In his most recent dispatch, Courthouse News’ western bureau chief concludes his reminiscences about family and his beloved Red Sox.
The two young nurses stood firm. They were going to Game 1 of the World Series. Probably realizing she’d be worse off without them, their boss let them leave early.
After changing clothes, they ran to catch the trolley, got off at Fenway Park and entered the bleacher section just before the start.
Unfortunately for my mother, her friend and other long-suffering Boston Red Sox fans, Bob Gibson pitched the first of three gems to help lead the St. Louis Cardinals to the 1967 title.
Yes, dear reader, we’re time-traveling again. But what’s time during a pandemic in which somehow minutes drag on while weeks spent sheltering in place fade away?
In the last dispatch I discussed how grandfathers on opposite ends of New England started a family tradition that continues as my sister raises (casual) fourth-generation Sox fans.
Her young daughters will never understand how 2004 changed everything.
When the hated New York Yankees won Game 3 of that year’s American League Championship Series 19-8 to take a 3-0 series lead, we felt the dejection that seemed our birthright. No team had overcome that deficit to win a postseason series.
I had to work during the fourth game, and I tried to convince myself not to care. At least I wouldn’t have to watch the embarrassing end.
But knowing the game was close late I raced home from my restaurant job, hoping the Sox would find a way to win at least this one.
Down 4-3, Kevin Millar led off the top of the ninth with a walk against Mariano Rivera, arguably the best closer in history.
I bounded into my dark apartment in San Diego’s Ocean Beach neighborhood around the time Rivera threw one of many times to first base to try to keep pinch runner Dave Roberts close.
On the first pitch home Roberts took off for second. At first I thought Derek Jeter had tagged him out.
But no, safe!
Roberts had provided a glimmer of hope.
Before the ALCS started we had been confident this team would beat the Yankees.
Earlier that season the Sox and Yankees brawled in the finale of a weekend series after Alex Rodriguez took offense to getting hit by a pitch.
Not for the first time, or last, these two teams fought over a game. Past Red Sox teams would have let their anger become a distraction. This team channeled the energy. Third baseman Bill Mueller won that game with a home run off Rivera.
My roommate at the time, and the guy living on the couch — neither Sox fans — cheered along with me. Hard to imagine now, but back then many fans of other teams rooted for the Sox to beat the Yankees.
The Sox carried the momentum to a playoff appearance and a first-round sweep of the Anaheim Angels.
Their failure in the first three games of the ALCS against the Yankees left us dumbfounded.
Then in Game 4 Mueller again came to the rescue, hitting a single up the middle to bring Roberts home.
In the 12th, David Ortiz sent a pitch into the right-field bullpen and the series to a fifth game.
I can’t remember if my mother and I talked that night or the next day, but I know she stayed awake until the end in the wee hours and was at work bright and early later that morning.
A friend who had hosted the viewing party for Game 7 of the ALCS the year before invited me to join for the next game, but the Sox had lost every important game we’d watched together. As first pitch approached, I declined.
Game 5 lasted more than six hours. I passed the time pacing, screaming at the announcers, occasionally hiding in other rooms only to run back to the living room for the next pitch, habits I continue to this day during stressful games.
During the 2018 series I kicked myself out of a brewery in San Jose while on a work trip, then wondered if my Airbnb host would receive complaints about the madman screaming from the townhouse.
But the less we talk about that team the better.
To deal with stress in 2004 my sister turned on the radio, the feed for which was slightly ahead of the muted television, closed her eyes and listened. When something good happened she would open her eyes to watch.
She also preferred longtime Red Sox radio announcer Joe Castiglione to the national announcers on TV. His voice brings back memories of sitting in an old van listening to a game with my siblings while my parents toured another antique shop in another random Maine country town.
My mother can sit still in her chair and watch any game, cheer when the Sox do well and rarely criticize. I wish I had an ounce of her composure.
In the end the Sox pulled off a win in Game 5, again on an Ortiz hit.
Before Game 6 I turned down another invitation to join my friends. Remembered as the bloody sock game, Curt Schilling pitched the team to a 4-2 win with a loose ankle tendon sutured to his skin.
In Game 7 the Sox scored eight runs in the first four innings. My friends told me to come up to the house already, the Sox were going to win, after all, but the dark voice in my head said it would be like them to find a way to lose.
But with two outs in the ninth Ruben Sierra hit a ground ball to Pokey Reese at second, who threw to Doug Mientkiewicz at first for the final out.
Not sure I could trust my eyes, I waited for the Sox to start celebrating before grabbing my keys, dashing out the door and making the short drive up a steep hill to my friends’ place.
Entering without knocking I saw friends hugging, screaming and one running in circles.
The host ran up and gave me a hug.
I don’t recall crying then, but I have over the years when thinking about that team, including recently while re-watching parts of the postseason.
During my next night at the restaurant I tried to get cover for every day of the World Series I was scheduled to work. A waiter who agreed to take one shift said the Sox better not blow it now. I replied that would be like them.
Not able to find a taker for the day of a potential Game 6, I told the server on call that I would be calling in sick if the series went that far.
“Marshall, I’ll never forgive you if I have to work that day for just a baseball game,” she told me.
Try as I might to explain that this wasn’t just another game, she just stared at me.
We agreed I might end up unforgiven.
The Sox needed only four games, a somewhat anticlimactic end to the first season in 86 years to finish with a Red Sox World Series victory.
I had again declined invitations to watch with my friends, driving up after each game to celebrate.
There were hugs, tears and lots of shouting at my friends’ place after Keith Foulke tossed underhanded to Mientkiewicz for the final out.
Though the hour was late my mother answered after one ring when I called, awake and excited as me.
The Ocean Beach crew ventured to our favorite bar at the bottom of the hill. Chants of “Let’s Go Red Sox” punctuated the night. Fans of other teams joined in, as did random bar patrons. The party raged for hours.
The following afternoon it took a while before I remembered I’d left my car outside my friends’ house. I wondered how all the Sox fans who had to work that morning were faring.
My relationship not only to the Sox but sports in general changed in 2004, and I don’t think I’m alone. Before that year a deep foreboding shadowed every important game. We had been pushed around and beaten our entire lives. That year our team stood up to the bully and won.
Now I can watch the Red Sox play with joy, though I still yell and pace. I’ll be bummed if they lose, but only for a few minutes. Then I move on.
On my first visit to Maine after the 2004 World Series, over my mother’s objection, I brought a copy of a Sports Illustrated special edition dedicated to the Red Sox title to the veterans’ home where her father lived. Too young to have remembered the last Sox title in 1918, by 2004 his condition had deteriorated to the point my mother didn’t believe he would understand what had happened.
I didn’t care. He had taught my mother to love the Sox. Together they taught me.
He didn’t seem to comprehend that day, but who knows. Maybe he did, on some level, if not then some later day when he saw the magazine that remained in his room until his death a few years later.
And now I’m crying.