By the seventh inning of the 2013 World Series sixth game, there was no doubt who would win. The Red Sox had a six-run lead which seemed more against a Cardinal team that hadn't scored half a dozen runs combined in the last three games combined. The Cardinals' players knew it too; as their manager fruitlessly switched pitchers in key situations (as if the game was closer) the outfielders huddled together, unmotivated, and discussed "whatever" as if it meant nothing for them to be part of the first Red Sox home-title clincher since 1918.
Sitting twenty feet behind Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and John Jay in the outfield bleachers was me. Lifelong New Englander. Lifelong Yankee fan. While the others in attendance around me were sweating out the final two innings of a foregone conclusion, superstitiously not moving their hats or allowing others to borrow a pencil, there was no doubt in my mind what would occur on the field. The lifeless Cardinals weren't coming back against this team on their home field. History was outs away.
It occurred to me. I had no idea how to feel. I love baseball. I love New England. I love Boston. But I also love the Yankees and hate the Red Sox. Hate is a strong word. It's not like it used to be. When i was a kid the Yankees were awful, the Red Sox were contenders and I took crap from all the Red Sox fans in middle school and high school joking about Andy Hawkins no-hitter loss or Tommy John's three-error play or Kevin Maas's horrific career arc. I watched every Yankee game. I couldn't sleep if the Yanks were swept in Boston or the Sox made the playoffs and the Yanks didn't. The the tables flipped and the Yanks were the champions when I was in college and after that. Other than the blip in 2004, the Sox were good but the Yankees were just a little better. I loved it. Now I work in baseball. I work with the Sox. They are one of my favorite organizations to work with. I loathe the new Yankee Stadium and much prefer to go to Fenway. The stadium is filled with non-symetrical nooks but new technologies. Great loyal fan base. Absolutely amazing place to see a game. But I'm still a fan of the team in the Bronx. Through my job I can get tickets to things like a deciding game of the World Series. It would be too hard to pass up.
So as the Cardinals were being put away in the game and it was obvious the outcome, I had no idea what to feel. Boston had been through so much with the marathon bombing (I was sitting right by the Boston Strong sign) and if anything the resilience of the city (and the country) was on display in the aftermath of the bombing and carried over by the play of the Red Sox. And they were the best team. But at the same rate, I knew what I was watching would have killed me a decade ago. Watching those ratty hair, unkempt beards prance all over the field laughing in the face of the rest of baseball. It was awkward.
I know so many Sox fans. I watch Red Sox games when they are on. I probably know the team better than half their fans (not the ones who dropped a grand or more to see the final game the day before Halloween though... those were true fans). Much of my family is Boston fans (for all sports). I thought of them. A couple of them (friends, not family) were in the stands that day. The rest were all watching.
My grandfather, who passed away a month before, was a life-long Sox fan. To put it into prospective on the "history" I was about to see, in his entire 91-year life, the Red Sox never clinched the World Series on their home field. I had planned to see a Sox fan right after his death but my wife was ill and I had to miss the game, so Game 6 of the series was my first chance to go since then. I met up with my friend after taking care of some "business" at the start of the game (I do work in baseball, there are always reminders) and one of the first things he said when I saw him at the seats was "I bet your grandfather would have loved this". I'd brought a picture of my grandpa that I'd hoped to post on the foul pole or another sign before the game. I ended up placing it on the top of the centerfield wall to take a pre-game picture.
The stadium crew put up a banner for the National Anthem that draped along the wall where I was sitting and when they pulled it up for the game, the photo was gone. I had copies of it and I'd pretty much expected it would be gone somewhere in the stadium. I considered it only a symbolic gesture and didn't think about it again until the end of the game.
In the ninth inning, the Red Sox brought in Koji Uehera, their all-but-perfect closer (minus one game vs. the Rays) since the all-star break. Each out that occurred was a whimper. It was just a matter of time. Matt Carpenter, the league leader in hits who'd looked fairly impotent and lost in the series, was the final batter. While fans next to me were white-knuckled, I knew this was it. Koji's splitter dashing down and away finished him off and the celebration began.
I didn't know how to react. As a baseball fan, this was an amazing moment to see the last pitch of the season, of the year. The last pitch until opening day, delivered in one of the great ballparks of America. As a New Englander, I imagined the reaction in the Dunkin' Donuts and hangouts of these great six states. After an even-more-beautiful-than-usual-autumn, I'd see the hooded sweatshirts and baseball caps with the "B" for Boston Red Sox all over with smiling Sox nation members. This loyal, amazing fan base and consistent as the seasons are around here, getting something virtually none of them had gotten before - a title - and on their home field.
But also, as a Yankee fan, there was only so much I could take. The part of me that loves the pinstripes wondered if I could forget about this. If I could "un-see" the Red Sox and their fans celebrating on their own field. For my favorites like Derek Jeter (who has won so many titles) or Don Mattingly (who won none), I thought of them watching this, Jeter probably laughing it off and focusing on rehabbing his legs and Mattingly strongly desiring to be on a field like that, celebrating a win. I got the chance to meet Mattingly and when i brought up his home run vs. Alan Benes against the Mariners in his only playoff series as a player, a smile immediately sprung on his face. I thought of Aaron Boone and how loud the old Yankee Stadium, the real Yankee Stadium, must have been that day. But that was another day. This was the Red Sox day. A day like none of them had experienced. The way fans faces light up in the Bronx when Whitey Ford or Yogi Berra are brought out on Old Timer's Day, so will be Ortiz and Pedroia and Lester.
I loved Jonny Gomes speech on the scoreboard... then I bolted. I didn't need to see John Henry and David Ortiz hoist the trophy. That wasn't for me. That was for the fans. Then I noticed something unexpected. As I walked out, I looked down on the field and saw (what I think) was the photo. When they'd pulled the banner down, the photo had fallen on the field, near where the door was for the ambulance, in an area hidden enough that grounds crew members may not have picked it up. My grandfather's photo had probably spent the game on the field, or at least part of it. I thought of how many conversations we'd had about baseball my whole life, the times he took me to the old batting cages in Old Lyme at Cherrystones or the great stories he'd told me about playing. Even the last time I saw him he was excited to hear about my trip to see the Nationals play. He would have loved this. And I thought how many of my fellow New Englanders thought of their older relatives who saw or weren't alive to see the 2004 title after all those dry years. The 2013 season was for them just like 2004. It was for the relatives. It was for the life-long fans. It was for the marathon victims and survivors. It was for Boston, strong.
It took me nearly an hour and a half to get from the exit of the stadium to the T stop. It was crowded with fans who'd emptied out of the clubs on Lansdowne Streeet, many dressed in halloween costume. Many young, happy fans. It was for them too. My fellow New Englanders.
I still don't know how to feel, but I'm glad I can't un-see that history I witnessed the day before Halloween at Fenway, 2013.