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The Curse Reversed
From the youngest age, autumn in New England was defined by spectacular beauty and spectacular defeat. As a child, when the leaves turned crimson and golden, there arose a palpable sense of fear of what undoubtedly lay ahead: another disappointing postseason with the perennial losers, the Boston Red Sox. The team would again capture our hearts and imaginations but would soon crush them come November. My team, the once-treasured club of baseball’s Gilded Age, had descended into a decades-long era of agony and utter collapse at the brink of triumph. The club’s inopportune and uncanny mistakes late in the postseason became commonplace and began to define the team for entire generations as baseball’s loveable losers.
The team, its fans, and the city of Boston felt cursed. That curse originated decades earlier, when famed baseball hero Babe Ruth abandoned the team to join our hated rival, leaving the club and the city suddenly hopeless. Ruth’s departure began the era of failure. Whenever these unfortunate losers stepped to the plate or climbed the mound, feelings of unease and concern stirred. In the fall of 2004, this similar feeling surfaced once again across New England, despite an impressive season and yet another postseason berth for “The Olde Towne Team.”
The feeling was palpable in my household as my parents anxiously stared at the television screen each night, cringing as every ball was pitched, hoping that the Sox would win one for the town that had waited so long. I was so naïve at the time and assumed that my childhood heroes would be able win it for Boston, for my family, for me. My innocent nature had yet to experience the devastation that my family and Sox fans of yesteryear had endured. Throughout my childhood, I heard of the tragedies of Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner that instantly sent my parents and grandparents into an apoplectic state. Even after the brilliant postseason performances of Carlton Fisk and Ted Williams, it appeared that victory would never happen.
During dinner table conversations and precious moments with my grandparents, the tragic reality of the team’s generations-long championship drought was at the core of angst-ridden discussion and became the fables of my childhood. The Sox, after all, represented many of my family’s values. Throughout their darkest years, they were a determined club that was loyal to all of us. Even after repeated, painful postseason defeats that left the players feeling prepared to abandon ship, they stayed with us. Each time they did return to the diamond, patrons throughout Red Sox Nation would boldly dream, “This is the year.” The Sox stayed faithful to us: why would we not do the same for them? They would never quit on us. I could remember my mother stressing the same principles of loyalty to family and persistence in times of hardship. Resilience and perseverance defined this group of ballplayers and all New Englanders. We shared this unbreakable, unconditional love for this cursed band of men who would consistently shatter our hearts each October. At least they were consistent. We, at least, had that.
Though I had not experienced many of those catastrophic moments of Red Sox lore, I soon became aware of my club’s history of disastrous failure. My mother and father recounted the abject heartbreak felt across New England when Dent’s homerun tragically soared over “The Monster” or when the ball swept through Buckner’s legs. The anecdotes served as a backdrop to my outlook on life as a young boy. They became my bedtime stories.
“Game 6 in ‘86 was the game that will never leave my memory. I know exactly where I was when that catastrophe unfolded,” my Mom would continually remind me. “October 25, 1986. I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was precisely the moment when I finally gave up on the Sox. I had endured ’67, ’75, and ’78. I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
“Does it still hurt, Mom?” I would innocently ask.
“Everyday,” she said after a long pause.
The Sox’s postseason incompetence in late game scenarios tormented the most loyal fans, turning the page on season after unfulfilled season at Fenway. My grandmother relayed memories of Red Sox past from games in 1967 and 1978 when the entire city of Boston would watch the club with hope and angst.
“In 1978, the whole neighborhood was home to watch the three o’clock game. Everyone stayed home from school to see the Sox beat the Yanks,” my grandmother claimed. “When it all happened the way it did, we were all heartbroken – especially because it was the dreaded Yankees stealing our chance at baseball glory. All of Boston felt like something was taken away from us. We felt robbed.” My grandmother had experienced it all – ’46, ’67, ’75, ’78, and ‘86 –with no trophy to show for in seventy years of watching the Sox. It just seemed unfair.
Countless Sox fans would sadly not live to the see their boys hoist the World Series crown. My grandfather’s dearest friend in life, who was the one who originally dragged our family into this torturous annual dance, never lived to see them win it all. On occasion, by October’s close each season, a Sox team would rise to the precipice of baseball immortality, and too often it would be that dastardly team from New York, who would be our undoing.
Through these legends of Red Sox past, I was educated about this bitter rivalry between the Sox and Yankees – between Boston and New York. I was fully aware of the dominance of the rival Yankees’ “Evil Empire” over the Sox and of the growing disparity in success between the two franchises. By the turn of the century, the constant reminder of New York’s excess of championships began to exasperate the psyche of even the most devoted Sox fans. The contentious feelings between the two clubs even boiled over on the diamond, as the rivals engaged in on-field brawls that illustrated the sincere disdain each felt for the other. As a young boy at a Yankees-Sox duel, I could sense a “Cold-War” atmosphere, which always flirted with fisticuffs on the field. In the stands, too, the fans hurled invectives and mercilessly ridiculed the other team. When I went to see the Sox play at Yankee Stadium, I heard the incessant, piercing chant “1918,” a brutal reminder of the year we won our last championship.
When my family moved from Boston to “Yankee Country” in Connecticut, “down behind enemy lines” in the prophetic words of my uncles, my young self was unnerved and concerned about the seemingly ubiquitous presence of Yankee pinstripes. I was afraid to sport my Sox jersey, worrying that I would face daunting animosity from my new, surely Yankee-fan neighbors. At my new school, I waited to see the walls plastered with Yankee memorabilia and peers gloating daily about their twenty-six championship rings. After I got to know the folk of the neighborhood and their baseball affiliations, I realized that I was wrong. A handful of my neighbors proudly hung Sox banners on their doorsteps. In school, I discovered that I was not alone in this sea of Yankee lovers. A few of my teachers were hardy New Englanders who experienced the generations of agony that my family and I had endured. This kindred Sox loyalty gave me reassurance, a kind of eternal hope in my new home: people close by were on my side. It was a sign to me that maybe the Sox would turn it around soon.
It would not be long before I began to doubt that eternal hope and experience for myself the horrors of the postseason with the Sox, once again at the hands of the Yankees. In late October 2003, I stared at the television with tears cascading down my cheeks, when after a game-ending homerun the Sox were sent packing for the offseason and that team from New York headed to yet another World Series. The moment seemed the nadir of all Red Sox postseason disasters. This instance assured us that we would never reach the pinnacle of baseball. The curse was alive and well. I saw my parents gaze blankly into the distance as the game ended, more disheartened about their beloved club than ever. They believed for a brief, magical moment that the Sox just might win it, only to have their hopes dashed for an eighty-fifth straight year. It seemed indeed that they would never win. An entire generation of Sox faithful began to lose hope in the team. I could sense, even at my young age, that this was the darkest moment for Sox fans. Not even Dent’s heart-crushing homer or Buckner’s gaffe could surmount the level of sorrow felt throughout New England following that loss. It was an indication to many Sox fans to finally give up.
“Will they ever win, Dad?” I pleaded. He gave no response as he turned off the television in sheer frustration.
With the gravity of that devastating loss, Sox fans believed years would pass before the club would return to a competitive position in the postseason. The episodes of 1978 and 1986 had precipitated long stretches of Red Sox failure, and the team took years to emerge atop the league standings. The thought of returning to baseball’s greatest stage the following year seemed to be “an impossible dream.”
Surprisingly, within just twelve months, the Sox were still playing ball deep into October, inciting that familiar feeling of anxiety. The Sox often defined the city’s mood, but this 2004 team was different. They played without fear – without the burden of Red Sox past. This charismatic band of misfits, who dubbed themselves “The Idiots,” suddenly had the town rallying around them. For some unforeseen reason, New Englanders thought that this bizarrely magical season led by the now loveable “Band of Idiots” might just end in triumph. By mid-October, Sox fans began to believe again.
As if following the script of past Sox postseasons, their next postseason foe was that team from New York. The team that had punished us year after year, game after game, was coming again to steal our shot at baseball immortality. They had arrived to ruin our little fairy tale. We should have seen this coming. A sense of shattered hope pervaded New England when we saw the Sox next to the Yankees on the scorecard. With the “Evil Empire” in the opposing dugout, we knew our postseason days were numbered. Red Sox Nation and I wondered why we were perennially in this hopeless situation; it appeared victory was again nowhere in sight. “The Babe” seemed to watching over, confirming that his Yankees would prevail.
The Yankee pinstripes daunted us all, as the club first travelled to New York for the start of the series. We fans were universally terrified. Following the series’ first pitch, our worst nightmares would take form. Suddenly, the Sox’s magic turned to misery. This team we loved and thought was different than all of the past Red Sox disasters, fell into line. We lost the first three games in tragic fashion. The city and the Nation felt on the brink of elimination. One more loss and it would be all over, again – and another generation of Sox fans would be lost to the curse.
“Every time,” my mother said in a saddened, frustrated tone. “We’ll never catch a break. I think we really are cursed. The team, the city – all of us.”
“Why us?” I whined, trying to fight back tears.
“It’s just how it is. We’re Red Sox fans. We live with this team. We cry with this team. We die with this team.” She had completely lost hope.
With the little faith I still had in me, I curiously inquired, “Could we do it, Mom? Could we win four in a row?”
My juvenile optimism, which imagined the Sox making the greatest comeback in history of baseball, seemed improbable. We needed a miracle for that to happen. Even as the patrons at Fenway slumped dejectedly in their seats, as the “Evil Empire” continued to dominate, the “Band of Idiots” never faltered. We were so confused that they had not yet lost complete hope. What shocked us all was that these Sox actually believed to the core they could win and overcome the greatest deficit in sports history. Although they were grown men, the Sox possessed a youthful positivity that had eluded many fans. Their confident attitude in the face of disaster began to inspire me. A part of me now, observing their jovial spirits, believed in the Sox.
In the fourth game, that miracle the Sox desperately needed came to pass. The Ghosts of Red Sox Past finally gave the team that inextinguishable hope they desired. In the game’s final frame, Dave Roberts stole a base and the series for the Sox. The cosmic momentum finally shifted to our side. Just three innings later, the Sox would complete the comeback to win the skirmish, boosting the morale of the Sox faithful. Red Sox Nation now started to believe again. They blindly put their trust in their boys. That familiar postseason anxiety existed, but now existed alongside hope. The Nation was learning to keep the faith. I heard actual discussion that the Sox might just achieve the impossible: a colossal comeback to beat the Yankees. After the embarrassment of going to school each morning during that losing spell, I walked the halls with a little more confidence, a spring in my step, as my Sox continued to win. I could proudly wear my Sox loyalty on my sleeve and don my Sox cap when I strolled through school or even the streets of Manhattan. My childhood hero, David Ortiz, delivered valiant hitting performances and reinvigorated the city’s belief in the team; he also achieved the impossible: he inflicted fear in those pompous pinstriped patrons.
In the series’ sixth game, the courageous pitching performance of Curt Schilling propelled the Sox to triumph. He pitched through an excruciating ankle injury, as blood seeped through his sock. His outing defined the Sox’s postseason: perseverance and determination through seemingly insurmountable adversity. My father was at that game. He and the other Sox fans who ventured across enemy lines at Yankee Stadium recognized Schilling and the team’s undying desire to win for the fans who had waited long enough.
The following morning my father reported that the Sox had been victorious and tied the series. “We could actually win it, Dad!” I proclaimed. He gently nodded with a slight smile, knowing past Red Sox postseason unhappy endings all too well. The Sox had crawled their way back to catch the Yankees. One more victory would seal the greatest comeback in sports history and end decades of demoralizing failure at the hands of the “Evil Empire.” With twenty-seven more outs, the Sox would have their revenge.
I recall the day being unusually quiet. The calm before the storm. For the seventh and final game, history was on the line. The Sox had the opportunity to end generations of perennial failure. The team was as loose as always, but the fans were tenser than ever. My mother was considerably anxious that day. Minutes before the game’s first pitch, she paced down the hallway, taking slow, deep breathes. The gravity of this game worried her. She had tragically witnessed Dent and Buckner crush championship dreams and was praying no catastrophes occur on the diamond that night.
From the game’s much-awaited first pitch, the roles magically reversed, and the Sox dominated the Yankees. Red Sox Nation was fully behind the team and propelled them to victory. As a part of that beloved Nation, I felt part of the triumph. Although we were not on the field, the spirits of Sox fans throughout New England seemed to be there, driving the victory, reversing the curse.
We won that night. The city won that night. It was one for the ages. We beat the Yankees. We achieved the greatest comeback in baseball history. When the final out was made, I could feel the radiance, the pure jubilation across the land. Grown men wept tears of joy. Children of New England cheered in unison. Fathers hugged their sons. Years of failure against the Yankees were over. David finally conquered Goliath. The victory was a sign, an omen – a fortuitous one this time – of further victory to come.
A week later, the Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in four games to capture their first World Series trophy in eighty-six years. The Sox had achieved the pinnacle of baseball that so many times was just beyond their grasp. This decisive victory erased years and memories of postseason catastrophe. They had reversed the curse. The wait for Boston was over. Many Sox fans could now die in peace. A generation of Sox fans was finally relieved. One of those devoted fans was my Uncle Peter. He was there in the stands in St. Louis on that hallowed night to witness the glorious celebration. That crisp autumn night at Busch Stadium was unlike the countless somber nights he endured at Fenway for his beloved Sox. He had never lost faith in the Sox like my parents had at times. He persisted with hope and eternal optimism for these everyday losers. His devotion to the team he loved inspired me as a young Sox fan. With him there, it felt as if our entire family was represented. Through him, we were all there in spirit, paying our respects to this team we inexplicably adored. It could not have been better. Our family, a collection of longtime devout Sox fans, was present to witness the sweetest American history. Our family along with the Sox had finally achieved the ultimate dream of baseball. We felt like world champions.
Now, as Sox seasons commence each April, the Nation states with hopeful certainty, “This is the year.” There is no longer any doubt. That quirky “Band of Idiots” made us believe. They instilled in us an undying devotion to the team and to hope. Even as the club changes in personality and character year-to-year, I have faith in my beloved Red Sox. They believed in us from the beginning, so we believed in them. The Sox taught me wonders as a young boy. Their ability to achieve the impossible made me trust the improbable. Their resilience and grace in the face of adversity inspired the Nation, the entire city and me. The team perfectly and purely reflected Boston and New England, a region defined by loyalty to loved ones. We unconditionally loved the Sox, and after that unforgettable postseason run, I finally knew they loved us back.