Twenty-one years ago, just before that soft groundball began to tumble through Bill Buckner's legs at first base at Shea Stadium, I was zipping up my jacket on and heading down the stairs toward Kenmore Square in Boston to help the city celebrate the Red Sox' victory over the New York Mets. It was the moment in my young life when the relentlessness of its disappointments came squarely into view.
Twenty-nine years ago, on a tiny black-and-white set in a tiny room in Montreal, I remember wanting to barf when the Yankees' Bucky Dent hit his three-run homer to doom the Sox in a 1978 playoff game. I can still see in my mind's eye Carl Yastrzemski's pop-up to third to end that game. So, yes, you could say, without any measurable degree of hyperbole, that I am a patriotic, with gusts up to fanatic, citizen of the Red Sox Nation(except I don't pay dues).
But this week I am in unfamiliar territory even in my home state. You see, I am a long-suffering (well, not that long) Colorado Rockies' season ticket holder. My friend, Dan Frank, and I invested together in the tickets 14 years ago and I still have them. Everyone (including Dan, I guess) seems to have thought I was going to put my rooting interests where I have put my money over the years. Everyone figured I would be torn about whom to root for. Everyone tells me I have to be a good resident of Colorado and pull for the team now filling up Coors Field, a static and sanitary ball field. As usual, everyone is wrong.
I want Boston to beat Colorado. It doesn't have to be a slaughter. No one on Colorado's team needs to be humiliated or anything. I certainly don't want Rockies' fans—who weren't exactly filling ol' Coors Field just a few months ago, I might add-- to go through even some of the agony I have had to go through as a Red Sox fan over the past 35 years (never mind the Red Sox fans who had suffered for 75 years or more). In other words, I don't want Colorado to lose. I just want the Sox to win. It's just habit. It is now physically impossible for me to root for another team against my Sox.
Why? My son and I bring a life-sized cardboard of David "Big Papi" Ortiz into our living room each season. When the traitorous Johnny Damon left the Sox to play for the New York Yankees (we call them the "Skankies" in our house) my son and I lit a candle for him and then pledged never to say his name again. "He is dead to us," my son solemnly said (to my great pride) on the telephone after the candle-lighting. Now we call that player: "He Who Shall Not Be Named." We have Sox playing cards and the Sox Monopoly game and Sox Bobble-Heads and Sox signs and photographs all over our house.
You get the idea. The Rockies? I have a few good memories of them—especially in their early years when it seemed like they won or lost every game 15-10. They are today a good team filled with great young players. And they have played some of the best baseball ever played in any single 30-day span and for that they deserve to play in the World Series. But here it must end. The wonderful inhabitants of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West need to know true losing—deep, unconscionable, inconsolable losing… Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, Aaron Boone losing—before they fully deserve a World Series champion. How long does the Mile High City have to wait? Not long, perhaps. Just until another team is playing against them in the Series.
Where does my son stand? Ever the diplomat—and more pertinently ever the front-runner—he has declared that he will root for whichever team happens to be playing at home. So he'll root for Sox on Wednesday and Thursday and then the Rox over the weekend and on Monday. Fine, I told him. "It's a free country and you can root for whichever team you want to-- as long as you root for the Red Sox. If you root for the Rockies in my house," I added, "you'll have to figure out a way to forage for food because I don't feed fans who root against the Sox."
It's old-school. I know. But the kid needs to learn that Sox colors don't turn from Red to Purple at the drop of a ball cap. Besides, someone else can always feed him. In the meantime, we'll go to at least one World Series game and maybe two out of the three that could be played in Denver. And we'll be watching all the other games at home, on the same television that brought us images from 2004, the last Red October. My son will be free to read the sports sections of the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News, two lame gratuitous house organs for the Rockies, while I peruse online the completely objective and rational coverage of the Series and the Sox by the superb staff of the Boston Globe.
I know I am risking the ire of my well-meaning friends and neighbors, Rockies' fans all, by making this confession. I fully expect to see them any night now with torches climbing up the hill demanding I ex-purge my Stephen King books. But I owe the small act of defiance to all those brave Sox fans before me, who proudly wear overpriced "authentic" Sox jerseys into Yankee Stadium and other places of great peril. I owe it to Bill Buckner and Tim Wakefield (who gave up Boone's homer in 2003) and Mike Torrez (who gave up Dent's home-run).
I am a stranger in a strange land; a tried and true citizen of Red Sox Nation living behind enemy lines. I am awaiting a parachute drop of more Bobble-Head dolls from the Red Sox Nation Air Force. Until then, and whatever happens (and by that I mean, watching the Sox win) we should enjoy a wonderfully exciting end to what already has been a fairly amazing October. I mean, "Roctober"- as they have taken to calling it here in the Centennial State.