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The Red Sox and the Heart of an Eight-Year-Old Boy

by Ellen O'Donnell

I was raised in East Providence, RI, and the background noise of my youth from April to October (when lucky) was the sound of Curt Gowdy wafting outside from the den TV. When I was 13, I was sent to bed before the end of the 6th game in 1975. I can still hear the sound of my dad and brother yelling and jumping downstairs when Fisk willed that ball fair. The ache of that World Series loss was short-lived, displaced quickly by the distractions of adolescence.

The Yankees of the 50's and 60's were a history lesson to me and so it was not until 1978 that I felt the full rush of hatred for those pinstripes. I was a junior in high school, and while I collected photos of Lynn, Rice, Yaz and Rooster courtesy of my Dad's fill-ups at Mobil, I was ill prepared for the aftermath of the Dent affair. My homeroom teacher was a Yankee fan in hostile territory and, the next morning, we were all greeted with a "Reggie" bar set upon each desk. At that moment I understood that compassion would never be possible between these two fandoms. The mediocrity of both teams in the early 80's was a relief of sorts.

That other New York team was merely a patch of fabric woven into the quilt of heartache which was the 1986 Red Sox team. I vividly remember watching game six with my friends in Providence and the confidence and peace I felt as the Sox came into the final innings now seems impossible. It was all over but the shouting I thought - then Mookie, Bob Stanley and Bill Buckner conspired to wipe away the joy of watching Dave Henderson loft one against the Angels, in the ALCS game I watched among friends in a Quebec City bar! Business brought me to, of all places, Albany, for game seven of the 1986 World Series. I numbly watched in a hotel room, alone and with the realization that I had to spend the next few days in the home state of the Mets. In retrospect, they could never hold my disdain like their Bronx neighbors. I even find myself rooting for them now and again - quite passionately in fact during the "subway series."

In 1999 we were overmatched and mercifully sent home early.

This brings me to my eight-year-old boy, who is just beginning to develop his own love for the Red Sox. We now live in western Connecticut, and so his loyalty to the Sox has been cajoled along by his mother and his grandparents, who outfit him with jackets, tee-shirts and caps. We live in predominately Yankee territory and at times it takes great strength for him to maintain his allegiance. In his lifetime he does not remember the Red Sox in the post-season. He has a palpable sense of the pride his friends have because they back a team that always seems to be in the post-season. Trying to find a Nomar bobble head where we live is an exercise in futility, while the shelves are filled with Derek, Bernie, Jason and an occasional Mike Piazza. In his room hangs a framed print of Fenway Park which overlooks a life-sized cutout of Nomar. On his shelves sit Red Sox baseball cards, notepads and pens. He was ready to embrace this 2003 Red Sox team.

Indeed, last April, I brought my son on his first visit to Fenway Park. It was a brisk, but sunny day, and we arrived early enough to get in place for batting practice and the hope of autographs. While Nomar and Pedro signed, my son got tossed back by every 12-year-old with the same goal. He only briefly showed his disappointment.

We settled in the grandstand behind the Sox dugout and enjoyed a great game won by Derek Lowe. Around the seventh inning, my boy seemed quiet, just staring at the field. I asked if he was ready to go home. He continued looking out and said, "Mom, I just can't even believe I am here." At that moment I knew that he understood and that the tug of Yankee glory would never take him.

The drama of the ALDS should have prepared us for the ALCS. Each morning, over Cheerios, I would recap the action for my son. Each morning he would grab his Sox hat and jacket, hoist his backpack over his shoulder and head out, well-armed to face his Yankee classmates fully confident that his team would prevail. After my fitful Thursday night sleep, my son came in my room and asked, "Who won, Mommy?" When I told him, his eyes filled with tears and he said, "I can't go to school today; they will make fun of me." We worked our way downstairs and talked over Cheerios. When finished he grabbed his Sox jacket, hat and hoisted his backpack over his shoulder and headed out the door, a little discouraged, but not destroyed. This morning, he actually pumped his fist when I told him that the Marlins won game five in extra innings. Indeed, we will return to Fenway next spring buoyed by the optimism and hope of an 8-year-old boy!

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Copyright © Ellen O'Donnell. Printed with permission of the author.