The Baseball Desert

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Mixed Emotions


Yes, I have to admit to feeling some regret – I wish Curt Schilling had been 100% healthy, I wish Keith Foulke could have been the closer he was last year, I wish we hadn't lost so many games to the the Blue Jays and the Orioles, I wish we'd been able to get one lousy run home with the bases loaded and none out in the sixth inning of Friday's game. In other words, I wish a lot of things, but all of them are idle fantasy – the season was what is was, and looking back at a bunch of What if's isn't going to change a damn thing.

At the end of the day, what did we have? A Red Sox team that made the playoffs for an historic third straight year, despite being at times held together by little more than duct tape and fervent prayers. A team that made the playoffs despite having, according to their own center fielder, no legitimate #1 or even #2 starter for the second half of the season.

In the end, it was that which let them down – over a short series you need to be able to limit the damage done by the opposing hitters, and the Sox just couldn't do it. They ran into a White Sox team that proved that their 99 regular-season wins were no fluke. Chicago out-hit, out-pitched and out-fielded the Sox and fully deserved their ALDS win. We continued to believe, to keep the faith, but what we were seeing with our eyes told a different story. We hoped for one of those magical comebacks that were a trademark of the 2004 season, but that little voice of reason inside our head said that if we couldn't get a single run home with the bases loaded and nobody out, then maybe we just weren't supposed to be there.


Not because we didn't repeat our 2004 performance – winning the whole thing just once is hard enough – but because I woke up this morning and realised that for the first time since early March there will be no Red Sox games to watch this week. There has been baseball almost every day for the past seven months, and those games – of which I've seen more this year than ever before – have given my life a bizarre kind of rhythm. There have been days when baseball has driven me crazy and others when it has been the only thing between me and a padded cell, but in both cases it has been there. I've cared about the games, I've cared about the Red Sox, I've felt I was part of Red Sox Nation, and as tiring as that kind of intensity and involvement can be, I will miss it over the winter months.


That passion for baseball and the Red Sox sometimes comes at a cost. When you live 4,000 miles and six time-zones away from the team, following games with any regularity becomes a challenge. Those 7:05pm ET starts, where you can roll in from work, pop open a beer and sit down and watch the ballgame on NESN? Well, until around the end of August, the only proof I have of their existence are the box scores on ESPN the following morning. Then September arrives, and suddenly I slip into last-month-of-the-season mode – four or five games a week, at least three of which will involve going to bed at 10pm, getting up at 1am for the game, then grabbing another couple of hours' sleep around 4:30am before heading off to work. It's not a hardship – I really do live for this – but after a month (or two) of that kind of rhythm, I'm glad to get my regular life back. I'll watch the rest of the playoffs and I'll root for the White Sox to go all the way, but there'll be no craziness. I'm looking forward to just sitting back and being a fan of the game for a couple of weeks, with no strings attached.


Unless Santa Claus really does exist, we will never see this team play baseball together again. I'm not going to start second-guessing either the players or the front office – news of departures and new contracts elsewhere will come soon enough and we'll deal with them as and when they happen. Every year Red Sox management puts together a group of 25 guys, and we live and die with them for six months of the year. We get to know them – not in a personal sense, but in a baseball sense, recognising at a distance their mannerisms at the plate, on the mound and in the field. We come to care about them, partly because of who they are but mainly because of what they represent: they're our guys, wearing our home whites. When they move on, it feels like something is being taken from us, but one of the beauties of baseball is that that roster number of 25 is sacred – the gaping holes they leave will be filled with other players. They will take time to find their proper place in both the organisation and our own Red Sox world, but they will find that place, and we will come to care about them when April comes around. And although we may not yet know all 25 names on that roster, I would just like to run three names by you, as we reflect on the pitching issues that plagued the Red Sox this season:

Papelbon. Delcarmen. Hansen.

2006? Bring it on...