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.
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
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
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.
remember three things:
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
“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
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
“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
“Are you watching the
“Sure, I’m watching
“I mean are you really
watching the game?”
“It’s early in the
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
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,
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
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
Then I misspoke. I
forget sometimes that I have the ability to influence games. I was reminded in a
“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
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
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
“I told you the close
games are better,” I told my daughter. “Isn’t your Dad right again?”
No answer. Bring on
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
“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
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
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.
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
“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
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
“Isn’t that a long
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
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
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
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
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.
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’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.
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.
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.