In divided country, the Red Sox unite us
Only Yankee fans wouldn't appreciate Boston's feat
BOSTON - It was a pinch-me morning.
Did the Boston Red Sox really win the World Series or was it all a sweet dream?
Opened the shades, let in the sunlight, blinked at red, gold and orange leaves shimmering against a clear blue sky. It seemed too perfect, too real.
Yet there it all was, a day of beauty, a story of hope fulfilled.
The good feelings spread across the country like a contagious giggle. Americans, divided over so many serious issues, couldn't help but unite in cheers for baseball's classic underdogs and see rays of optimism in their triumph.
"The Red Sox always reminded us that the game is so much more than about winning," said filmmaker Ken Burns, whose PBS documentary series on baseball chronicled the history of the game and its place in American culture. "I once asked the writer Walker Percy why there are so many great Southern writers. He said, 'It's because we lost.' The losses by the Red Sox, year after year, getting close sometimes, almost winning and always failing, made them metaphors for losing.
"There was a palpable yearning for them to win that's just been released. The way it played out, the comeback, the sweep, the lunar eclipse, it was a harmonic convergence of poetic dimension."
Who, except haughty New York Yankees fans, didn't take immense pleasure in the Red Sox's rebound from 0-3 against their perennial tormentors in the American League championship series?
Who, except faithful St. Louis Cardinals fans, didn't relish the sweep of this season's National League juggernaut by destiny's erstwhile doormats?
Who among the legions of Red Sox devotees was not enraptured by the whole miraculous, nerve-racking, exhausting ordeal?
"After the birth of my daughters, it's the best day of my life," Burns, a Red Sox fanatic, said, echoing sentiments felt across Red Sox Nation. "I've made some decent films, I've raised my daughters pretty well, and now that the Red Sox won, I can die a happy man."
Burns paced with "a sort of maniacal superstition" on two carpets during Game 4, one when the Red Sox were up, a different one when the Cards were batting. When the final out was made, he let loose long, wild whoops of glee in his New York apartment.
"I wanted to be at home in New England to watch this game," said Burns, whose production company is headquartered in New Hampshire. "But there was something great about being in the belly of the beast in New York and reading about it today in the papers on the subway. Everyone seems to have embraced this team."
The overused and often phony marketing phrase, "America's team," truly suited these Boston Red Sox as they captured the nation's hearts and imagination.
They were self-proclaimed, lovable "idiots," blissfully ignoring history and tales of a hex. Never full of themselves, never strutting, showing off or showing up their opponents, they played the game with unabashed joy and unshakable intensity, the way sports ought to be played. They were a motley mix of characters from different cultures who shared a common language on the field.
Their looks clashed — the floppy-haired Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez, the thinning crewcut of Curt Schilling, the baldness of plain-speaking manager Terry Francona — yet they seemed like a perfect fit.
"They looked like they really enjoyed the game, which we don't really think about that much with pro sports," sports sociologist Richard Lapchick said.
So much of the time, pro sports just seem like a sour business with athletes embroiled in one problem after another. These Red Sox brought a lightness to the ballpark but also a commitment that was epitomized by Schilling when he pitched with stitches in his ankle and blood leaking through his sock.
Baseball suffered immensely after the labor wars of 1994-95. Many fans swore off the game, sick of the greed by both players and owners. Baseball bounced back in 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were dueling for the home run record, and surged more in popularity last year when the Red Sox and their cousins in misfortune, the Chicago Cubs, threatened to meet in the World Series.
The Red Sox victory now may crank up baseball fever to record levels.
"The Red Sox always gave baseball a big shot in the arm when they come close to winning," Burns said. "Actually winning the World Series will give the game a huge boost."
Maybe in some way, the Red Sox's victory will rub off on other sports and make converts of a few cynics. Maybe more people will look at failure and see room for hope. On this day, at least, there was a thrill in the air and in a lot of fans' hearts.
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