Stewart O’Nan, Stephen King


Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season

For Victoria Snelgrove,

Red Sox fan

Down by the river, down by the banks of the River Charles. That’s where you’ll find me, along with muggers, lovers and thieves. THE STANDELLS I put a spell on you, cause you’re mine. SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS


I wasn’t always like this. I was born a World Champion, a third-generation Pirates fan, in early 1961.

A few short months before, the Bucs had taken the heavily favored Yankees to Game 7 in Forbes Field. The Yanks seemed to have the series in hand, up 7–4 in the eighth when Bill Virdon hit a simple double-play ball to short. As Tony Kubek charged, the ball took a bad hop off the alabaster plaster, hitting him in the Adam’s apple, and both runners were safe. Two singles later, it was 7–6. The next batter, backup catcher Hal Smith, caught up to a Bobby Shantz fastball and parked it over the left-field wall for a 9–7 lead.

But the Pirates couldn’t close it out, surrendering two in the next frame. With the game tied at nine, second baseman Bill Mazeroski led off the bottom of the ninth. He took the first pitch from Ralph Terry for a ball, and then, as every Pirates and Yankees fan knows, Maz cranked a high fastball over Yogi Berra and everything in left, and the fans stormed the field.

As a longtime Red Sox fan, I appreciate this history even more now, but, as a kid then, my perspective was limited. Living so close to the real-life setting of the legend (our library was right across the parking lot, and we’d walk over and touch the brick wall the ball cleared), I grew up pitying the Yankees as hard-luck losers.

As the ’60s turned into the ’70s, nothing happened to refute this. We won it all again in ’71, beating an Orioles team with four 20-game winners, and made the playoffs nearly every year before succumbing to the Dodgers or the Big Red Machine. Roberto Clemente, tragically, was gone, but his spirit lingered over the Lumber Company, a colorful and monstrous offensive club that included hitters like Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, Al Oliver, Richie Zisk, Rennie Stennett and Manny Sanguillen. Earl Weaver’s O’s and Charlie Finley’s A’s ruled the AL. The bumbling Yankees, like the Brooklyn Dodgers or New York Giants, belonged to a flannel, white-bread past, hopelessly square.

About the time George Steinbrenner took them over, I traded my interest in baseball for cooler high school pursuits: music and cars, girls and cigarettes. I noticed with an offhand disgust that the Yankees had bought the heart of the A’s dynasty to “win” two cheapies, but it didn’t mean much to me. I was too busy messing around to bother with a kid’s game.

That probably wouldn’t have changed if the Pirates didn’t go and win it all again in ’79. I was going to school in Boston, lost in engineering problems and partying, but one of my best friends was an Orioles fan. Game 7 was excruciating for him. Just like in ’71, they were playing in Baltimore, and just like in ’71, the three-run homer the O’s were waiting for never showed up. Rather than rub it in, I did my best to console my friend. That’s just how it went with the Pirates in Game 7—like the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

By Opening Day of 1980, the glow from winning it all hadn’t worn off, and, living two blocks from Kenmore Square, I decided to take advantage of the neighborhood and visit Fenway Park for the first time. I didn’t expect much. AL ball back then seemed boring to me, a slow, low-scoring game like soccer (since then, the leagues have swapped styles, maybe due to the DH, or the AL teams’ new, smaller parks), but bleacher seats were only three dollars. The park reminded me of long-gone Forbes Field, with its green girders and cramped wooden seats and oddball dimensions. And that wall, the top hung with sail-like nets to catch home run balls. It made me think of the wire screen in right and the way Clemente anticipated every weird carom off it, gunning down runners chugging into second.

And the Sox surprised me. They played like an NL club—all hitting, no pitching. No speed or defense either. The stars of the great ’75 and ’78 teams were gone, sacrificed to free agency by the old-school Yawkeys. The only survivors were Jim Rice, Dwight Evans and the fast-aging Yaz, anchoring a lineup of journeymen. They were a slower, less talented version of the old Pirates, a Lumbering Company, just hoping to outslug the other team. They weren’t good but they weren’t really bad either. They were entertaining, and Fenway provided me with the amenities of an actual park—a green space in the middle of the city where I could pass the hours reading and doing my homework. I watched the games and I liked the team enough, but I didn’t kid myself that they were contenders.

And that was okay. Between championships the Pirates went through long stretches in the cellar. This was better, skirting .500. The farm system was in good shape, and eventually we’d develop some pitchers.

You could say I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but game after game I happily shelled out my three bucks at the barred ticket window outside Gate C and staked my claim to Section 34 in straight center, right beside Channel 38’s camera, where you could call balls and strikes and let the opposing center fielder know he was on the road.

The Sox weren’t a tough ticket then, and I was surrounded by a scruffy tribe of regulars. My favorite was the General, a scrawny, grizzled guy in his late twenties with rotten teeth who wore a squashed Civil War cap and challenged all comers with his portable Othello board. And then there was the husky dude with receding hair who always came late with his dinner in a Tupperware bowl and bellowed, “WAAAAAAAAAAAAADE!”

After the ’84 season, I left for a job on Long Island, and was living there when Roger Clemens and the ’86 club made the playoffs. I was there for Game 6 of the World Series, deep in the heart of Mets country. I remember us being one strike away again and again. I was ready to jump up from my chair and dance. It was late, and I was watching by myself, the TV turned down so it wouldn’t wake the baby. When the ball rolled through Billy Buck’s legs, I heard the cheers of my neighbors.

One pitch—say, one of Pedro’s change-ups—and I wouldn’t be writing this. But no, we placed our faith in Calvin Schiraldi (who blew leads in both the eighth and the tenth in Game 6).

I’ve been to disappointing games since then—a string of playoff losses to Cleveland, the phantom-tag game in the ’99 ALCS, last year’s Pedro-Zimmer brawl—but none of those teams, no matter how far they went, even last year’s overachievers, were true contenders. We were always at least two players away, and one of those was

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