There’s this object with a rubber cork center, wrapped in yarn (which when stretched out could span about a mile), covered in leather, and made by people I don’t know in factories like Rawlings in St. Louis. It has a circumference of about 9 inches and a diameter of about 73 mm.
A man I’ve never met who has never heard of me, doesn’t care about me, and who dresses for work in pajamas with numbers and letters throws the object. Where the object goes and what happens to it from there will rock the emotions of millions of intelligent people. A little to the left, one reaction. A little to the right, another. Sounds a bit corny. I won’t get drawn into this madness.
That was the logic I used after Red Sox pitcher Bob Stanley threw a baseball near Mookie Wilson’s feet 25 years ago and set off a chain of events with more reverberations than any 12 volcanoes. I needed that rationale back then to put my emotions in a neat little box where they wouldn’t harm anybody.
Those feelings in no way compared with my feelings last night changing channels on each pitch during what will be known as The Greatest Night in the History of Regular Season Baseball. The beauty of unscripted sports is observing and marveling at the weird and wacky that you thought was never possible no matter how many games you’ve seen. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I understood the story as it was being written over this balmy September. And make no mistake, I was rooting for it not to happen. But there was a sense of appreciation as a sports fan for the wonder of what was going on. Some might classify the results as a personal reward – assuming your team was the beneficiary -- for time spent and sleep lost clinging to the fortunes of men who don’t know you, people you idolize whether they’re nice guys or not, professionals you applaud and encourage because a career opportunity has put them on your team bus even though you hated them when they worked for another employer, say the Yankees.
“Are you alright?” I’m still waiting for the call this morning from my friend Alan, who after every excruciating loss by a Boston team puts on his funeral director’s voice and asks me that question. Alan is trying to offload how I know he feels in such moments to how he thinks I feel at this moment. Two things to know about Alan: He once had to step away from dinner to check a Syracuse basketball score and came back in slight panic to report “It’s 3-2, BC.” The game was a minute old. Also, I had the pleasure of flying back with him from New Orleans after Syracuse lost the NCAA championship in The Keith Smart Game. Connecting flights. Delays. Now I’m an SU grad myself, but I had to spend most of the time re-channeling the Inner Alan.
My wife tolerates no fan emotions. As calm as I might appear, I’m usually one Pats defensive breakdown from throwing a trinket through the screen when she’ll catch my subtle mood shift via a condescending crack to my daughter and quickly squelch it. Yet every time she says people shouldn’t get worked up over a game, I call her over to watch 100,000 maniacal fans at, say, Michigan Stadium screaming wildly, with blue and gold paint covering various body parts, and ask her whether millions of people can be that wrong.
One might suggest this post is my latest form of therapy for another season gone awry. But it hasn’t gone awry at all. Sports is theater – I’ve had a box seat for life and relished it. It’s nice to experience the sensation of a championship – not to justify a commitment to an obsession but just because it’s fun. With the Red Sox I had two, with the Patriots three. While I continue to root hard for them, one of each was plenty and I’d like some close friends whose teams have yet to be the last ones standing to get the same high. Sorry Yankee friends, I'm really alright. Rejoice in the beauty and joy of sports – it’s amazing to watch what athletes can do within the confines of the rules of the games. And if that’s not enough justification and/or rationale, well, there’s always that wait ‘til next year.