Watching Still We Believe: The Boston Red Sox Movie, listening to the surprisingly insightful things the most die-hard of fans have to say about their devotion to this thing which just can’t seem to win, I am reminded of what a friend told me yesterday about the importance of conflict in storytelling. “I think it’s impossible to make a narrative out of satisfaction,” he wrote. “Satisfaction is a full stop. tension, conflict, are narrative building blocks.”
This is, of course, a bit obvious. It’s why we continue to watch television shows where the love interests never get together, why we’re often most productive when we’re busiest, why we find the bittersweet so beautiful. And it’s what Red Sox fans intuit, know.
Last year, after game seven of the ALCS, I started (but never finished) a rather lengthy piece on faith, MIT, and the Red Sox. An excerpt:
“This is the World Series,” one of my friends said when the Sox started to slip in the eighth inning. “Nobody wants to watch the Yankees play the Marlins.” She was dead right: I don’t know a soul who’s turned on the television to watch baseball since that historic game seven. Why? Baseball’s greatest rivalry is not just a bunch of hot air. It’s blood, sweat, and tears, topped off by a healthy 85 years of emotional baggage. Emotion draws you in. Drama draws you in. People care about whether or not the Cubbies win. People care about whether or not the Red Sox win. People do not care, in general, whether or not the Yankees win. That’s an expectation. There’s no drama there. And the Marlins? Where are they from again?
A morning-after email put it best: “Yankees/Marlins World Series? I think the real fans left the building as soon as Boone got ahold of that pitch.”
It’s also kind of heartbreaking to see all this footage of Grady Little, to hear his slow, mellow drawl talking about the team again. It opens old wounds, and it reminds me how cruel a city, a franchise can be, when just one mistake is made. It’s a difficult movie to watch if you were a Red Sox fan last season, because it reminds you how excited you were before game seven of the ALCS, and how despirited you were after.
Since it’s been an emotional night, I’ll end with some more of what I wrote on Friday, October 17th, 2003:
After game seven, the apartment empties quickly, and we all fall into fitful sleep. As I get coffee the next morning, I hear one Sox-capped construction worker saying to another, “If they won, they’d be like the Patriots…” and I smile knowingly at him, because he’s right, of course. I haven’t read the Globe today, but I’ve speculated for weeks now that if the Sox were to lose the pennant, there would be a nonzero number of columns—in the Sports section, in the City|Region section, heck, even on the front page—saying things like next year and this is what it means to be a Red Sox fan. And for weeks I’ve been trying to decide if this is just cognitive dissonance, a way of justifying an unjust loss, a cop-out even. But I’ve decided that it’s not. These emotional extremes are precisely what it means to be a Red Sox fan. “There might be some Yankees fans I could respect,” one morning-after email reads, “but a lot of them are just joiners who want a winning team.”
It’s easy to be a Yankees fan (if you have no soul, the Bostonian in me adds). It’s easy to root for a winner. It requires no real dedication, no real spirit, no real heart. It asks of you no suffering, no sacrifice, no faith. All it asks is that you don a Yankees cap and occasionally rip on the Red Sox. Being a Sox fan is far more difficult, complex, and rewarding. It is not easy to root—I mean really root—for the Red Sox. They constantly disappoint in the midst of success, they build us up and let us down, they perform like a winning ball club and then coddle the star pitcher until he gives up three runs. They ask a lot of their fans. But they are dignified in their imperfection, and there is no shame in it whatsoever. And Boston fans are nothing if not resilient. As I walk around today, everyone is saying next year with brave smiles on their faces. It’s a beautiful October day in the most faithful city in the U.S. Next year.
And, though we’re still behind this year, it’s only the All-Star Break, and who knows? The home run derby’s on TV, and they have kids in the outfield catching the hits, swarming around the ball and jumping up and down with more enthusiasm than you can muster after the age of twelve. Everything’s not lost.