'Our Red Sox,' Still?

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I didn't share all that with Stan on the morning Metro North commute to Manhattan after the first series ended. We're too prickly with one another about Yankees-Sox matters to wonder aloud whether Mo's getting skittish, or Wells is through for good. By and large, we're polite and considerate with one another as we share our baseball notions. In fact, I was surprised Stan went as far as he did. "Well, there you go," he said. "Season's started. All slates are clean."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"No champs anymore. I always felt when the Yanks were winning every year that once the first pitch was thrown, there were no more world champs. Everyone's equal."

"Really?" I asked. I did not pursue this. I did not say, "Bull." I did not suggest that Stan was full of it. I did not define for Stan the meaning of the word "reigning"—as in Reigning World Champions. And I did not say, "Not only are we still baseball's champions, but the Pats are world champs till next winter, too, and they did it by going through Pittsburgh—in Pittsburgh (the Steelers are Stan's football team). I let it lie.

I didn't go there because Stan had been a pretty good sport lately. He had even come to the launch party at Mango Cafe for my book, in which—he was well aware—he's something of a foil. He had sat there smiling as I'd read aloud some of the Stan-versus-me parts. And of course, Stan knew how the book ended, and still he came to the party and back to the house afterwards for a beer. He didn't buy a copy, mind you, but he did congratulate me.

The book's called "Our Red Sox: A Story of Family, Friends, and Fenway," and underlying the narrative are a few themes: generational traditions, fathers and mothers and sons and daughters, and this idea that the Red Sox are not, in essence, a baseball team but are, rather, New England—like beans, cod, the Swan Boats, a martini at the Ritz, finnan haddie at LockeOber's, the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, the day's last run at Mad River Glen, a jog around Block Island. And now I was wondering, even as the book hit the stores, whether this last premise was being rendered wholly false by the great fame and . . . well, transcendence of the Red Sox as currently constituted. Were we losing "Our Red Sox?"

There was a perfect opportunity to investigate this question just a few days ago—this being, obviously, the home opener in Fenway. The tickets were being scalped for thousands, but I had a way to get into the Fens, and so did Jane. In an instance like this, if you can, you must. We could, so we did.

Monday morning was brilliantly sunny as we pointed the Honda north and put Westchester County in the rearview mirror. Jane and I did some catching up—Luci, Steve, kids, opinions on Pedro, who had pitched a two-hitter the day before, beating Smoltz—and then trained our thoughts on Fenway. It wasn't hard. When we transitioned to the Mass Pike via the toll booths, there was a large metal sign saluting the New England Patriots, World Champions, as we approached, and then the Boston Red Sox, World Champions, as we exited. We made a pit stop near Framingham and everyone—everyone—milling about at the McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts counters was wearing Sox garb—a hat, a sweatshirt, some with the world champs information and some proudly antique. One guy wore a Pats jersey, but looked like he knew he had made a mistake. We left the rest area and returned to the highway and almost instantly spotted a fire-engine-red Mini-Cooper with white racing stripes. The entwined red sox were emblazoned on the passenger-side door and, as we passed, we noticed the team's insignia dominant on the front hood. The license plate (Connecticut) read BEATNY.

We cruised into town, and marveled again, even in the thickish morning traffic, how much smaller Boston was than New York. Jane and I are agreed that we can't go home again—we've been too long in New York, more than 25 years apiece—but, God, we love it up there. We parked under the Common, and then strolled up the wide median of Comm Ave. The trees and earliest daffodils were abloom, and all was right with the world. We were the reigning world champs.

We circled Fenway, picked up our credentials, and went inside. We visited the press box, but neither of us—too long in the game—enjoy the press box anymore, particularly on days when the game matters. The press box means a line at the buffet, watching the TV, cynicism. We didn't drive up here for that. On days like this, you need to be among the fans.

We made our way out to right field, and up to the section they've erected out there atop the grandstand roof. There are tables, standing room, a big bar, a food court with everything from really good sausage sandwiches to really wonderful New England clam chowder. It's a small, elbow-to-elbow party out there, and on a cool day when the sun would bear down on right-center the whole game, it was the perfect place to be.

Even as we took our stances in standing room, the ceremony began. There was to be a solid hour of pomp and circumstance before the first pitch, the twin centerpieces being the awarding of World Series rings and the hoisting of the World Champs banner. In short centerfield several musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops were arrayed, and to kick things off they played some Fens faves like "Sweet Caroline." Then the rings were bore in from left field by wounded members of the military—real heroes, not the baseball kind. Later, after receiving his ring, Trot Nixon would make sure to go down the line in right and shake the hand of each of these men and women—one of the many small grace notes you could pick up on this day.

The Yankees, class act that they have always been under Joe Torre, watched all of this from the dugout, and not one of them budged when the Sox started walking the red carpet to get their gold. The manager had told no one they had to watch, but the Yanks paid the Sox due respect. Yes, sure, there was an aspect of they-have-what-we-want-and-so-let's watch-to-whet-our appetite to it, but by and large it was a noble gesture. The Sox, in another nice twist, were introduced in the order in which they longest-ago signed with the team, and so the retired Ellis Burks, a rookie with the team 18 seasons ago and an aging vet who rejoined the club in '04, went first, followed by Wakefield, whose tenure stands at ten years. Wakefield kills the Yankees but is a man of sterling character. Every single Yankee applauded him. I was happy to see the assistant massage therapist and assistant visiting clubhouse manager (maybe the toughest job at Fenway?) get their rings.

"You know what's great about today," I said to Jane, "Everyone here's a Sox fan. The playoffs, regular-season games, all these Yankee fans come. There are fights, there's tension. But there's no way a Yankee fan would want to watch this. Everyone in the park is a Sox fan." I mused to that, no matter how big this Red Sox thing got, the team still did belong to us—the folks here in Fenway and our grandmothers watching on NESN in Bootbay Harbor, Keene, Cheshire, Storrs, Woonsocket, Chelmsford and everywhere else.

Another reflection: The calendar said April 11, 2005 but the day, as it unfolded in Fenway, belonged as firmly to 2004 as Ronald Reagan's funeral, Shrek2, the Presidential election and the moment that Dave Roberts stole second base in the ninth inning of Game Four. Roberts said as much, afterwards, in explaining his presence on Monday: "This is the last hurrah for all of us. This is something I don't want to forget." Roberts, a half-season Sox, plays for San Diego now, but had elected to be in Beantown rather than in Chicago on Monday, helping the Padres in their 1-0 win. And it was interesting: On this peculiar April 1lth, Roberts—and Curtis Leskanic and Derek Lowe and other bygone friends who wore Sox jerseys and blue jeans during the ceremony, were much more a part of the team than, say, John Halama or David Wells, dressed head to toe like ballplayers. Roberts, ever smiling—just like last fall—received a huge, sustained ovation for that one stolen base.

Wells, when he was introduced later as part of this year's iteration, was greeted genially by some in the stands, and ignored by others. As I saw Wells tip his hat to Mr. Torre from the field, it reinforced the notion that we're not sure just yet how we feel about Wells. Wells, Halama, Mantei, Clement: let's see how they do. Roberts we love and always will (and the betting here is, he'll be back one day). We love (No-Need-to-Panic, We've Got) Leskanic, unlikely winner of that pivotal Game Four. He's out of baseball now, but he's a Red Sox forever. So is Cabrera, who on April 11th did not fly to Boston but knocked in the winning run for his new club, the California (I reject that ridiculous new name) Angels, in the 10th inning of a game in Texas. I'm sure Cabrera is upset that Theo chose to sign the other Columbian all-star shortstop, Renteria, to the long-term deal, rather than himself. If it's any solace, Orlando: We're not sure yet how we feel about Renteria. We know how we feel about you.

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