Edited to correct spelling and grammar errors because, hey, I wrote the original in the middle of the night! —TRSF 11/01/2013 15:30 EDT
It almost doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. The Boston Red Sox are 2013 World Series Champions.
The September 2011 collapse that ended Terry Francona’s managerial career in Boston, the Bobby Valentine Era, and last place duds that were the 2012 Red Sox feel like ancient history.
As I drove home from the sports bar where I watched Game 6 with friends and family, I heard a question posed on 98.5 The Sports Hub: Of the three championship teams in the last ten seasons, how would you rank them in terms of favorites? The first thing I thought was, WE’VE WON THREE CHAMPIONSHIPS IN THE LAST TEN SEASONS! (The first team, by the way, to do that in the 21st century, is all.) Then I set my mind to the question.
Each championship has been special in its own way. The 2004 title removed from the Red Sox organization and its long-suffering fans the weight of generations of disappointment. The 2007 title was proof that 2004 was not a fluke and allowed us to enjoy the team’s success as normal fans not starved for enjoyment. But this one is something else entirely, the rare achievement of a front office determined to atone for last year, a manager committed to restoring order and dignity to the team, and players who learned very quickly that each of them had a part to play and did so enthusiastically—on the field and off.
At this point, I feel like I should say something about last April’s marathon bombing. I haven’t written much about it, not only because it was small compared to other terrorist attacks like 9/11 or Oklahoma City, but also because it was so intensely Boston. Generally thought of as a big city, it’s really quite small population-wise, which makes it a much tighter community than places like Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York. Its citizens (and those in the surrounding area, like me) are fiercely proud of its past and present importance in history, arts and culture, and sports. The Boston Marathon is one of those sports, and when it was attacked, it was personal in a way that people not from here probably don’t understand. The Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was targeted because it was a federal facility. The World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Capitol were targeted because they were representative of American business, military power, and politics. While the dead were overwhelmingly from those areas, they were killed not because they were Oklahomans or New Yorkers or Washingtonians or Virginians, but because they were Americans. But the Boston Marathon is at the heart of Boston. It is a quintessentially local event that outsiders are allowed to join.
Red Sox players realized this immediately after the bombing, even before they returned to Boston from the road trip on which they were just embarking when the explosions went off. Not only the veterans who had been here for years realized it, but the new guys did too. David Ortiz was the one who verbalized it (“This is OUR fucking city!”) but even the most recent additions to the roster got it. They decided among themselves, independent of the larger organization and deliberately without the organization’s help, to reach out in a coordinated way to survivors and to victims’ families, to show the community that has stood by this team through the decades that the team has the community’s back. Each and every player participated, voluntarily and without fanfare. Though I’m sure they didn’t realize it at the time, the bombing became, probably more than any other single factor, what united this group of athletes and gave them common purpose and direction. Having developed that bond as people, they continued it as teammates. The players led and the executives followed, using traditions and special ceremonies before and during games to support and honor survivors and first responders at home games all season long, and giving the fans a vehicle to do so as well.
And that’s the final reason why I think this championship is special. It was accomplished by a group of men who came from all over the world but who felt at home enough in Boston to treat the city, particularly those who bore the worst of the attack, as a family to whom they were devoted. Then when it came to baseball, the “work” they do which is really play and for which they get paid ridiculous amounts of money, they behaved as a family devoted to one another.
Sure, some players did better than others. But there was not a single one of them who did not at one time or another, by his actions and efforts, take the rest of the team on his shoulders and do what the others, for that moment, couldn’t. They didn’t do it merely because it was their job to win games. They did it in the spirit of cooperation and perseverence that manifested itself after the bombings and was so perfectly expressed in the motto “Boston Strong.” They did it because they genuinely love this city and each other.
It may sound melodramatic, but trust me, it’s reality. I couldn’t be prouder to be a fan of this particular team, these 25 men who did something so important to so many people, and then went onto the field and won a championship.