More than Just a Game: The Red Sox, Solace, and the Meaning of Life

I didn’t watch one single play of the Red Sox World Series clinching victory over St. Louis and yet I was more deeply connected to the game, to the Sox, to the scene at Fenway, and to my friends and family than I have been during a Sox game in many years. I listened to the radio feed on the Internet while chatting away on various social media networks with friends and family. The web gave me the gift of feeling like I was sitting in the same room with dozens of people. I had a blast and felt incredibly grateful for my friends and family and, of course, for the Sox being the occasion of such connection.

My parents tell me that when my dad moved out of the house prior to their divorce in 1976, I cried for three days. They also tell me that when the Red Sox lost the 1975 World Series that I cried off and on for week. I was nine. It wouldn’t be the last time they broke my heart. I broke my ankle coming down a staircase at a friend’s house during a commercial break before the bottom of the ninth inning of game six in 1986. Insult to injury, I guess. I was married with a seven year old and had to go work on very little sleep after Aaron Boone took Timmy Wakefield deep in 2003. That was as depressing a day as any before or since.

Then everything changed. The Red Sox won their first world series in 85 years, breaking the (made up, but powerful nonetheless) Curse of the Bambino in 2004. Like many people around New England, I got a phone call immediately upon the last out from family members. The first was from my brother, the next from my aunt. She was crying. She said “I wished Papa (my grandfather)” had lived to see it. Ours wasn’t the only family that paid visits to family members grave’s the morning after the 2004 World Series win to just be with relatives who literally lived and died without seeing their beloved Red Sox become World Series Champions. There were stories in the press about fans who had waited their entire lives, just hanging on, sometimes in pain, during that play-off run and let themselves die, minutes, hours, or a day or two after the Sox won. My dad, who is from Ohio, bought everyone Red Sox jackets and World Series Champions hats.

This year, more than ever before, the Red Sox reminded me that I have deep roots. The memories of my family gathered around the television to watch the Sox (on regular broadcast television, not cable or satelite) in my grandparents’ house in Mattapoisett on summer nights were so thick I had to brush them away from my face. When I did they were replaced by memories of the family eating Quahogs and grilled linguica on picknic tables in the backyard with the Sox on the radio and everyone quieting as one when the Sox got a hit or made a big play without one single “Shhh” needed from a parent or grandparent.

I live in Texas now and even though I have enjoyed the magic of the Red Sox my entire life, I don’t think I’ve ever really appreciated the entire Red Sox Nation phenomena until the past week.

I grew up to be a Unitarian Universalist minister, not the professional baseball player (for the Sox, of course), I dreamed of being while playing Little League in Leominster, MA. A ministerial colleague of mine noted on social media how this past year, a time of many transitions in her life, the Red Sox ministered to her. I get it. There is something about what the Red Sox do for those of us who love them, that even in the not so good times, say like the nightmare of the 2012 season, brings solace.

In her recent book Stitches, Anne Lamott suggests that maybe finding solace is the meaning of life. Perhaps that’s what the Red Sox offer us citizens of Red Sox nation – solace. In a world beset by many painful, disruptive, and disorienting events from divorce to terrorism, the Red Sox provide a connection, a home, and some peace.

This is not trite nor is it escapism. Honestly, I often feel conflicted about the place of professional sports in our culture and I wonder if my interest is misplaced. Athletes are terribly overpaid, the money is more important that the game, and when I’m my most cynical, the entire pro sports culture seems like so much bread and circus in a country and a world that could all too easily devolve into a real life apocalyptic dystopia. And yet…the Red Sox seem more like a beloved family member than part of the flawed world of pro sports.

This year I followed the Red Sox to a World Series Championship while living outside of Massachusetts. I now share my life with someone who has no connection to the Sox whatsoever. When we went to a Houston pub to watch game one of the World Series, it was not only her first Sox game, but the first baseball game she had ever watched. This year, I needed to consciously put the Sox play-off run into my life. It wasn’t saturating daily life the way it does back in Boston. I have never appreciated the Red Sox more.

This fall I learned that the Red Sox aren’t about sports for me, they are about family and friends, about who I am and where I’m from. I watched game one of the World Series with folks from the Red Sox Nation of Texas, needing to seek out folks who “get it.” I met a guy originally from Fall River and we talked sweet bread and linguica while high-fiving and cheering the Sox as they beat up the Cards. I watched game five at the home of folks I met through church, a couple who warmly welcomed a fellow Sox fan to their home and their TV. I remembered with emotion the sense of belonging and closeness that came with watching the Sox with my brother, mom, cousins, aunts and uncles. This year, a year in which I have been through divorce and work transitions and moved across the country twice, my connection to the Red Sox reminded me in a powerful way that I am part of a family, a network of friends, and, as far away from it as I am, a place – a place called Massachusetts. The Red Sox are a reason to connect and a point of connection. The Sox provide an ongoing family reunion. I’m related to the Sox and you’re related to the Sox so we’re all related somehow, so let’s have some chowda and a Sam Adams. Life is good.

Somehow there’s even a relationship with complete strangers in airports. Today, The Day After Victory 2013, otherwise known as Halloween, I donned a Sox t-shirt and cap and went to the airport to pick up a visitor (not a Sox fan and not from MA), and while waiting in the baggage claim area, a half dozen people came up to me and offered me hearty congratulations on the Sox, which I accepted warmly. Then a man about my age came through, dressed smartly in a business suit wearing a faded Red Sox cap that has obviously seen many seasons come and go. He made straight for me, shouted “YES!” at the top of his lungs and gave me a huge high-five. Somehow, in ways neither of us could define, we knew the afterglow the other was living in today and a chance meeting in the airport had the emotional impact of meeting a long-lost cousin.

There’s a scene in the movie Fever Pitch where the rabid Red Sox fan played by Jimmy Fallon is at a bar watching the Sox with his new girlfriend played by Drew Barrymore. Tragedy befalls the Sox and she says “It’s only a game,” and the bar quiets as everyone looks at her. Someone asks, “What did she say?” Fallon’s character responds immediately, “She said it’s a crying shame” and then tells her to back away slowly towards the door. And it is not just a game, it is truly more than just a game, but not for the reasons behind this film gag. It’s more than just a game because of the real lives it connects in ways both great and small.

Perhaps professional sports are like religion – an opiate for the masses. Maybe many fans uncritically accept pro sports in a way many others do the rest of our corporate consumer culture. Yet, maybe there are a lot of us who love a sport or a team with an aware innocence. I, for one, am under no illusion about where a Red Sox World Series victory ranks in the list of things of ultimate importance. A ring for the Sox in 2013 will not bring peace to Syria, or provide shelter for the homeless in my home town, or bring a cure for cancer, or feed the hungry, but it has made the last week, and especially the last 24 hours better, if for no other reason than providing something to smile about amid whatever troubles you have or that you see when you look out at the world.

Ultimately, the Red Sox are a solace and as such lend a bit of meaning, comfort, and peace to living. I won’t make CD’s of all the music associated with the Red Sox such as Tessie, Sweet Caroline, and Dirty Water interspersed with radio and television calls of all the big plays of the World Series, and send them out to my brother and cousins and friends like I did in 2004. But I have pulled those songs onto a play-list and will listen to it thinking about how the Sox make my life a little brighter, whether it’s by sending me down memory lane thinking fondly of my grandfather listening to the game on the radio while hunched over the kitchen wastebasket shelling and eating peanuts or reflecting on how the Sox are a commonality that bring me closer to friends who hold opposing, as in polar opposite, political views. The biggest gift this small brightness brings is a little peace, a little sense of being OK in the world as it is. Solace. That’s the big gift of this World Series, not a parade in Boston, not another T-Shirt, not even bragging rights over my Yankees-fan friends for another year. This year the Sox reminded of who I am, where I’m from, and the people who love me. Sometimes that’s as much solace as we get, and possibly as much as we need.


4 thoughts on “More than Just a Game: The Red Sox, Solace, and the Meaning of Life

  1. My favorite scene in “Fever Pitch” is the one where, after that cataclysmic sweep by the Yankees late in the season, when all seemed doomed for the Sox, Fallon and Barrymore are in a bar, and Fallon is in the very deepest depths of despair and depression, peering into the abyss as it were, when they spy three Sox players eating together up in the balcony of the restaurant. I forget which ones, but it includes Captain Varitek. The players are laughing and yucking it up and generally enjoying the life in which they have the good fortune of playing baseball for a living. The contrast. Religion should always have a whiff of ammonia to it (I think that was said first by Annie Dillard, could be wrong) and that scene wrinkled the nose, revealing in its pungency, the necessity of some foolish idolatry in our lives.

  2. Your description parallels the “devotion” of Saints fans and the need for Mardi Gras to return after Katrina….for New Orleanians it IS more about family and memories, rather than what it might look like, on the surface, for an outsider. The Saints, the Superdome, Mardi Gras connect us, young and old, rich and poor, black, white and any other hues, these 3 things connects as “YATS” New Orleanians both th natives and those who have full adopted N.O as their home. By the way, ever since visiting Boston we also consider ourselves Red Sox fans..I could feel the spirit and the history as I sat in the bleacher seat at Fenway Park.

  3. Great article! Reminds me of when I became a fan (Game 6; 1975) watching with my dad at home; I was 13 yrs old. You bring up some great points regarding ‘community’. It’s awesome to be a Bosox fan and have the ‘connection’ you speak of. It’s way too sad that we can’t translate that feeling we get into other aspects of our lives. I really enjoyed this article! I got you bookmarked now! Hope you’ll check out my blog “Living Like You Mean It”. Peace.
    -Ray Gryder

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