Papi

Baseball opens up this week- which honestly does not excite me as much as I thought it would. I am still mad the Red Sox did not pay Mookie Betts, and instead traded him and World Series hero David Price for a bucket of balls. In a sport with no salary cap, and homegrown super star, who is arguably the second best player in the game, to be traded at 27 years old is disgusting. But I will admit the many Works Series rings the Red Sox have won the past 15 years has quelled the anger a bit. But it did make me reminisce to the day when I truly believed I never would see a Red Sox title, and back to the worst year of my life 2004. And from all that tragedy a mammoth Dominican named David Ortiz saved my life- or at least my hope. So I have remixed a story from my MFA novel about the stubborn faith of hope, and the unlikely saviors who show you it exists.

I have to admit something now that I should take to my grave. I think I used to be a Yankees fan. 

I want to think I might be making this Yankee story up because could I really have rooted for something so evil? I can’t fathom doing it, but then again why would I make up anything so terrible? It’s definitely a repressed memory as if the Yankees molested me in my youth. I picture having to go on the stand while Don Mattingly looks at me from the defense stand, wispy moustache and all, and winks at me as the prosecutor brought out a doll and asked me where he made me put the New York hat. It’s all too horrifying to remember.

​What made me think of this memory was a vision of me at four years old in New Jersey, and standing on the doorstep of my uncle Chris’s house decked out in a full baseball uniform. The uniform had pinstripes. It wasn’t red either. I think I am going to be sick.

​I was also going going to be sick because my uncle Chris was at work, and his wife Gi Gi was going to make breakfast. In my memory she is Jersey through and through, and seemed like she could have been a mob wife—you know, polyester pant suit and all, and she probably had big hair. What I do remember distinctly was how she used about a dozen eggs, shells included, to make the worst scrambled eggs in the history of all scrambled eggs. If they made a shiny medal to inadequate and god-awful eggs, she would have won. I am not sure she understood the concept of cooking, but at least to her benefit she gave it the old college try.

​So here I am, a chubby little four –year-old Babe Ruth, sitting at the kitchen table covering my plate of eggs in mountains of ketchup that made these runny eggs look like they were hemorrhaging blood, and all the while trying to be polite and eat what’s in front of me in a fucking Yankees uniform. This was a memory that should have stayed suppressed.

​In 2003 I thought it was our year. When you’re a Red Sox fan every season has to be the year. But now this was the year. I was living in apartment right off of the UNH campus with Loafy and Justin. Loafy and I had started a tradition to celebrate each Red Sox victory by table diving. Table diving was exactly how it sounds. We had a long hallway in our apartment with a table we used to play drinking games on. The table was blue and sturdy as hell. It had to be through all the abuse we put it through. The goal of table diving was to stand at the far end of the hallway while we flipped the table on one its ends, so when you impacted it you would be able to ride it to the other side off the hallway and be catapulted off as the table landed back on its other side. If you took the table at the wrong angle, you would fly off the side and into the wall where there were a few holes to commemorate table divers whose dives went off course. After each Red Sox win I would wake up bruised and hung-over. And yet after every Sox win I would stare down the table, start running, and leap into that table with sheer exhilaration knowing that any bruise I received was worth it to dismiss eighty- five years of torture.

​After the Red Sox won their first playoff series against Oakland, it seemed as if all of UNH headed downtown to celebrate. The police would say we went to riot. The next day on front of the page of the UNH school paper was a picture of Loafy standing on top of a car, “Howard Dean for President,” t-shirt prominently displayed across his chest, leading a chant of “Yankees Suck,” with the headline, “UNH Comes Close to a Responsible Celebration.”

​After the Oakland win the Red Sox were going against the dreaded Yankees for the right to go the World Series. Seven games later it was not our year. Aaron F’N Boone broke our hearts in the twelfth inning of game seven, launching a home run off Tim Wakefield. This was only after Grady Little inexplicitly left Pedro Martinez in for too long in the eighth inning and set up our doomed fate.  It was as if the Gods were conspiring to make the Red Sox lose in the most brutal ways possible. I felt as if I was at Guantanamo Bay with a battery charger hooked up to my genitals. Why do the Yankees always win?

​Then 2004 came and a 6’4”, nearly 300 -pound Dominican man restored my faith. His name was David and he slayed the Goliath of baseball. Everyone writes about the Red Sox winning the World Series after so many heart-wrenching and heartbreaking losses over and over again. Jimmy Fallon even made a horrible movie about it that no true Red Sox fan can stomach. If someone tells you that they like that movie know they are probably some asshole Cowboys fan who grew up in San Diego and has a Yankees ball cap in their closest. But the 2004 series was more than baseball to me. This was a referendum to me that life wasn’t futile and just full of heartbreaking pain. I am not talking about heaven, religion, or any of that bullshit. I am talking about real life miracles. This was a team that was down and out and on the verge of a humiliation, and most importantly elimination. No team comes back from this. History has taught us this much. Who could ever in the wildest dreams think the Sox could come back? We are talking about a team down three games to none to an evil empire that has feasted off and inflicted so much misery on them throughout history. They were the smug villain in the Eighties movies with the hot girlfriend, and here I was rooting for the Ducky of baseball, a team destined to always be second rate. Good guys only overcome these odds in the safety of cinema.

People love to belittle sports as not meaning anything. It’s just a game they say, and of course it’s just a game. But the magic is found in it is its ability to transcend one’s life, and for a few hours make us believe in the impossible. It’s a never-ending novel with twists and turns and the Red Sox was the protagonist I followed through all the bad times and well, more bad times. Sports have this unique ability to put the gifted on a pedestal, where they either succeed or fail on the grandest stage possible. There are statistics to judge them, and championships at the end to reward them. Life is never this uncomplicated. So when I was feeling the worst in life I turned to the Red Sox for hope. Sure, in the end they wouldn’t bring back what I lost, but they could bring something I thought I had lost, and that was hope. And no matter how much life throws at you, you can never let hope escape from you. If you lose hope, your fate is doomed. So I rooted for the Sox with this in mind, knowing after what I just experienced something good had to happen.

​The first night I went out on town after my sister, niece, and nephew were murdered was game three of the divisional series and the Yankees were already up two games to none. I was with Justin and we were barhopping in Portsmouth. The goal was to get drunk. Rip-roaring, shouting- at –the-moon, biting –the- heads- off- bats drunk. We succeeded. But every pint I threw back or shot I took didn’t change how I felt. The Red Sox was how I felt and they played like it. Every inning the score was worse.  Every bar we hopped to welcomed us with another Yankee run. It was 19-7 by the end, and I was blacked out. It was fitting the Yankees won with a score that resembled the last time the Red Sox won a World Series. As I puked on someone’s flowerbed it all seemed too fitting. The Red Sox always lost. At least some things hadn’t changed.

​I watched game four in my parents’ basement curled up on a futon with a blanket that could be pulled over my eyes to shield me from the inevitable loss I was about to witness. I needed to watch this alone. Rooting for the Sox was I guess like putting faith in religion. You know it’s going to fail you in the end, but each year you still blindly follow, hoping that your endurance and faith will be rewarded.

​I spent most of the game with an impending sense of dread. Even if they won this game, there was no way they could pull of four straight. They were playing the Yankees, Curt Schilling was hurt, and these are the Red Sox. I love them, but they are fuck-ups when it comes to winning the big game. I pondered turning the channel. Maybe watch a cooking show on the Food Channel, or a reality show on VHI.  Hell, maybe read a book. Or even fly a kite. Anything seemed like it would be better than torturing myself with this game. But I am a masochist, hence a Red Sox fan, and I had to watch every minute, as gruesome as it may turn out to be.

​Everything was going according to plan. The Yankees were winning going into the ninth and quite possibly the greatest closer in baseball, Mariana Rivera, was coming in for the close.  The Sox were a run down and with him on the mound that might as well be ten runs. Rivera does not blow this save. The Yankees don’t blow this game. History taught us this. But I still blindly believed. I needed to believe in something. So why not the impossible?

​And then the impossible happened. Kevin Millar walked and the atmosphere at the stadium changed. I looked at the clock it was 11:58, not quite midnight, but midnight in a perfect world was about to happen. It was like every Red Sox fan was hit by lightning and suddenly realized, you know, we might be able to win this after all. Dave Roberts pinch ran for Millar, and we all knew he was going to try to steal second. If this was a movie, Dave Roberts would have been the aging star, down on his luck, and his career in its twilight. He would know his fate was to steal this base. In the movie everything would slow down. Roberts would saunter out to first and dig in with his cleats, kicking dirt and slowly building his lead from first. The pitcher would stare down the plate and then Roberts at first. The sweat would be sneaking down the pitcher’s skin and he would rifle a throw over to first to try to keep Roberts close. Roberts would dive back safe. Roberts would dust himself off and build his lead again. The pitcher would sneak another look back and then fire a fast ball to the plate. Roberts would be off with the pitch. The camera would pan the crowd leaping to its feet, and cut back in slow motion to the pitch hitting the catcher’s glove with a loud thud and the catcher rifling the throw to second. Then there would be silence as Roberts slid into the back of the second base bag and the tag is applied on him. The umpire would then appear to signal he was safe. The crowd would roar.

And this really just happened! Roberts just stole second! Roberts stole second! Holy shit! I need to high-five something. I’ll high-five myself. Any other game he gets thrown out. But he did it, and Rivera was rattled. This was like when Hulk Hogan slammed Andre the Giant. The impossible just happened and for once you knew the Sox were going to pull this off. Robert’s steal had put the Yankees on the rope, and then Bill Mueller’s single into left them staggering as Roberts scored to tie the game. We were headed to extra innings.

In the bottom of the 12th inning David Ortiz strolled to the plate with fate on his side. Fenway erupted with cheers, and was willing Papi to come through. I was sitting on the futon emotionally drained. But as Papi dug into the batter’s box, and did his ritual of spitting into the hands of his batting gloves, I felt nothing but hope. For once I truly believed the Red Sox were going to come through. And just like that he rocketed the next pitch out of the yard for a home run to win the game. I was in shock. My face was wet with tears, but I was smiling.

This win had helped me find something I feared was lost forever. This meant more to me than any baseball game will ever mean again. You have to realize I never felt worse in my life. My sister and her two kids, whom I adored more than anything in the world, were dead. And I was rooting for a team that cultivated misery, and I assumed they would lose and I could wallow in my pity. I expected that. I mean who wouldn’t?  But in the matter of a few hours I went from debating changing the channel because I didn’t need any more heartbreak in my life, to watching the Sox rally on the of the greatest closers in history, and Big Papi hit a 12th inning game-winning home run. The hope they gave me meant more than anything in life. I questioned my faith so much, so to combat this I put all my faith in the Sox, assuming they would fail. But they didn’t. There was hope for me after all.

I get it that people look down on sports as an art form, but those baseball players for the Sox renewed my faith in mankind. Isn’t real art determined by the impact it has on you emotionally? If the Sox can come back even for one game against the evil of the world, that meant I too could overcome the pain that was trapped inside me. Thank God for Big Papi because with one swung he changed everything.

The Red Sox went on to do the impossible by coming back from 3-0 hole to their most hated rival, something that had never happened in the history of baseball before, and then went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series. Eighty-six years of baggage forever gone, which proved to me you can’t change your history, but you can change your destiny.

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