Why Not Us - Leigh Montville
Why Not Us?
Boston Dirt Dogs Exclusive Excerpt of Leigh Montville's New Book
Chapter 10: My Story
I was called by the public relations department of Sports Illustrated in April 2004 to appear on a panel to discuss sports in Boston. SI was celebrating its 50th anniversary and part of the celebration was a traveling tent show of mementoes, blown-up pictures of SI covers and interactive games. The show was going to all 50 states in 50 weeks, each visit coinciding with lists of Best Athletes and Greatest Moments and articles about the particular state that would appear in the magazine that week...
The Boston visit came on the best local sports weekend of all, the annual Patriots Day weekend of the Boston Marathon. This one was even better than usual. Not only was the city filled with runners and their friends and families, but the New York Yankees also were in town. The weekend was a sports zoo, a menagerie.
This was the first visit of Alex Rodriguez as a Yankee. This was the first meeting with the accursed infidels of Steinbrenner since the letdown of the previous October when the Sox had lost the pennant. Tee shirts questioning A-Rod’s masculinity and the Yankees’ dietary habits were everywhere. Conversations about the games abounded.
The SI operation was set up in a Boston University parking lot in Kenmore Square, directly across Commonwealth Avenue from the Pizzeria Uno. The start time on Saturday afternoon was 5 o’ clock, perfect for spectators who had gone to the Yankees game at Fenway. The planning couldn’t have worked better. On Friday night, exactly six months after surrendering the Aaron Boone homer, Tim Wakefield shut down the visitors, 6-2. On Saturday, game just completed, newcomer Curt Schilling beat them in a 5-2 win. Manny Ramirez homered. The invited guests – mostly advertisers and their friends – were in a buoyant mood.
The panelist on the stage were, left to right, Bob Cousy, Mike Eruzione, Doug Flutie, David Ortiz and me. (“Holey-Moley,” the little kid shouted. “Shut up,” I shushed.) SI does not fool around when it stages events. Not many groups could override this one – Cousy and the Celtics glories, Eruzione and the 1980 hockey miracle in the Olympics, Flutie and the Hail Mary pass for Boston College at Miami and Ortiz, already the designated Red Sox teddy bear – as representative of Boston sports glory. (New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, fresh from the Super Bowl, was scheduled to appear at the same stage on Sunday.)
SI writers Ed Swift and Tom Verducci also sat at the long table. Swift was at an end, the emcee, designated to ask everyone else questions. I sat between Verducci and David Ortiz. The crowd was at our feet, looking up at all of us.
“Tell me this,” Verducci whispered. “Don’t you have a strong feeling that we’re on the wrong side of this table? Shouldn’t we be down there?”
“Uh-huh,” I whispered back.
The hour was delightful. Swift asked good questions. People in the crowd asked even better ones, a microphone passed from hand to hand. The athletes answered with humor and charm. Verducci and I kept our answers to a minimum, trying to stay as unobtrusive as possible.
I remember three things:
1. A woman in a New York Yankees jersey and hat asked Eruzione if he would appear at her daughter’s birthday party on a certain date. Everybody laughed. He thought about his answer for a moment, then said ‘I’ll check my schedule. If I can do it, I promise I will do it. I mean that. I’ll do it. You just have to do one thing for me. Take off that Yankees shirt and hat and burn them.”
The crowd cheered. The ‘Yankees Suck’ chant was quite loud. The woman shook her head back and forth, wouldn’t do it. The crowd became louder. The woman still refused. End of discussion. No Mike Eruzione birthday present for the daughter of any Yankee-loving sad case of a mother. Sorry, kid.
2. There was a raffle. One of the prizes was an official NFL football that Flutie would sign. Now 41 years old, still active, a back-up quarterback with the San Diego Chargers, he was handed the ball and a Sharpie. A young guy, 30 tops, came up to the stage as the winner.
“I’m not going to just hand you the ball,” Flutie said, signing his name across the pigskin. “Go long. Take a right at the truck.”
The young guy ran a route through the crowd and to the driveway where the truck, maybe 20 feet long, was parked. He went to the end of the truck, took a right, disappeared for a second, then came out the other side. The ball was waiting for him. Standing in street clothes, behind a table, underneath an overhang, everybody watching, Flutie threw a perfect 30-yard spiral, easy and soft, a down-filled pillow dropping from the sky. How good was that? How different are these guys who do this for a living than the rest of us? Flutie was as casual with his motion as if he simply were passing the salt across the table.
The guy dropped the ball.
3. David Ortiz was the star. Maybe it was the fact that the audience had come straight from the win over the Yankees or maybe it was the fact that the other three athletes were older, that their exploits were further removed in the public mind...whatever it was, Ortiz was the star.
The people looked at him differently. You could see them, staring up at the table. The other players, OK, they were interesting. Ortiz had rock star magic. Boston forever has been a baseball town – the crowd at City Hall for the celebration of the New England Patriots’ 2001 (CK) Super Bowl win chanted ‘Yankees Suck’ – but the interest had become amped even further with the dramatics of the 2003 season. (A sports marketing maxim is that the best marketing finish is a close second, the fan returning next year, keyed up for redemption, for the next chapter in the story. If so, the Red Sox have been the most successful marketing franchise in American sports history.) This obviously was that year of redemption. All seats at Fenway, a place with the most expensive tickets in baseball, would be sold out for the season for the first time. The Fox network even had televised the Friday night game nationally in prime time, the Showdown in Beantown, the first prime-time regular-season broadcast in three years.
All of this love and interest had landed on Ortiz. How about that? I don’t think I ever had heard him speak. I didn’t even know if he could speak English. Television shies away from second-language interviews, having no time for the thoughtful, slow reply in a rat-a-tat presentation. It is a disservice to the Latin ballplayers who comprise most of the upper echelon of the game now, a disservice to the fan, but probably won’t be changed soon.
Ortiz, it turned out, spoke quite well. You had to strain a bit to understand to him, but if you did – and this was an audience more than ready – he made you laugh. Answering a question about whether Manny Ramirez, portrayed often as an airhead, truly came from another world, Ortiz gave a lengthy defense of his teammate. Manny was a great hitter. Manny played hard. Manny worked as much as anyone worked. Ortiz then smiled and added, ‘To answer the question, yes, Manny comes from Mars.’ Answering a question about ‘what sports event, other than one you played in, really excited you,’ he said ‘the Patriots’ win in the Super Bowl last year. I was home in the Dominican. I was in a bar. I was really cheering for the Patriots. I was drunk.’
The people laughed. They couldn’t get enough of him. Here were three other athletes on the stage who were accepted Boston legends involved in accepted legendary Boston moments. Two were local kids who became famous. The third, the Houdini of the hardwood, Mr. Basketball, had been around Boston for 50 years. And here was this 28-year-old guy from the Dominican Republic, adopted in a hurry, Big Papi, starting his second local season, and he was the star.
One of the last questions was ‘What would you like to be if you weren’t what you are?’ Cousy, no fool, said at his age he’d like to be sitting on a porch somewhere in a rocker, listening to the Red Sox finally beat The Curse of the Bambino. (Big cheer.) Eruzione explained that he already was living a second life, coaching at Boston University. Flutie said he would like to be a coach. The microphone was passed to Ortiz. He said he would like to be a professional basketball player. The microphone was passed to me.
What would I like to be if I wasn’t what I am? I put my hand on David Ortiz’s shoulder.
“I would like to be him,” I said.
I also am no fool.
My nemesis through the years has been Charlie Costanzo. He is one of the neighborhood urchins from the Garden Street Athletic Club in New Haven, now a lawyer in Guilford, Ct. He is a Yankee fan from a family of Yankee fans. His father, a sweetheart, a longtime usher at Yale Bowl who would give us a wink to get into the good seats for football games, was such a Yankees fan that he was buried in a blue, satin Yankees warm-up jacket. This is absolutely true. I was at the wake. Charlie’s son, Chuck-a-Luck, spent some time in Boston after graduating college. He would go to games at Fenway wearing a blue T-shirt that read ‘Boston Red Sox, World Champions, 1918’ on the front. On the back were the words ‘New York Yankees, World Champions,’ followed by a list of the team’s 26 years of glory. The family always has been sick.
Charlie tortured me throughout high school, college, all of recorded history. Our relationship in this matter developed into one of master and angry servant. He became haughty, privileged. The results every year were no surprise. You, perhaps, had thought something else would happen? Silly you. The Yankees always win. It is a fact of life. I became hesitant, tried to act with caution. Resigned. When the annual con came, the Red Sox starting to show some signs of life, I would hold back and hold back until I could hold back no more. I invariably would make the phone call, blurting out some words to the effect that this was the year, my friend, this was the year. I invariably would pay for this.
“My son and I enjoyed the game,” Charlie said after the 2003 Aaron Boone homer. “It was quite exciting. Everyone up there must be feeling pretty sad. I’m sorry for you people.”
“I hate you all,” I said. “I hate your dead father in his Yankees jacket. I hate your misguided son. I hate you most of all.”
I went to the barricades early this year. The Red Sox wound up winning three of four in that first series at Fenway. Then they went to Yankee Stadium the next weekend and swept all three games. A-Rod looked like a bust. Jeter was in the worst slump of his career. The Yankees looked like they had no pitching. The Red Sox were in first in the American League East with a 12-6 record. The Yankees were 8-11 and in third place, floundering. I couldn’t control myself.
A few minutes after a bewildered centerfielder named Bubba Crosby totally lost a fly ball in the same stretch of grass where Mickey Mantle once roamed, part of an 11-2 Red Sox romp on Friday night in New York, I dialed the phone. The conversation went something like this:
“Are you watching the game?”
“Sure, I’m watching the game.”
“I mean are you really watching the game?”
“It’s early in the season.”
The ante was into the pot. I was on the hook for the entire season. The Red Sox came home to win three straight over Tampa Bay and stretch their record to 15-6. (Unbeatable.) Then they went on the road and lost five in a row in Cleveland and Texas. (Oh, my.) The annual ride had begun.
I was running around for most of the summer promoting a biography of Ted Williams – ‘Ted Williams, The Biography of an American Hero,’ Doubleday, $26.95, still available at all book stores – that had taken me two years to write. Marty Appel, one of a string of former publicity directors for the Yankees hired and fired by George Steinbrenner, was handling the PR. He was another Yankees man I could bait.
“Fans building statue of Mark Bellhorn in Kenmore Square…” I typed in an email.
“Still early,” Marty replied. “You guys are always crazy up there.”
He booked me for a bunch of weird talk shows around the country by phone. Invariably, the host would move the conversation from Ted to the current situation and the curse and ask for a prediction. I invariably would reply that this was the year, then add that this was what I had been saying for the last 86 years.
In New York, Marty put me on the syndicated Tim McCarver Show. McCarver, the Fox baseball analyst and former St. Louis Cardinals catcher, had an observation about baseball in Boston.
“Boston’s a different place,” he said during a commercial break. “There’s no other place like it, the way the people take sides. I go back to the ’67 World Series. We came into Boston and were amazed. We’d never played in a place where people hated us. All the cities in the National League, it never was like that. These people hated us. You got that everywhere you went. The cab drivers hated us. The people in the hotel hated us. Everybody hated us.
“And that was in 1967. It’s just gotten bigger and bigger ever since. The playoffs last year against the Yankees were unbelievable, the emotion up there. It was just everywhere.”
Marty Appel had an addendum to baseball hate. His employment with the Yankees was during the Billy Martin years when part of the rivalry was a mutual dislike between Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk and Yankees catcher Thurman Munson.
“There was nothing phony about it on Thurman’s side,” Marty said. “He just hated Fisk. You could see why because he was this feisty squat guy and Fisk was big and handsome. Thurman thought everybody favored Fisk.
“One day, the Red Sox were in town and I put out a little pre-game collection of stats and notes. Thurman read them and was enraged. I had put in an innocuous note in that Fisk led American League catchers with 16 assists. Thurman was second with 13. He screamed at me that it was a meaningless stat and why would I ever put it in? I told him it was no big deal, but he was still mad.
“The game starts and somebody strikes out. Thurman drops the ball. He stands up, throws to first, turns around and points a finger to me in the press box. Another guy strikes out. Thurman drops the ball again. Same thing. Points. A third guy strikes out. Same thing. Stares right at me. OK, Thurman. You’re now tied with Carlton Fisk for most assists by a catcher.”
By the last weekend in July, alas, it looked like the winners and losers in the rivalry were going to finish in their familiar places. I wasn’t calling Charlie. (He was calling me.) I was sticking to business with Marty. (No mention of that Bellhorn statue.) The Red Sox were 8 1/2 games behind the Yankees, looking bad. (OK, so it had been early.) The hitting wasn’t what it was supposed to be. The fielding was just awful. The Yankees had kicked into fine, efficient form. The Red Sox were gagging.
Marty had scheduled me to sell books at Augur’s Book Store in Cooperstown, NY. It was Hall of Fame weekend, the small town packed for the induction of Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor. Since Eckersley had made two stops in his career in Boston and lived there now, sometimes working as a post-game analyst, a large number of Red Sox fans walked the streets. Since Cooperstown is in New York, at least as many Yankees fans were in attendance. Everybody seemed to be wearing shirts, hats, gear.
I sat in front of Augur’s with five other guys selling and autographing books. Autographs were a sort of currency in the town. Various Hall of Famers and long-ago players were at various shops signing their names for money. The prices started at maybe $35 for the signature of some banjo-hitting utility infielder from the Fifties to the $100 per signature that Willie Mays was getting across the street. The other book-signers and I were at the lowest end of the scale.
“Here’s the deal,” I would tell prospective customers. “The autograph is $26.95, cheapest in town. Plus you get the book free.”
It was like working at a craft fair.
Somewhere in the afternoon, people started talking about a big fight. The Red Sox were playing the Yankees at Fenway and Bronson Arroyo had plunked A-Rod…and A-Rod had said something…and Jason Varitek had stood up and whacked A-Rod in the face…and the benches had cleared and there were all kinds of fights! I closed up shop, walked around the corner to the nearest bar and watched the rest of the game, which ended up being the turnaround for the season.
The bar was full, half Red Sox fans, half Yankees, back and forth, no stopping. Every play was half groan, half cheer. The game went on and on, one turn after another, a classic Fenway slugout until Bill Muellar’s two run homer with one out in the ninth. Final cheers. Final groans. My new best friend, a local guy named Charlie Murray, hugged me.
“I’ve always been a big Red Sox fan,” he said. “I grew up in Brockton, Ma. One summer, my dad had to go out to Akron, O. on business, so my brother and I went with him for the ride. On the way back, we saw the sign for Cooperstown. My brother said, ‘let’s go over and take a look.’ None of us ever had been here.
“I was in town for five minutes and decided this was where I was meant to be. I fell in love. Baseball. All this baseball. I went home to my girlfriend and told her I was moving to Cooperstown in two weeks. She could come with me or stay, whatever she wanted to do. I came. She followed a month later. We got married and have been here for 10 years. I still loved the place. I walk down the street, every day, I feel like I’m 10 years old again.”
The Nomar trade came a week later. The end of the season unfurled from there, the Red Sox’s climb back into contention, the disappointment in New York and then in Boston, Pedro whacked around both times and calling the Yankees ‘my daddy.’ Three games out in the end. Wild card. In the playoffs. Good enough. I could use the phone again.
“I’d like extend my congratulations for first place during the regular season,” I said.
“No need,” Charlie Costanzo said. “There was never any doubt. This was the way it always had been. Everybody knew what would happen.”
“We’ll see what happens this time in the playoffs,” I said. “I hope the Red Sox play you guys.”
“Who’s your daddy?” Charlie Costanzo asked.
I went to the third playoff game in the first round against the Anaheim Angels. I had been to only two games at Fenway during the season with my wife and two stepchildren, buying tickets in the bleachers for $50 apiece from a scalper for one of them. (Whatever happened to the concept of baseball as a low-budget family sport? Each night out cost over $300.) The Angels tickets surfaced late from a woman who works for the Baltimore Orioles. The team’s owner, Peter Angelos, decided at the last moment that he didn’t want to travel to Boston. Two tickets. First base line. Section 16. Thank you very much.
I went with my married daughter. She was the one of my two kids who fell hardest for the Red Sox and baseball and we used to go to a bunch of games. She snuck into the 1999 All-Star Game with me, no details available on how we did it, and still was shaking in the sixth inning from the experience. Mark Linehan was compassionate. “I know how you feel,” he said. “I felt exactly the same way when I snuck in the first time. Except I was 10 years old.” The Angels game was the first of many visits to the wayback machine in the next three weeks.
“Remember that awful bag you gave me to take to kindergarten?’ she asked. “It came from some prizefight. It was kind white plastic with drawings of boxers on it?”
“Ken Norton and Muhammad Ali,” I said. “I remember it well.”
“I was the only kid in kindergarten with a Ken Norton, Muhammad Ali book bag. Everybody else had Barney or the Cabbage Patch kids or somebody. I still don’t think the scars have healed.”
We settled into our new little neighborhood. An overbearing dad and his too-loud kid sat behind us. The kid continually was yelling bright comments like ‘swing, batter-batter, swing.’ The dad was continually encouraging him, beaming as if the kid was a sure bet for Harvard. To the right of us were an older woman and her grown son. He was wearing an official Red Sox jacket, just like the one Terry Francona wore, and was intent on scoring the game in a fat scorebook filled with other games he had scored. This obviously was serious business. In front of us was a single man who seemed to switch to lucky positions in times of stress.
For six innings all went well in the neighborhood. Bronson Arroyo, Mr. Cornrows, cruised on the mound with his high leg kick and slingshot cleverness. The Red Sox picked up runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings to take a tidy 6-1 lead into the seventh. All the pieces were in place for a nice celebration, a sweep of the best-of-five series.
Then I misspoke. I forget sometimes that I have the ability to influence games. I was reminded in a hurry.
“You like a 6-1 lead, don’t you?” I said to my daughter. “For you a good game is a game where the Red Sox deliver a merciless beating. Am I right? ”
“Sure,” she replied. “And I know what you’re going to say next. Don’t say it.”
“I like a close game,” I said, nevertheless. “I want the thrills. I want the memorable. The seat-squirmer.”
Before a man could say ‘Vladimir Guerrero,’ the Angels star had absolutely pounded a grand slam homer off reliever Mike Timlin straight on a line into the bleachers. Another Angels run had tied the score. My daughter wouldn’t speak to me. A quiet descended over Fenway Park.
This was the sound, the non-sound, of communal fretting. Total worry. I don’t think it’s heard (not heard?) in any other ballpark in the land. The load of the 86 years, the past disappointments, surfaced this fast. How close had it been to the skin to arrive so quickly? Touch a Red Sox fan and the bruise emerges. It was as if 35,000 people now were gathered to await the results of a biopsy. No good could be imagined. The overbearing father in back did say something bad and loud about the wisdom of bringing Timlin into the game and the Terry Francona jacket did take offense and the two of them did seem headed for a tango (“You don’t know what you’re talking about!’ overbearing father shouted. “I played college baseball!” Francona jacket shouted in return), but they eventually returned their attention to the action.
The quiet stretched across the next two innings and then into the uncharted territory of extra innings. My daughter glared at me. My good friend David Ortiz, the man I’d like to be if I weren’t me, came to the rescue.
In the bottom of the 10th, two outs, runner on second, Jarrod Washburn brought in to pitch, Ortiz tagged a hanging slider, the first pitch Washburn threw, and sent it in an opposite-field parabola into the seats on top of the Green Monster. Silence was replaced by pandemonium, worry by high-five joy.
A stage was pulled out from under the centerfield bleachers. The Dropkick Murphys began to play that Tessie song.
“I told you the close games are better,” I told my daughter. “Isn’t your Dad right again?”
No answer. Bring on the Yankees.
On the night of Oct. TK, 2004, the telephone rang sometime after midnight. Normally this would be a moment of great concern. Who’s sick? What happened? Who would be calling this late at night? There was no great concern here.
“Hello, Charlie,” I answered.
“Who’s your daddy?” Charlie Costanzo asked.
There will be people in the future – there are people now, in fact – who will tell you that they knew exactly what was going to happen next for the Boston Red Sox. They will say they had ‘a feeling’ that everything was going to turn out right and joyous. I don’t believe one of them.
The night of Oct. TK, was a classic lowpoint in angst history. Looking now, it was a final cathartic shudder, one last visit to the graveyard of broken dreams, broken promises, broken-bat singles that always seemed to bloop over the shortstop’s head into center field. Looking then, it was the pits. The Yankees not only were ahead, 3-0, in the ALCS, just about ruling out this latest edition of ‘OK, well, this is our year,’ but that third win was by a 19-8 score at Fenway. The levels of indignity and embarrassment went through the roof. This was supposed to be the team that was built for a championship run, the last year of all those free-agent contracts, the money team, not as rich as the Yankees, but richer than anyone else? This was the best these guys could do? The optimism of four days earlier – heck, four hours earlier – seemed laughable. Check us out. We’re the ones with the custard pie on our faces. That’s seltzer water mixing with our tears.
I watched Game Four almost out of obligation. There was a little bit of that ‘Win one, just be respectable’ but not a lot. The two worst things that could have happened to the Red Sox had happened. Schilling was hurt with his ankle tendon deal. The Red Sox bats had gone quiet. Figured. Just figured.
By the ninth inning, not much had changed. The Yankees were ahead, 4-3, three outs away from the sweep and Mariano Rivera was on the mound. Looking at Rivera was like looking across the desk at the loan officer at the downtown savings bank with no collatoral in your pocket. No, no, no. The guy never smiles. He just gets people out, 1-2-3, and goes home for dinner.
Except this time, Kevin Millar walked…
And Dave Roberts ran for him…
And stole second base.
The Red Sox had a runner on second base in the ninth inning without a hit with no men out. This was an event noteworthy in club history. Other teams did this for 86 years against the Red Sox. Other teams killed the Red Sox with this. The slow, plodding, never-steal-a-base Red Sox never did this. Never. Now they did.
When Bill Muellar singled home Roberts to tie the game, the earth somehow tilted on its axis. A cosmic change occurred. Nothing bad would ever happen again. The most un-Red Sox run in Red Sox history had changed history. Except no one knew it.
When my good friend, the man who I would be if I wasn’t me, Big Papi, pounded his walk-off home run in the 12th for a 6-4 win, the ball of success was rolling. There wasn’t cause to run out on the street and wake the neighbors, but the moment felt very good and the mind started clicking. Lets’ see, Pedro pitches tomorrow night. Then Schilling pitches Game Six in New York and Game Seven, take your chances. Derek Lowe has been pretty good. There was a reason Las Vegas had favored the Red Sox before the Series began and that reason was pitching. The Red Sox’s pitching now was lined up quite nicely.
I went to the game the next night with Mark Linehan and Ian Thomsen. We stood in back and for 10 bucks apiece had our pictures taken with Nelson deLeon, the incredibly tiny midget from the Dominican Republic who is friends with Pedro Martinez. We left in the eighth inning to watch the end of the game at the Baseball Tavern. Once again, the action went into extra innings. Fourteen innings. The man who I would be if I wasn’t me won it, 5-4, with a bloop single, another uncharacteristic Red Sox event. There was great celebration at the Tavern. There was beer. I came home with a smile on my face and a Polaroid picture of myself with a midget.
“Quite a game,” I told my wife.
“Quite a game,” MaryEllen Montville agreed.
She and I watched the next two games at home. The cosmic change was obvious. The Red Sox were at the Stadium, where bad things always happened, but they wouldn’t happen now. The Red Sox had their pitching in order this time, Schilling with his magic sutures for Game Six, the rejuvenated Derek Lowe for Game Seven. The Red Sox were getting the calls on the weird plays – A-Rod slapping the ball, the safe-out call at third. The Red Sox were winning, 4-2, in Game Six, 10-3 in Game Seven. They did something that no team ever had done, coming back from a 0-3 deficit. They did it against the Yankees, the first time they had beaten the Yankees in a meaningful situation in 100 years. If you listened closely you could hear the trumpets. Or maybe those were the sirens for the out-of-control college kids, celebrating in Kenmore Square.
I didn’t call Charlie Costanzo at the moment. I waited until the next day. I tried to act with dignity. He responded in kind. He said the Red Sox were just better. He said he was surprised how empty he felt. I told him I knew the feeling. He said friends, Yankees fans, had been calling all day. They all said they didn’t know what to do. I told him I didn’t know what to do.
“I’m not watching the World Series,” Costanzo said. “I made my own little protest. I bought a copy of Street and Smith’s Annual today. I am officially devoting myself to college basketball.”
I said that I, in fact, probably was going to watch the World Series.
The Series turned out to be a four-game anti-climax. Was it not? A parade. The St. Louis Cardinals never appeared. Where was all that inside-baseball stuff they were supposed to use? Where was all the power? The drama was all contained in the Yankees series. That was the purge, the hurdle. The World Series was the formality, the beginning of the celebration.
I watched the final game at home with my wife. We had visitors, my sister-in-law, Kathy, and her friend, Carmel, from Ireland and Carmel’s daughter, Amy. Carmel and Amy knew nothing about baseball and the Red Sox and I explained it all. They were shaky about the significance.
“Eight-six years is it?”
“Isn’t that a long time?”
When the game ended, final out, we opened a bottle of champagne. I kissed my wife. I high-fived my sister-in-law and the Irish people. MaryEllen’s daughter, Ashley, called from prep school, dormitory excitement in the background. I called my daughter and her husband. She said she cried at the end. I called my son in New York. He said he had cried. We drank champagne and watched the muted celebrations around the city.
Two nights later I tried to put my feelings into words. I wrote a column for the Globe’s fat souvenir section that would appear in the Sunday paper. It was an honor. Sports editor Joe Sullivan said the section had grown so large with the excitement that Globe had sold over a million dollars worth of ads.
The words were these:
By Leigh Montville
(Special to the Globe)
I learned how to fly a few minutes before midnight on Oct. 27, 2004. I always thought I could fly, watching those seagulls gracefully drop out of the sky to spear yet another French fry from the MDC trash cans across from Kelly’s Roast Beef in Revere, but I never had given it a shot. The Boston Red Sox gave me strength.
“If the Red Sox can win the World Series,” I said, stepping from the house just moments after reliever Keith Foulke fielded a ground ball and flipped it to first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz for the final out and the 4-0 sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals, “then I surely can fly.”
I flapped my arms as fast I could, jumped into the air and was off. Simple as that. I soon was soaring across the Boston harbor and then downtown and then directly over the celebrating crowds in Kenmore Square. I buzzed a couple of Northeastern University kids climbing a lamppost, startled a TPF trooper into dropping his truncheon, took a hard left at the Prudential Building and glided back home.
“I can fly!” I exclaimed to my cocker spaniel, Slugger, the only one still awake in the house.
“Sacre bleu!” he replied.
I always thought Slugger could talk. He would stare at me with those brown eyes and that little panting sound and I knew conversation was possible. Now he could. In French. And I could understand him. I always thought I could understand French, three years in high school, just wishing the people would slow down when they talked, and now I had no problem.
“Tres bien, beau chien” I said.
I slept my best sleep in ages – a delightful dream in the middle involving New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, chained to a post in the lowest circle of hell – and made breakfast for the family in the morning. I always knew I could make perfect Eggs Benedict. I sang while I served, exactly like Frank Sinatra. I moved exactly like Fred Astaire. I always knew I could tap dance.
I felt an energy I hadn’t felt in years. I felt as strong as David Ortiz. I felt as fast as Dave Roberts, as happy as Manny Ramirez, as focused as Curt Schilling, as solid as Jason Varitek, as smart as Theo Epstein. I whistled ‘Sweet Caroline’ (uh-uh-ohh), typed out a 500-page novel that I always knew I had inside me, took care of some plumbing and electrical work around the house that I always knew I could do if I just tried, yodeled good-bye (I always knew I could yodel) and hit the streets.
What next? I ran from Hopkinton to Boston, just for the heck of it. I walked on my hands. I juggled a Ted Williams baseball card, a copy of the Baseball Encyclopedia and an apple. Didn’t drop a one. I swam with the L Street Brownies. I dunked a basketball. Backwards. After jumping over a Toyota. I drove the length of Massachusetts Avenue and all the lights were green. Every one of them.
I found a parking space. I found an honest politician. I tried broccoli and liked it. Every now and then a picture would pop into my head. Ortiz, clapping his two hands, grabbing the bat, swinging as hard as he could, the baseball flying into the night. Schilling, the dollop of blood on his white sock. Derek Jeter looking befuddled. Every office I called, a real person answered the phone. I signed to appear in a feature film. (Leading man.) I was computer literate. I baked a cake. I changed my own oil. Fast as a cat, I multiplied large numbers in my head.
All items were on sale everywhere. All stocks were up. The pictures just kept coming. All those people that the Fox network showed biting their nails, crossing their fingers and their toes during the first three games against the Yankees. Where were they now? What were they doing? Derek Lowe on the mound. Talking to himself. Mark Bellhorn. Saying nothing. I played the piano, discovered I had a strong left hand. Went to the post office and found no lines. Rollerbladed. Rode a motorcycle. Never fell down. I always knew I could that. I booked a trip to the Dominican Republic. I joined a gym, started a diet, bought a new suit of clothes. Something funky.
The Charles River – it appeared to me, at least – had been turned into buttermilk. The John Hancock building now was made out of chocolate. The strings on the Zakim Bridge played a melody when the wind hit them just right. The hospitals all were empty. The churches all were full. A heart seemed to beat in the middle of Fenway Park, right under the pitchers mound.
I always had wondered what it would be like when the Red Sox won the Series. I suppose everyone under the age of 86 in New England had wondered. The Red Sox story had gone along for so many years with its annual disappointments that the pain had become an almost masochistic delight. Sort of like record snowstorms in winter. Sort of like the daily bad cup of coffee from the company cafeteria. Sort of like a mole on the tip of your nose. Endurance and acceptance had become virtues. Life had to be lived within limitations.
What would it be like without those limitations?
I suppose I’m not much different from anyone else around here. I thought about departed friends and long-ago moments. I heard from people I hadn’t heard from in years. I told my wife I loved her. I told my kids I loved them. I drank a little champagne. I flew through the air. I talked to my dog in French and he talked back. I smiled a lot.
I say so far so good.
I finished after midnight and sent the column to the Globe sports desk. Ken Fratus, one of the editors, asked if I had known what he and copy editor Bob Fedus had done. I told him I didn’t. He said that they already had checked off one of the things in the column. They had vowed to swim at L Street if the Red Sox ever won the Series and they already had done it. I asked him how the water felt.
“Not as cold as you’d think,” he said.
I had an impulse to call Charlie Costanzo, to wake him up, ask him what teams are going to be strong this year in the Big Sky conference, but I let it pass. I went to bed. I had a parade to attend in the morning.