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MY TURN AT BAT

A Red Sox Postmortem
By Maggi Burns Rogers

 

The wind has started to blow colder around the ramshackle tree house as my hopes are dashed and Ernie Harwell calls the last out of the Sox '99 season. Had to listen to Harwell and not Troup and Castiglione because I listened to Harwell for games three through five of the Indians' series–the same time that I stopped watching on the television. Shortly thereafter (maybe when the Sox were up sixteen or so in game four) I found myself holed up in the tree house, earphone plugged into hubby's trusty transistor radio (circa '62-known affectionately as the "Monbo's no-hitter model"). The penchant for fans to believe the outcome of a game/series/season has less to do with the talents and luck of the team and everything to do with where and how we follow them is a psychosis that does not pass over my house. If a rubber chicken must be swung overhead with one eye shut and Jess Cain's Hallelujah Chorus on the stereo, then so be it. I took more than a little credit for slaying Cleveland by sacrificing myself to the tree house; and felt I must do whatever I could to parlay the '99 season into a victorious one.

The Yankees series had begun with a return to normalcy-my husband felt that for better or worse we should sit like adults in the living room. Well, maybe normalcy is not quite the right word-a forty-five-mile drive to Lansdowne Street on Thursday morning to buy a Yankee doll for our dartboard may be slightly beyond the range of middle-aged oughta-know-betters with children for whom we should be setting an example. Guns are not allowed in our home; darts only on certain special occasions. Still, we're talking Red Sox fans here-people for whom heartache is not only no stranger, but as perennial a guest as the gaseous heartburn that follows a sausage from a Fenway vendor. Likewise, heartache has usually been invited and paid for dearly, just as were the peppers and onions. Not just with the wads of cashola necessary for even a bleacher seat (seems like just yesterday they were cheaper than the beer-but I digress), but also the monthly stipend surgically extracted from the paycheck of a bleacher bum who has outgrown frequent pilgrimages and now relies on cable-fed heartache.

(For this pilgrim, the trips to Fenway slowed up just after October 6, 1990–the beginning not only of the Sox–A's playoff series but also my son's life. As if to painfully illustrate the foregone conclusion that he, too, would be banished to an eternal second-place-fan existence, the score was tied at one apiece just until his entry into this veil of tears. When I first beheld his beautiful, scrunched-up face, I also saw overhead on the TV the first of many runs that Oakland would score to seal our fate that season.)

So anyway, the dartboard had your garden-variety bull's-eye-type framework on one side and a baseball motif on the other. It was onto the diamond that the Yankee effigy was fastened, his head replaced by a lemon just over second base so it would make a really cool thwocky kind of sound when hit straight on, and so that by game three (Roger's sure-to-be-horrific outing if there was, indeed, a God) there would be fruit flies buzzing all 'round. Atop this abomination was tacked some long-ago-secured sheet music to the play No No Nanette, just to dispel as many demons as possible in one complete voodoo-esque presentation.

Nevertheless, and even with Roger's prophecy fulfilled, the outlook—you might say—was less than brilliant by game four. But wait! We had, after all, beaten Cleveland. This was, after all, our year. Again . . . Right . . . right . . . Hmmmm . . . Time to head to the tree house, and ESPN radio.

The song, of course, remains the same. I braved the elements but it was not enough. The baseball season in New England was over, once again without the elusive, ultimate victory. And I, a terminal Red Sox patient, lay as if on the operating table, numbness creeping up on me as I breathed deeply and counted backwards from 100-90, 88, 86, 78, 75, 67, 46 . . . Okay, so I wasn't born in '46, but my mother was there-nearly thrown out of a Catholic school after she told them she wouldn't be in class 'cause she was sick. Might have gotten away with it if her picture hadn't been in the Boston paper, camping out overnight for tickets. Sure, she caught hell with the nuns, but she also saw a game and got a baseball autographed by the team (seems they had seen the same newspaper). Still, they lost. They always lose. Men have lived through World War II and died of old age but not seen their beloved Sox win a World Series.

So who am I to whine and demand attention as I lick my metaphorical wounds? After all, what on earth would I do if that glorious day came to pass? Jump from the tree house and run through the streets in my jammies? Drink seventeen cases of champagne and spray paint SOX #1 on my neighbor's house? Call up the boss and quit my job? Start a bonfire on the steps of Boston City Hall? Parachute over Fenway?

Okay, maybe all of the above. But then, the next day, I'd have to kiss up to the boss and clean up the paint, not to mention the several felony charges that might be pending. And then? Well, we'd all be forced to pursue loftier goals, no longer prisoners of ennui as the leaves turn and fall. Once the trophy is ours, fans would be pressed for a good reason to put off curing cancer, stemming racism, eliminating world hunger, cleaning the basement.

Aren't we, then, more fortunate, in that our perennial loss has become our defining milieu, our crowning tragic aura that sets us apart from the mundane machismo of the Yankees, the bravado of the Braves, the "gee, it took us three whole years" of the Florida Marlins? We may deserve the prize year after year, but we alone can parade our scars and be proud that we have survived in spite of them. There may be talk of rebuilding Fenway, but there's no talk of moving the team to sunnier climes with deeper pockets. Hell, we should take credit for the fact that we love them no matter what! We alone can wax poetic and hold ourselves apart from those whose triumphs come and go. Our triumph is our survival and, perhaps, as with Keats's Grecian urn, it is fair to assume that "Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter." Or, in the words of the Rolling Stones, "You can't always get what you want."

But then again, wait 'till next year.

–EFQ

MAGGI BURNS ROGERS is a part-time postal worker, a full-time wife and mother of two, an antipoverty advocate, a card-carrying member of the "Save Fenway Park"organization, and a long-suffering Red Sox fan. In her spare time during the baseball season, she and her family can be found somewhere in section nine of McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, home to the Red Sox AAA minor league affiliate.

© 2000 Maggi Burns Rogers

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