Boston and Los Angeles have a long-running sports rivalry, but nearly all of that pertains to the NBA and more specifically to the teams of 1980s — the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson era.
The rivalry shifted course last week, and with what happened Sunday night at Dodger Stadium, you know there’s no joy in L.A. The joy is spread about Red Sox Nation, a territory based in Boston and spread across New England, with enclaves around the country.
The Red Sox have won their fourth World Series of the century, after winning the most games ever for a Sox team in the regular season. There were bumps aplenty — hello Craig Kimbrel! — but ultimately Boston will get another duck boat parade.
Thrills, chills and spills abound. If Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts didn’t have the World Series we expected they might, Steve Pearce and Rafael Devers had ones no one could have predicted. David Price became the pitcher we thought he’d be when we signed him. Joe Kelly regained his early season form and was unhittable.
My Red Sox journey began around 1963 when I was 7, and they were one of the worst teams in baseball.
The New Yorker’s Roger Angell, who’s 98 now, is one of the best baseball writers ever. In 1977’s “Five Season: A Baseball Companion," he wrote:
“It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look—I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost.”
Angell continues, emphasizing the idea of caring passionately — “an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives.”
My Red Sox journey began around 1963 when I was 7, and they were one of the worst teams in baseball. Their first baseman, Dick Stuart, was nicknamed Dr. Strangeglove for his disinclination to move his body or his glove to catch an infielder’s errant throw.
My parents drove down from Orono, Maine — then a seven-hour trip, pre-interstate, down Route 1 — and we’d catch two or three series a year. We bought first base box seats for a few dollars and my dad — with his basso profundo voice — would bellow boos at Stuart.
Generally, they’d lose two games, my parents would prep to go home, I’d cry and beg to stay for another game, they’d relent, we’d go, and they’d lose again. The Red Sox came in seventh (out of 10 teams) that year. They dropped to eighth in 1964. The next two years they finished ninth, losing 100 games in 1965.
But I was not deterred. In 1966, I was among a group of young autograph hounds hanging around the Red Sox gated private parking lot, just outside the park. Game time was approaching and most everyone had checked in — some signing autographs, some not — but then Tony Conigliaro zoomed in in his red Corvette with the "TONY C" license plate. Screech! The Sox playboy right fielder was running late. My signature-hunting pals had split, so it was just me at the fence as Tony hopped out of his car, about to dash into the park.
I squeaked out “Tony? Sign?” in my little boy voice. And darn if he didn’t stop, pivot, come to the fence and sign my ball. I was in heaven. And when he died in 1990 I saw it on local TV news and — at age 33 — I bawled.
The next season was the year of The Impossible Dream, the Triple Crown-winning Carl Yastrzemski powering the Red Sox to the American League championship, coming within one game of winning the World Series.
The success of ’67 ushered in an era of: Hey, maybe we can be winners every year.
I was 11 and we were at the final two games against the Twins in 1967. I saw Rico Petrocelli catch the pop-up that ultimately would clinch the American League pennant. I ran on the field, jumping about in celebration with 30,000-plus others.
The success of ’67 ushered in an era of: Hey, maybe we can be winners every year. And we often were — coming oh-so-close in ’78 and ’86 and ’03. But not grabbing all the glory until 2004 when countless New Englanders of a certain age said, “They did it. I can die now.”
The nature of fandom, as Angell noted, is a curious thing. I believe — as I first heard Paula Poundstone opine at a comedy show years ago — that, essentially, we’re rooting for the uniforms. That is, whoever is wearing the right colors. Remember when Johnny Damon turned from hero to bum when he went from the Red Sox to the Yankees?
The guys wearing the right uniforms won Sunday night and we get to share in the jubilation.
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