What I Can Rely On

Growing up, my family never embraced sports. My mom, bless her heart, still doesn’t know what the definition of “sports” is, and my dad gets interested only if games stir up enough excitement or controversy to make the news… even then, it’s not a guarantee he’d watch the match. Needless to say, my sister and I were raised hating football, baseball, soccer — you name it. There were times when we entertained different types of sports — cheerleading, gymnastics, iceskating… basically the ones that didn’t require sweaty butt-slapping male egos. Anyway, the only time I can remember there ever being a sports game on or sports cheers in my house was when I was small, and my mom and dad had crab and beer parties when the Superbowl rolled around. I remember only one: My dad wearing a Dolphins cap, standing directly in front of the TV and pumping his fist in the air, screaming in joy; blurry people in bright colorful jerseys yelling at him and the TV, taking over our entire den, and I did not understand why; and my mom, frantic in the kitchen with no time to talk to me, replenishing the shrimp and cocktail sauce. This was supposedly when I was five, and those game-day-gatherings faded as quickly as the good ‘ole years when camaraderie was a common theme in all neighborhoods.

My godparents and dad
A couple days ago, my family and I came across this picture of my dad with my godparents. My dad is on the right with the O’s hat. I love this picture. Other than the fleeting memory of him in a Dolphins hat, I’ve never seen him in any sports attire.

I tell you this story to paint the picture of how sports became something taboo, almost illegal growing up. When my friends and their families talked of football, I would blush from innocence, feeling it was a bad word. It seemed there was an entire sports society — statistics-throwing, player-memorization, rule-junky people… and I was ostracized from their clique. A nobody. Until college… I remember being with my friends — all male — and being absolutely bored with their continuous sports talk and “witty” sports comebacks that I didn’t understand but would have them cry-laughing so hard they’d get their lazy butt off the couch just to punch the sucker that said the comment. This, too, was while ESPN was on… playing yet anooother New York Yankees baseball game. And did I mention I was bored? Extreeemely. I never was the type of girl who had several female friends, went shopping, painted toe nails, put on make-up — the whole nine-yards (or even half that, lets me honest). I was the girl that drank beer and learned to become the judge when my guy friends wanted to know whose bodily noises were more fierce… and PS-I could put out a pretty good competing belch, just sayin’. But that was me. On the same note though, it was boooring — day in and day out, they did the same thing: Watch sports, drink beer. Watch sports, drink beer. Watch sports, and maybe drink some hard liquor mixed in. This is when I finally realized A) there’s one thing a girl friend can never convince guy friends of: To leave their beer and a sports game to do something else, and B) I needed to figure out this ridiculous sports jargon to keep from gouging my eyes out with a beer cap. I started asking questions, “Who are the New York Yankees?” “Why do you all wear Yankees caps?” “Does *everyone* here love them?” “Are they *really* that good?” “What team do most people like?” “Why do some people hate them then?” And based on their answers, this is when my competitive side came out: “Who is their rival?” Three words: The Boston Red Sox. (Okay, that was four, but I’m not counting the word “the”…)

To be a jerk to my guy friends (because any female who has guy friends knows being a jerk to them is needed to survive what they put you through), I made unintelligent off-the-cuff bets that Boston would beat New York in the next game they played… just to piss them off because they pissed me off when they didn’t want to leave the TV (again). I learned to bet on more games, speak with more confidence, and when they lost, I could even throw in ity-bity sports facts they taught me earlier (such as “Well of course you had that game. You should have *all* games since you can pay any amount for any player. Thank God there’s no salary cap in baseball, right?”). But it wasn’t enough. I needed to get their attention more — be treated like a sports fan to prove they and their stupid time-sucking New York Yankees were wrong. I needed to be more powerful. I needed to *know* baseball.

After spending an afternoon with my friends — who got snippier by the minute with my challenging comments — I decided to watch any and all baseball games by myself. At first, it was painful. Baseball was more boring that football — and I haaated football. Then it became a smidgen bit interesting — the amazing catches, stolen bases, errors. But I still hadn’t found a team — and I *needed* a team. Sure, I could like the Boston Red Sox, but I didn’t want to “jump on the bandwagon” after my friends said evvveryone either likes them or New York. And I sure as hell wasn’t liking that arrogant navy-and-white team that stole my friends (and all big shot players). This also meant that as my loathing for the Yankees grew; it spanned to any New York team so the Mets were out.  I kept narrowing it down each game.  Each boring, no interest game, I came up with additional reasons to not like those teams: The Orioles were out, just because my aunt and uncle would send us massive tin tubs of popcorn *every* Christmas… and I hated popcorn. Image courtesy Google: Baltimore Orioles popcorn tinThe Braves, gone because when I was in elementary school, I won a drawing competition and the reward was tickets to the AAA Braves game. Tell me — What elementary school girl wants to watch a AAA Braves game? …And still more game watching meant more possibilities to pick a team: I tried to like the Cubs… *yawn*. I tried to like the Cardinals… eh. I tried to like the White Sox, Dodgers, and Phillies, but honestly they all seemed like cocky assholes that were no different than New York. The Angels — aw, that’s a cute name… but there was nothing I found cute about them. And the rest were ruled out because they were smaller market teams, making games harder to see. But still I watched… and watched… and watched more games. I began declining seeing my friends because they talked during the games, and I needed to focus. During this intense focus, I began to meet a different person: I heard myself yelling, cheering in my room when a player slid over home plate. My heart began pumping during those last innings when the games were oh so close. I had to learn to calm down after my non-stop cussing on a wrong call became so intense that my puppy ran under the bed, scared. I had become a different person, changed at some blurry point over the past several months.  I began to actually *enjoy* watching baseball… all because of one team: The Red Sox. Image courtesy Google I know, I know. You’re going to instantly ask the year I started liking them (*clearing throat* 2004) as if I haven’t heard that I’m a “bandwagon jumper” after all. But I tried to like other teams, and well, I blame those teams for not being exciting, motivating, and respectable. The Red Sox caught my eye — only they did — and keep in mind, I hated baseball.  It wasn’t the wins either. In fact, it was the *losses* that made me more interested in them. And with my interest, I bought a hat to support the underdog team. I stayed up late on school nights to watch Johnny Damon make great catches. I sang Sweet Caroline with the rest of the fans in the seventh inning before Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz came up to smack the ball out of the park. And I cried — actually cried — when I saw Curt Schilling on the mound, pitching his heart out while his ankle bled through his sock. *Through his sock* and the man still continued pitching inning after incredible inning. Image courtesy GoogleMy heart melted for the other pitchers too — Tim Wakefield and Bronson Arroyo — not because they were hot or had cute butts or whatever other silly comment many females make when watching baseball — but because they were bad ass pitchers. I began to know who the good guys were — even though I hadn’t met any of them, I just *knew*: Derek Lowe who seemed so easy-going and positive; Jason Varitek because he was respectable, a genuine good guy, a true role model, a captain that appeared to take new and old players under his wing. I fell in love with him — the way he guarded home plate so competitively, how he twisted that white tape around his fingers to help the pitchers.  I loved watching him give signs and felt like he was including me in on some secret when I could recognize — before the announcer — exactly what he wanted the pitcher to throw. Those players and more — they made me love my team. 2004 gave me the competition and pure heart I wanted to find in players: We won the Wild Card, barely making it into the playoffs, and I would turn my hat inside out each daggon game I thought we would be out. But they fought. And I fought for them. And by the grace of God they made it to the World Series. And by the holy-moly-still-so-amazing grace of God, they came back… game after game after being down. My team was a fighter. My team *never* gave up in the face of defeat. My team dared, tested everyone. My team *knew* — literally knew — *blood*, sweat, and tears make victories… because they did just that. They made the biggest victory that 2004 year and won the World Series. And you know what? I watched every dang game. I was probably more emotional than I’d ever been (more so than “that time of month”) and cried — tear after tear — while getting goosebumps when the players rushed the mound against the Cardinals finally getting a World Series ring and flag after not having both and more for 86 years. *I* was their good luck charm. And they were mine.

Image courtesy Google
Game Four: Red Sox versus Cardinals
Image courtesy Google
Papelbon and Varitek

This year marks a decade of me standing by my team.  And that’s pretty special, pretty huge for me.  Beyond my family, I have never stood by anything for that long.  But it’s not just me standing by the Red Sox; my team has stood by me.  In each game of those ten years, they’ve made me want to gain more baseball knowledge than the previous year. True, I’m — by far — no where near an expert and with any group of guys (or hell, even one), I still revert back to that blushing, shy kid that just didn’t know enough about sports. Yet, there’s always more to learn… and it’s here the Red Sox taught me the most important lesson: Baseball is a symbol, standing for something larger.  Baseball is not “just a sport.” Baseball is life.

There are times where life feels incredibly heavy, dark, and hard… and you just need that one thing some days — just that *one thing* — to get through, make the tiniest bit of your life slightly more manageable. I’ve clung to the Red Sox this year. Not that it’s been a horrible year for me — I landed a job I’m passionate about and completed my first year teaching at a school I adore; I’ve had no MS attacks (so far, knock on wood)… but things have been hard.  Some days, I feel a cross between floating with everything up in the air… to drowning and bareeely staying above water. And it’s when I feel like this — lost or scared or confused — I watch my Sox play… and just like in 2004 and every year after when I supported them, they are here with me now. It seems they’ve been holding my hand when I feel alone, battling in several extra innings late at night.  I believe they even seem to mirror my pain by going through their own bad luck, losing game after game after game.

This year has been rough on me and on them — so much so that a little more than halfway through the season, there’s not much they can do to recoup… and that’s how I wonder if life is now for me.  Like me, they’re picking up the pieces, trying hard to figure out where they should go, and rebuilding… rebuilding into something that they don’t even know or understand yet.  But that rebuilding is important.  While they have the regular amount of players on the DL, their entire outfield is either rookies or players that are brand-spanking-new to the team. In fact, I’d say about half the team is either rookies, just traded in, or hasn’t even played for the Sox for more than two years.  I feel most of those established Sox players — they’re gone. We have new pitchers popping up like bacteria in a high school, and it feels like every single player has been tested at all nine positions.  Yet, they still lose; we still lose.  It’s hard. In the beginning, I was genuinely heartbroken — girl-that-got-dumped-after-a-seven-year-relationship feeling — when remembering and seeing Jacoby Ellsbury in his new pinstripes uniform. (It seems my outfielders just cannot stay away from the tempting attractive devil’s team.)  Up to now, I cried when Jon Lester was traded to the A’s… and then experienced more pain after reading his humble goodbye letter in the Boston Globe (please, please let the Sox re-sign him).  A few days ago, I followed crazy trade after crazy trade after crazy trade as players I’d gotten to know, invested time in seemed to be leaving me, moving on, not looking back.  And again, I felt alone, almost betrayed.  But baseball is life.  And maybe it sounds corny or stupid or silly, but to me, it’s true. No matter what happens with them or in my life — my *team* is still there.  They may have to figure things out this year; they may need more time; they may need simple acceptance when things turn crappy; they may struggle, but struggling only makes you stronger in the end. I’ve learned a lot from my team, so much so that when my life is muddled and I start to lose focus… I try to remember: There is one constant I can rely on.  I can rely on the Red Sox just like they can rely on me.

To my 2014 team, you’ll figure it out; I know you will, just as I’ll inevitably figure things out here.  And just as you’re with me right now tonight and always have been, I’ll stand by your side too — win or lose.  Because soon, you’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.  Soon, you’ll be stronger.