Monday, October 25, 2004

I wanted to hate the Red Sox

A strange thing has happened this week. There have been many interesting articles in the press that I wished to comment on in broader fashion - hysteria because someone seemed to suggest the Queen should apologise for the bombing of many German cities during the war; an intriguing article regarding the Mongolians and their new adoption of surnames; the controversy currently brewing in the EU regarding a right-wing commissioner. And yet, whenever I have sat down to consider writing something new for my blog, my thoughts invariably turn to the World Series.

Even stranger, I am starting to root for the Red Sox. This worries me, as my last few years have seen me develop a growing dislike for their uncanny ability to sign all of my favourite team's players for large sums of money, thus rendering us unable to keep them. However, the one team that I despise more than any other is the Yankees. They stand for the most ugly, profiteering type of corporatism; they consistently outspend all other teams by a quite disgusting margin; their players are the swaggering, gamesmen types that embody the bad things about sport. As Bill Bryson put it, they are the team for the kind of people who take two parking spaces. And yes, they buy up all of our best players too.

For any of you who have read the newspapers thoroughly this week, you will probably have come across the incredible story of the Red Sox victory over the Yankees this week. 3-0 down in a best of 7 series (a deficit never before overturned in the 100-year history of the league), they survived two cliffhangers, before demolishing the Yankees on their home turf in the final game to win through to the World Series. Staying up till about 3 in the morning to see Johnny Damon (one of the aforementioned stolen players) smash the home run that ultimately put the Red Sox in an unassailable lead was a great moment. Of course, in the past I have always been accustomed to rooting for the Sox ahead of the Yankees. The fact that never before have I been rooting for the winning side made things much easier for me, as I could continue with my Yankee-hating habits.

Yet now I realise how difficult it is to overturn that support for the Sox. Firstly, their players embody something about sports that I personally feel should be universal. Damon described the clubhouse atmosphere as that of "a bunch of idiots"; whilst this may be doing them a bit of a disservice, they clearly have a pure joy for playing the game and playing together, and their enthusiasm is infectious. Secondly, they have some of the best examples of pure baseball skill. Tim Wakefield, their starting pitcher last night, is what is known in the trade as a "knuckleballer" - a mystery pitch incredibly hard to master, but if mastered, also incredibly hard to hit. Pedro Martinez, another starter, is on his day one of the most dominant players you could hope to watch. Damon is not only a great hitter but a stylish fielder. And David Ortiz, so far their player of the playoffs, has an incredible batting stance. His whole physique shows you how much power he has to release; when he stands at the plate there is a palpable sense of impending doom.

All of this adds to the emotional intensity that was undoubtedly felt by the entire city of Boston, and most probably half of New England, when Game 7 was finally over and the Red Sox had finally vanquished their hated rivals. That their team, with its infectious and independent enthusiasm, had beaten their smarter, wealthier, more corporate rival less than a couple of hundred of miles away - the embodiment of a city that had overshadowed theirs in almost every which way - was a cause for elaborate and extravagant celebration. And the delight and the intensity of the series caught me too. Ultimately, I've been caught by the dictum that "my enemy's enemy is my friend." But more importantly, I think I've been shown why sports take up so much of my life. The emotion that is inherent in them, the drama of human contest, is something that directly excites me. I had every good reason to hate the Red Sox. Yet the power of sports has meant I'm following the World Series in a way I never expected.