I was in an Irish pub in Madrid when I watched the Red Sox come back against the Yankees in 2004. Because Spain is nine hours ahead, the games aired in the middle of the night.
I'm not even a Red Sox fan, but it was clear something special was happening. As someone who loves the game, I needed to be there to watch it happen, even if it meant swigging Guinness pints at 4 a.m. on successive school nights. Plus, it's our collective duty to root against the Yankees, so I was doing my part.
The comeback from three games down and the World Series sweep that followed were uniquely incredible.
Last night was special, especially in the wake of the Boston bombings, but it's a speck of dust compared to what happened in 2004, and i think it's important to explicitly recognize it as such.
In 2004, decades of torture were lifted in the most improbable of ways. Icing was applied to the cake just three years later when the Red Sox did it again. Now the team has three championships in less than a decade, which officially makes them a spoiled fan base.
And that's not a disparaging description; it's just the truth. Any semblance of torture and misery among Red Sox fans doesn't belong in this millennium.
My grandpa, who was in his 80s when he passed away in 2010, was a lifelong Red Sox fan. He moved from the east coast to Los Angeles when he was in his 20s, but he brought with him his fandom. By doing so, he lived under a curse that lasted for decades, with a history of tragedies written by the likes of Bill Buckner and Aaron Boone. Meanwhile, the rival Yankees made a routine out of popping October champagne bottles. Baseball was annual suffering.
And then Dave Roberts stole that base.
Because I watched the 2004 Red Sox-Yankees games in a loud foreign pub, I missed out on some of the intricate details; the slow and silent intensity of baseball.
When I returned from Spain seven months after the Red Sox victory, my grandpa sat me down and played me a VHS documentary about the playoff run. Even though I had already seen all of it rehashed, it absolutely gave me chills. In the same room, my grandpa cried.
How many times had he watched that video?
He had been conditioned to believe he'd never see his team win, and he was not alone under that blanket of pessimism. The curse was the defining trait of his generation of Red Sox fans.
To any Bostonian who still claims that impending-doom-is-upon us personality, it's time to bequeath it to the poor people of Chicago and Cleveland. In the grand scheme, the Red Sox are a bona fide winner now, in the company of the Yankees and Cardinals of recent years. There's no reason to use "curse" and "Red Sox" in the same sentence ever again, except in the context of folky storytelling about what happened in 2004.
The 2013 victory is about a team recovering from a fried-chicken-and-beer-induced collapse two years ago followed by a Bobby Valentine-induced stink bomb in 2012. It's about a team winning it all after trading away their highest-paid players. It's about scuzzy beards, team chemistry and banding together and winning for a city in the wake of a tragic bombing.
And it's the teams third parade in nine measly years, after eight previously unsuccessful decades. There's not a Red Sox fan on this planet who can claim to be anything but lucky and spoiled by their baseball team these days.
I'll end with this snippet from my grandpa, who wrote down a lot of his memories before he passed, including this one about the Red Sox:
After a long period of suffering, the Red Sox came to glory in 2004. Red Sox fans were snake-bitten, sure that the worst would happen. The Red Sox got by the Angels and were in a seven-game series with the Yankees. In Game 4, down three games to none, and losing in the eighth inning. Dave Roberts, who had played with the Dodgers and was a UCLA graduate, was put in as a pinch runner. After an eternity of throws from Mariano Rivera to attempt to pick him off, he stole second base. He then scored the tying run on a base hit. Big Papi hit a home run in extra innings to win the game. The next night, in one of the longest and tightest games in playoff history, the Red Sox won again in extra innings. I had dreamt of a homer to centerfield and Papi made that dream come true. And then Game 6 was Schilling's bloody sock pitching masterpiece. That tied the series at 3-3.
I approached game seven with caution... I went to the gym and when I came out, there was the score, 6-0 Sox, thanks to Damon's grand slam. I felt that Alex Rodriquez did an awful thing when he tried to punch the ball out of the pitcher's hand. And there was justice, and there was a God, and he punished like a grade schooler. Finally.
The World Series against the Cardinals was anticlimactic. And poetic. The parade in Boston, and the season opener the following year against the Yankees were theatre. I loved every minute of it and watched the various videotapes over and over again.
The Red Sox won again in 2007 and are still in it as I write in 2008. But justice has been done and, as John Wooden once said, "Sports is the toy department of the world." But 2004 was redemption for a lifetime of suffering.