Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Offseason

Lately I've been wondering about the prominence of J initials on the 2008 Red Sox team.

Call me a dork, but I love names. I collect names. What I mean by that is, I keep lists of cool names, usually with the pretense of using them some day in a story, but sometimes just because I like the sound or the spelling or whatever.

And lately I can't help wondering at the prominence of J initials on the 2008 Red Sox.

First we have the boys from the Pacific Northwest: Jason, Jon, Jed, and Jacoby (from North to South). These guys have a special place in my heart because of location, and whenever they do good I like to leave messages on facebook about Pacific NW Power and those good old Pacific NW boys. I think from now on I may have to come up with an appropriate and ridiculous nickname for them, for example, The Pac.

While doing a little google study of this group, I came across a Joe Posnanski "What's in a name?" column about Lowrie being possibly the most famous Jed. According to Posnanski, the "Northwest is our leading producer of Jeds".

These internet wanderings naturally got me wondering about all of those other Josh's and Jason's and the like.

When I finally went ahead and looked at the roster, I found 10 players on the 25-man roster whose first names begins with a J: Jason Bay, Josh Beckett, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Javier Lopez, Jed Lowrie, Justin Masterson, Jonathan Papelbon, and Jason Varitek.

That's a whopping 40% of the roster. I mean, we have lineups where 5 of our batters' first names begin with J. My scorecards, which always feature the first initial, are peppered with them.

Maybe one day soon I'll have time for a statistical comparison of the prominence of certain initials on Major League Baseball teams. I seem to remember an awful lot of Ds, or Gs, or something, on the Angels...

Because you know. Once the season is over, we have to find some way to while away our time while we wait til next year.

Only five and a half months to go...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Reasons I will not be watching the World Series

#1: Games that take place at 8 pm in Florida begin in the Netherlands at 2:00 am.

#2: Sure, the Rays are an "exciting", "young" team... but their age is most evident through their choice of batter's box music. After only a few games against the Rays, I began longing for Carlos Peña's at-bat salsa music as a welcome escape from the thudding R&B/hip-hop clips chosen by the other 8.

#3: I've seen too much of that 9=8 thing and am mathematically confused enough as it is.

#4: There just aren't enough players that interest me. Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins are cool, I guess, but not enough to trump reason #1.

#5: Despite the A+ I received on my literature mid-term (which I would gladly trade for a pennant), I have an awful lot of school work to catch up on. I'd rather spend my free time re-watching baseball classics, like Jon Lester's no-hitter (courtesy of iTunes).

Or I could spend the time choosing a Dominican League team, such as Las Águilas Cibaeñas (Dominican League). Or los Tigres. I know they're essentially the Yankees of the DR, but they've got Wily Mo Peña and Yordany Ramirez!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Foulweather Fans

When I was a young girl, in 1970s Berkeley, the Oakland A's were my team. They were an exciting and entertaining team (perhaps especially to a young fan, learning baseball), with their waxed mustaches and colorful players.

In 1975 they were swept in the ALCS by the Red Sox. I started watching the World Series that year rooting for the Cincinnati Reds. My older brother tried to reason with me. "If the Reds win, that means there are two teams better than the A's. If the Red Sox win, only one team is better." This 12-year-old wasn't interested in logic; revenge was ruling my heart.

But during the series, something changed. I suppose it was hearing the announcers recount the Red Sox hard luck story. Fenway's beauty and the exciting Game 6 surely helped sway me. I was sad when they lost, and not because it meant two teams were better than my A's. But I remained an A's fan.

In 1999 my family was living outside Boston for a year. We'd come from Portland, a city without any major league baseball. My three kids were 6, 10, and 12--and hadn't yet fallen for baseball, which saddened me. I needn't have worried--being in Boston that October took care of turning the kids into fans. For that I will always be glad.

And it gave me something as well. The A's hadn't been my team for a while, really. The Bash Brothers of the late 80's didn't do it for me, and I left the Bay Area around then anyhow. Call me a fair-weather fan, but the A's just didn't keep their hold on me. But being in Boston in 1999 brought back those stories I'd heard during the 1975 series. I was converted.

We weren't lucky enough to be in Fenway for any of the 1999 post-season games, but that didn't matter. We could see the blimps circling Fenway, and the excitement in the air was as palpable as the crisp New England fall. Kids and adults alike were moving through their daytime routines sluggishly, sleep-deprived from watching late games. All conversation began and ended with Sox talk. True, the season didn't end as we'd have liked, but it made us all fans.

The problem now, of course, is that people are starting to accuse the Red Sox of being as bad as the Yankees. A friend messaged me this morning on Facebook: "Sox, sox, sox. It's getting to be a dynasty - at least from a Cubs' fan perspective." I don't think he was being complimentary.

But I ask you. If we stood by the Sox during their heartbreaking collapses (and we weren't fans for long enough to have to go through too many of them), what kind of fans would we be for abandoning them when they're winning? Foulweather fans?

Organizing October

October is a tricky month for Red Sox fans--Francesca has that right! Happily I don't have to worry about fitting my studies in--those days are behind me--and my family is pretty supportive of dinners scheduled around baseball games. But even for us self-employed types, there's a lot to navigate.

For me it's the social life in October. Yesterday I had to figure out what to do about having people to dinner tonight. The decision had to be made before Saturday's game, when we didn't know if there would even be a game 7. Appropriately superstitious baseball fan that I am, I hated to say we couldn't do it, because I didn't want to presume there would be a game 7. Appropriately faithful fan that I am, I didn't want to go ahead and plan the dinner, because I couldn't bear not watching game 7 (or only watching it out of the corner of my eye), which, happily, I can now say is happening tonight.

In the end, I went with the tried and true best way to deal with such dilemmas. I was honest. "We just can't commit to dinner Sunday, so let's plan another time." Why should game 7 be any less of an excuse than a business trip, theater tickets, or a school event?

I have put the remaining baseball games on my calendar, in parentheses, so I know to steer clear of potential scheduling problems. October baseball requires careful organization among its fans!

A Foreigner in Your Own Home

Being a Red Sox fan living outside of Boston has both its pluses and its minuses, but most of the time, the minuses are felt more strongly. It is of course always thrilling and exciting to come across another diehard in that environment, and it is always fun to out-cheer the Mariner's fans when the Sox play against Seattle.

A lot of the time, it is more like living the life of an outcast. Whether I'm living in Portland, Oregon, or in Middelburg, the Netherlands (as I do now) it is impossible to persuade friends (and sometimes family) to accept your excuses but you won't be able to attend that dinner/birthday party/night out/study session/lecture/class/etc. because there is a very important baseball game that night.

In nine cases out of ten, these explanations elicit an eye roll if you're lucky, a little fit of annoyance if you're less lucky, or an insult poorly disguised as a (mean) joke if you have no luck at all.

All the worse if you happen to be a girl, and most of your girlfriends couldn't care less about any sport. They'll try to convince you that a night of dancing will really be more fun than watching the baseball game alone in your room, but they'll never understand that that simply isn't true. It is the company of a few close friends and a lot of sketchy men vs. the company of the likes of Josh Beckett and Big Papi and Jason Varitek, plus your family on skype and perhaps a congratulatory (or sympathetic) email from someone who actually understands. Sometimes I take to the discussion boards of the Red Sox group on ravelry, a networking site for knitters.

It's awful cozy.

In that one remaining case with less unpleasant responses, it's rarely because the person is a fellow baseball fan. If you're lucky enough, they just have something they're similarly passionate about which allows them to sympathize.

This, however, is rarely satisfactory. Take for example, my recent conversation with a Canadian schoolmate. When I said I had been up since 1.30 that morning for a baseball game that lasted five hours and nineteen minutes, he understood.

"I know, that can be really tough. I do that a lot for hockey, and you gotta get up at 2 - it's brutal."

I was temporarily pleased, before I thought of hockey's time limit. The experience loses something, I think, when you know you will be back in bed in three hours, maximum.

No, in most cases, you just have to accept the fact that no one will ever understand (except, in my case, my family) and learn to ignore their jealousy.

Because, really, that's all they are: jealous they're not as passionate about anything the way you are about baseball.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sleepless in October

I seem to fail to remember what October really means for me. I focus on certain aspects of it, and somehow manage to forget about the rest. I have no trouble remembering celebrating the Red Sox winning the World Series, and I certainly never forget how blessed I am by the Red Sox to walk around with that smug look on my face that says, "86 years of losing no longer means anything, because guess who the only Major League team is who has won twice in the new millenium?"

But every October I rediscover my true life as a Red Sox fan.

When October begins, I usually have the comfort of the Red Sox going to the ALDS. And I usually have the comfort of the Red Sox creaming the Angels (they have a 9-1 record against them in the playoffs since 2004). And then I have the pleasure of going to school knowing I'm a Red Sox fan. The Yankees and Angels fans at my school know they can't say anything to me at this point, because "The Red Sox are turning into the Yankees and they aren't actually a good team, just a rich one!" argument doesn't really work on me.

And then they go to the ALCS, and manage to play the other best team in the American League, logically. The part that I always force out of my head, however, is how the first 4 games of this series goes. Although I do realize and appreciate how amazing it is for the Red Sox to come back from a 3-0 deficit in 2004 and then a 3-1 deficit in 2007, the beginning of this feat is never quite pleasurable for me. And yet, the Red Sox always manage to get themselves into that 3-1/3-0 hole.

Of course, most Red Sox fans know the effect this has on their school/work life, not to mention their social life. As I stay up later and later to watch the unnecessarily long games the Sox end up losing, I get up earlier and earlier to finish my homework. Yet no matter how early I get up, my grades all drop a few points in October. Some of my teachers award me with pity points for being a Red Sox fan, whereas the rest either mock me or know nothing whatsoever about baseball. My fellow students, however, never let me forget exactly how many times the Red Sox have won this year at Tropicana Field, or the Rays' young and Mohawk-ed lineup.

And so it goes for 4 long and tired days: go to school...come the more homework...go to more homework...shower and for my French test on the walk to for my math test in French; sleep with my eyes open during chemistry (sorry Mr. W)...fight off endless comments in the hall...and try to recognize who are the pink hat fans I should ignore (although they're easy to spot: usually they wear the generic Red Sox shirts with no name on the back, and if you were to ask them who pitched the eighth inning of the game last night for the Sox, might reply, "Schilling?"), and who are the real fans I should sympathize with...and then go home and do it all over again.

Then, as I finally turn out the light and try to get at least a few hours of sleep, I realize to myself, "Oh. So this is what it's like being a Red Sox fan in October." Although I am used to it, it always seems to be a new experience for me. And as much as the people around me whine and complain about how easy my life is as a Red Sox fan, I am forced to sometimes disagree. Although it often turns out well for us (I'm not referring to this series just yet, I am much too superstitious for that), we first have to get through the rough spots. I mean, we haven't totally forgotten that 86-year hump just yet.

Don't take this the wrong way though, I'm not complaining. I don't think I would want it any other way. I like my hectic October life as a Red Sox fan, and at least it is not as quite as hectic as some others. For instance, Grace, who lives in the Netherlands, and my friend Joseph, in Germany, are forced with the unpleasant but perfectly logical task of waking up at 2 AM their time for the 8 PM Eastern time games (I thought you guys both deserved an honorable mention for this heroic act).

So even if the Red Sox seem to enjoy teasing us all and making our lives completely sleep deprived and awful for the first few games, Joseph puts it perfectly when he says "The Red Sox appear to have a strange attraction to game sevens." As strange as it may be, I wouldn't be satisfied with anything less. And so my response was simply "They rarely seem to disappoint, though, do they?"

And so far (not counting pre-2004), ain't that the truth?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Totally Banal Sportscasting

I was pretty thrilled about the Sox turning it around and coming back to win Game 5 of the ALCS for a lot of obvious reasons. But I was also pretty happy because it meant the announcers would have to change their repeating loop of commentary on how Papi is 0-for-682 or how the Red Sox have never lost three consecutive games in the playoffs at Fenway Park or how B.J. Upton is so friggin’ great.

Unfortunately, they've just switched tracks and are now playing a different repetitive loop: How Boston came from behind the Yankees 3-0, and last year they came back against the Indians 3-1, and how much Papi has done, and how great Drew was in June… these are repetitions that I very much prefer to the earlier variety, but you’d think they could come up with something a little more insightful.

I used to listen to the postseason games on the radio. I don’t like not being able to see the action – I didn’t see Jacoby Ellsbury run until last winter when I got to see clips of his playoff speed on playoff DVDs and the like. I don’t want to miss any more of that. I like seeing the managers send out signs and watching the movement of the pitches and reading the lips of the players in the clubhouse. But I miss the bias of the broadcasters and the more obscure stats that they share with the fans.

And I was pretty thrown off by one of their closing lines, "Do you believe in miracles... because the Red Sox believe tonight".

Because the Red Sox always believe.