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Don't Pinch Me
(or 'To Everything There is a Season')

by Jeff Newell

Where was I the morning of October 27, 2004? That morning I made a decision to drive into Boston, to brave the perils of traffic and parking and go into Kenmore Square. I spent the past two weeks glued to the television almost every night...developing ulcers and other various stomach problems while watching the Red Sox develop a story that is usually reserved for volumes of fairy tales and collections of mythology. I got the urge to go into Kenmore Square and walk over the Mass Pike bridge to pay a visit to Mount Olympus itself - Fenway Park.

The souvenir store I was making the pilgrimage to Yawkey Way, to the souvenir store to purchase a set of pennants for my father and myself. See, we collect Red Sox pennants. We have those felt-like triangles from the 1986 Old-Timers game, The 1986 ALCS, when the Sox beat the California Angels to allow us to buy a pennant from the 1986 World Series. Then we had a slump in pennant purchases...until 2003. The Red Sox won the American League Wild Card spot, so I got a pennant. Then we defeated the Oakland A's, which made me go buy a pennant commemorating the series between the Sox and the Yankees. Now that I look back, maybe I should have stopped buying these pennants. 1986 brought us the chapter about Bill Buckner and the gap between his legs. 2003 brought us Aaron Boone. Who the hell is Aaron Boone? Even fans in New York didn't know who he was, and now he is immortalized in the folklore of the greatest rivalry in sports. Why do I continue to buy pennants? I believe.

As a child you are raised to believe in certain things - Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny - but in Boston, it's different. We add another name to that list of things that children are brought up to believe in. The only difference is that this belief gets stronger as you grow older. I was one of those children born in Boston, and raised in a Red Sox family. I remember back in October of 1983, when Carl Yastrzemski retired, thanking New England and making his final run around Fenway Park. I have the newspapers from that event still. Yaz is still one of my heroes to this day. I await the day when I get my own dog, so I can name it Yaz. I'd love to name my first-born son after him, but I doubt my future wife would go along with it. Maybe Pudge is a better name anyway.

I collected baseball cards for many years, and along with collecting comes trading. I have no doubt that I have had in my possession some valuable cards...rookies, all-stars, hall-of-famers, and others, that I have traded for cards of Red Sox members that I didn't have. Trade a Barry Bonds rookie for a Tony Armas card? It's an Upper Deck card? Hmm. I don't have that one, I'll take it. Whatever happened to that Bonds guy anyway?

The Red Sox are in my blood. I have always stood by them, that's why I made my way to the Yawkey Way store to buy my pennants. I had already been here about a week before. I went in the morning after the Sox had defeated the Yankees (on Mickey Mantle's birthday nonetheless) to go on to win the American League Championship title. Wait...did I just write that? The Sox defeated the Yankees. That meant another pennant! So I went to Yawkey Way. I bought a couple of ball caps - the American League Champion locker room cap for my father, and a World Series cap for myself. I also bought a couple of ALCS Champion pennants. I was disappointed that they didn't have the World Series pennants available yet, but I had a feeling that I'd be back to buy one.

So as my beloved Sox were in St. Louis resting after winning the third game of the Fall Classic, I made another trip into Yawkey way. This trip to the store was different...I was going in to buy World Series pennants. World Series pennants. I have seen the Sox play in the Series before, but I was ten years old. This was the one I'd remember for a long time to come, win or lose. So I walked into the store, bought a couple of pennants, a pin, a bumper sticker, and a World Series program. There was energy in the air. People were talking about the team as if it were the second coming of the Messiah. We had a feeling. We all knew that we'd be back to the shop the next morning to buy a new set of merchandise, but nobody talked about it. No one wanted to curse it.

That damn curse. Only in New England can you say those five letters and people know exactly what you're discussing. It's like saying "the pill" to someone. You know exactly what they are regarding; they don't need to go into detail about which pill it is, because you know. In New England, we have The Curse. For 86 years the Red Sox had gone without a World Series Championship banner. Sports writers and Sox players don't believe in The Curse. They blame the lack of a championship on bad teams, bad managing, and other reasons, but as fans, you don't want to accept that. You need a higher power to blame the losses on, and The Curse fits there. Why did Johnny Pesky hold the ball too long? The Curse. Why did John McNamera leave Bill Buckner in the game when it went to extra innings? The Curse was to blame. It wasn't Grady Little's fault that he left Pedro in for too long against the Yankees; The Curse was the liability. Well, maybe it wasn't The Curse that time...Grady, you suck. But I forgive you now. Why do I forgive you? On October 27, 2004, as I stood next to Fenway Park, the Red Sox were one game away from breaking an 86-year-old drought of Red Sox misery.

Being a Sox fan you get used to melancholy, you live off it, thrive off it. If you put a Red Sox fan in the desert with no water or food, just a pair of shorts, a "Reverse The Curse" t-shirt, and a camel, the Sox fan will outlive the camel because the Sox fan will digest 86 years of heartache and misery. That heartache will slowly be transformed into pain and torture, which will be expelled as hope and faith, and the Sox fan will live to see another day. Sox fans know that it's all they have to keep them alive to see next year. We always have next year.

"This year IS next year," I thought as we all stood in line to spend our money on souvenirs. We all discussed our joys and happiness, and how well the Sox had been playing, and how amazing it was to have defeated the Yankees. We talked about the riot police presence in Yankee Stadium, we laughed about the incident with Alex Rodriguez and his knocking the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's hand to prevent his getting out. We mentioned the useless death of Tori Snelgrove, who died due to complications from a Boston Police crowd control pellet that hit her in the eye during the celebration around Fenway after the Yankees lost. We talked about Schilling's miracle ankle surgery, free agency, how we missed Jerry Remy's voice announcing the games, the Dropkick Murphys' new Red Sox anthem "Tessie", proposed park renovations, and many other topics, but we never mentioned winning the World Series. The game would be played later on that night, and we never mentioned it. We knew that it isn't over until the final out of made. We knew that the Sox had tagged the greatest comeback in baseball history by being the first team to ever come back to win a seven game series after being down three games in the loss column. We recognized that there was a chance that the St. Louis Cardinals could possibly be the second team to perform the same feat.

That summer, the Cardinals were billed by ESPN Magazine, and countless other sports outlets, as "The Best Team in Baseball" for 2004. They were powerhouse players, hell-bent on a championship and ready to go to war for that honor. The dance had begun, and the Redbirds forgot to show up for it. I'll never forget the expressions made by Tony LaRussa as his team bumbled and tripped, and were swept under the rug by self-proclaimed "idiots." He stood at the edge of the dugout, decked in his red jacket and those tinted glasses. With every bloop and blunder his team would make, he'd show it on his face: gloom, sorrow, defeat, rage, and frustration. I'd love to play poker with him, because you could read him like a book. I felt for him. After Game 4, he had to address the media during the post-game press conference, and he broke down in tears. He was manager of the most dominant team in years, and nothing clicked for them. Unlike the Sox, where everything fell into place. The stars were aligned in favor of the Sox, and with the lunar eclipse that would float over Busch Stadium that night, the Sox would take advantage of the Cardinals' mistakes, and go on to be the 2004 World Series Champions.

It was unreal. At the end of the ninth inning, when Keith Foulke tiptoed toward first base and underhanded the ball to Doug Meintkiewicz, I burst into tears. I jumped off the couch and looked over at my father. We were both sobbing like schoolgirls who fell off their bikes and skinned their knees. We hugged, screamed, my mother joined in, the dog was barking, and a feeling of joy unknown to members of Red Sox Nation came over us all. After taking it in and listening to the announcers "For the first time in 86 years, the first time since 1918, the Red Sox are World Series Champions!"

We waited. We didn't know what to expect. Would the temperature outside dip to -600 Fahrenheit as a sign that Hell had frozen over? Would the four horsemen of the apocalypse descend into Kenmore Square? Would we see the hand of Satan reach down and grab George Steinbrenner to make their plans for the 2005 season? We had never been to this place in 86 years; we didn't know what would happen.

What did just happen? The Curse of the Bambino was finally put to rest. No more chanting "1918!" when the Sox play at Yankee Stadium. Bill Buckner can sleep well knowing that it's going to be all right. This means I'm going to have to make another trip to Yawkey Way soon...another pennant to add to the collection - the most important pennant of all.

It still seems unreal. Red Sox fans don't know joy in the autumn. We know how to cope with heartache and depression, not elation and ecstasy. It's like living in a dream. I'm living in the greatest dream ever. Don't pinch me - I don't want to wake up. I watch the highlights on the World Series DVD, and I still get emotional, and I still don't believe it happened. I look at the newspapers and magazines, see the t-shirts and hats, hear conversations other people have, and I still don't believe it.

On my trips back and forth through Boston, I pass a billboard on the expressway. As I pass it, I roll down my window, point to the sky, and honk my horn. It shows David "Big Papi" Ortiz, and next to him it simply states "Keep The Faith." After the faith had been kept, and the Sox won, the words on the billboard were changed to "Thank You." I still roll my window down, honk my horn while pointing to the sky, and I say, "You're welcome, and thank you!" like some superstitious voodoo shaman whose voice can carry over through the billboard and be heard by the team.

Superstition? I am not a superstitious person. I walk under ladders, open umbrellas indoors, let black cats cross my path, step on the sidewalk cracks with no regard to my mother's back health, and clean up broken glass without worry if I should break a mirror. But when it comes to baseball and the Red Sox I become Marie LaVeaux. When we began our comeback in Game 4 against the Yankees, I noticed that my mother had made a cake for no reason other than to enjoy a cake. We ate that cake over the course of the next three games, and we won. The first game of the World Series would be viewed by my family at my grandparents' house, in celebration of their 60th wedding anniversary. We had a cake, and won that game. Each game after that, we had candy and chips and dip, and we won. We knew it was the calories, not the team's efforts that made us win. Well, not just the calories, they had help. During each World Series game, I wore my Red Sox cap. I had with me an official league baseball and my snacks. The hat never came off, from the first note of the National Anthem to the final out. And the ball? I grasped that ball in my hand only when the Sox were in the field, like I was magically in control of each pitch. As soon as the Sox took to the bats, I dropped the ball to the floor. I didn't want to let the Cardinals pitchers use my talents.

Ellis Burks and the trophy Three days after the Series the weather was dreadful. It had been raining, and when the rain stopped, a cold mist replaced it. The skies were a dull gray color, the roads were a wet mess, and three million people had collected along the streets of Boston for the city's rolling rally to celebrate the victory. I dragged my girlfriend to the event, and found ourselves standing across from City Hall Plaza along with them, holding a homemade poster that read "I ALWAYS BELIEVED." The joy of the crowd was only second to the elation of the team. As the Duck Boats passed, it was amazing to see players with camcorders recording the emotions of the crowd. I was snapping photographs as quickly as the boats passed me, trying to capture the moments so I could relive them again and again. I got pictures of the trophy, which looks a lot bigger in person then it does on television. I captured a photo of Manny Ramirez, the World Series MVP, holding a sign that read "Jeter is playing golf today, this is better!" My photo collection would not have been complete without my picture of Pedro Martinez, wearing a Dominican flag as a cape, acting like a little boy.

The parade was the perfect ending to a perfect season. Knowing that the Red Sox won the championship, and dedicated the victory to all the fans, to all the generations in Red Sox Nation who had passed away without ever seeing them win, to all the people who can rest easy, knowing that they have witnessed the greatest sports story ever. Seeing Schilling, Damon, Cabrera, Varitek, Lowe, Ramirez, Martinez, Ortiz, Burks, Millar, Nixon, Mueller, Bellhorn, Francona, Epstein and the rest of the team dedicate the most important victory of their careers to players who have come close but never tasted the nectar of a World Series win is the greatest feeling Red Sox Nation could ever have. Johnny Pesky, Carl Yastremski, Carlton Fisk, Bill Buckner, Jim Rice, Luis Tiant, Ted Williams, Dwight Evans, and all the others who played 86 years of solid baseball...this was for you!

Just as the greatest firework displays always end with the biggest bangs, the Sox victory lap will be no different. In April of 2005 they will be presented with the World Series rings. What better guests to have at the banner raising ceremony, then the New York Yankees, who will be in town for the home opener. Remember Yankees fans – The Curse may have been born in Boston, but now, it lives in New York. I can hear the chants now, "2 triple zzzzeeerooooo" coming from the Fenway Faithful as you enter the park. "Déjà vu all over again" as a great Yankee player once said.

This year was something extraordinary, not only because of the outcome of the season, but for many more reasons. This year I got to be in attendance at two games, which is one more than I usually go to. I sat in the bleachers for both games. The first was a rescheduled rainout against the Baltimore Orioles that took place on Memorial Day. What made that game special was I took my father with me, and before the game, we had the pleasure of meeting famed Sox pitcher Luis Tiant at his new restaurant on Yawkey Way, El Tiante. We shook his hand, got autographs, took out picture with him, bought a couple of Cuban sandwiches, and made our way to our seats, which would be in the last row of the bleachers. What a view! We sat directly in front of the Dunkin Donuts sign on the back wall, and we made it to the television broadcast on NESN!

The second game I went to has a bit of history to it...At the hotel I was working at, a guest approached me while I was on front desk duty and mentioned that he was in town with some friends to see a few games at Fenway Park. He was from San Diego, and was a diehard Padres fan. This year marked the first time, with the new interleague play rules, that the Sox had ever played the Padres. He and his friends were on a road trip of sorts, and had spent the previous two nights watching the Padres play the Yankees in New York. He had tickets to all three games that the Padres would be at in Fenway, and said that if he had extra tickets to a game, he'd give them to me. Well, for the final game of that series, he had three extra tickets. I immediately called my grandparents and told them to cancel all plans for that day, because we were going to see the Sox play. My grandmother was a week away from her 80th birthday, and what a gift. We approached the bleachers and took our seats; about five rows back from the bullpen. I checked the papers that morning - Curt Schilling was pitching. We had a blast at the game! We yelled at the Padres, ate a few Fenway Franks, enjoyed some ice cream (my grandmother hasn't been to the park in about a decade, but she remembered those ice cream bars!) and bought a few souvenirs to take home with us. So this season was all the more special knowing that I took my grandparents to see the Sox play during the first championship season of their lifetimes!

With the holiday season upon us, it's time to put together our lists for Santa Claus. I could ask for a video game, maybe a new jacket, new mittens...but getting presents just doesn't seem important this year. I got the greatest gift ever on October 27, 2004, when the Red Sox won the World Series and became the World Champions I always knew them to be. Maybe Santa could bring Nomar back for one more season…

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Copyright © 2004 by Jeff Newell. Printed with permission of the author.