupboards when Deanna introduced Polly and I to each other as poets. Polly recited the first stanzas of THE WASTE LAND to me, and from there I knew I wanted us to be each other's Hyacinth Girls.
Polly and I clung to each other the next year at the outstanding Brooks and Levertov readings. But every chance I could, I found moments to pause in stairwells and men's bathrooms to listen to Game 6 on the portable radio I kept in my backpack. We met a group of expatriate Red Sox fans that night, and Polly could not understand why we honored Brooks, Levertov, Clemens, Boggs, and Oil Can as brilliant equals.
Later, Polly and I argued about how to pronounce "Hiroshima." On the way back to Kent, Polly came down with flu in my car and neither of us knew that a blister was growing like blight on one of Clemens's throwing fingers. We argued a bit more about whether to say "Hee-row-shee-ma" or "Hi-row-shma" and we agreed to shut off the radio to concentrate on our
dispute. By the time we got back to Kent, Polly was running a low fever and sleeping in the bed while I watched the game with the sound off. Networks did not plant a running score in the corner of the screen as they do now, so I had no idea that I was watching the bottom of the tenth inning of Game 6--which is a lot like saying, "I had no idea that was Abe Lincoln sitting in the box at Ford's Theater." I asked myself (in a whisper, so not to wake Polly) why Schiraldi looked so tense, and, later, why Gedman had so much trouble catching Stanley. I knew the score by the time Mookie Wilson came to bat, which is, as Keats said of his Grecian Urn, "all ye need to know."
Game 6: 1986 World Series
During Game 7, I sat at a corner bar called Ray's and nursed a big mug of Guinness beer, thinking that only a Red Sox championship takes longer to finish than a stein of dark beer. After the last pitch of the game--after Sox Manager John McNamara had passed up Oil Can Boyd to come in from the bullpen to hold the lead, then keep the game tied, or (yikes) at least keep it close once the Mets went in front--Mets players swarmed Jesse Orosco on the pitcher's mound.. Red Sox infielder Marty Barrett walked meekly back to the dugout after his Series-ending strikeout--stunned really, as if he had just witnessed the birth of a three-headed calf. No, just the death of another Sox season, a continuing dearth of success. I took a big swuggle of beer. I was busy working on a short story for a fiction workshop, so I went home and fell asleep early so that I could wake before the dawn and continue my revisions.
Where Dwight Evans might now believe in history, Sox fans are left wondering how we might escape history. But we cannot. The clock will strike 82 during Spring Training 2000. And we know that as much as we suffer from Red Sox history, it is this history itself--our attempt to remember it, to make peace with it, to wish for it a redemptive future--that gives us a vocabulary for our passion. We have all winter to find words for the doughy smile that flashed across Clemens's face as he swarmed Mariano Rivera last night.
|Tony Trigilio saw his first baseball game when he was 5, sitting in the steep upper-deck at Shea Stadium to watch the Mets against the Expos. Since then, he has followed the sport with full confidence that baseball launches us into revelation, and our revelations just as often lead us back to baseball. Trigilio is a former resident of the Fenway neighborhood in Boston. While living in the shadow of Fenway Park, he taught at Northeastern University and co-founded the Fenway Skills Exchange, a grass-roots skills bank. He is a member of the English faculty at Columbia College Chicago, where he teaches courses in writing, literature, and poetry. Trigilio's poetry has been published in numerous journals, and his book on the poetic prophecies of Blake, H.D., and Ginsberg is forthcoming in 2000.|