Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Meaning of Commitment by David Lawton

Of course I was going to make her a fan. When you get married, you are supposed to share everything. And if you marry someone from Boston, you become part of Red Sox Nation. Simple as that. I could never understand why she had been indifferent to baseball anyway. She came from Pittsburgh. Had seen the great Clemente play. The guy who first made me appreciate the game even when the Sox weren’t playing. That 1971 series. The guy hustled like he was bursting out of his skin. Never mind that cannon of an arm.

But whatever reason she missed the boat on the Bucs would not impede her from jumping on the Red Sox bandwagon. And she was taking the leap at a most opportune time. The 2003 club was loaded with skill and personality. After a shaky start, the Sox had jelled into a powerhouse offensive team, with Johnny Damon leading off, Nomar and Manny hitting three-four, and Manny protected in the line-up by a big bear of a DH, a reclamation project off the scrap heap of the Minnesota Twins, David Ortiz. Throw in Bill Mueller on his way to a batting title, and you had a line-up that broke all kinds of records. The starting rotation starred Derek Lowe and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, but was anchored by the legendary Pedro Martinez. Though Pedro was a little more fragile than in years past, for the first seven innings or so, he was as great as any pitcher ever was.

The team had battled away through the summer chasing the hated Yankee juggernaut in the American League East, and we followed them together. There were lots of slugfests and comebacks, and the first baseman Kevin Millar became a cult figure in the Nation with his “Cowboy Up!” catchphrase and his lip-synched videos psyching up the Fenway Faithful on the Jumbotron.

By the time the playoffs rolled around, the wife was hooked, but good. When the Sox inevitably matched up with the Yanks in the second round, things got epic. Momentum shifted back and forth a couple of times. In the first match-up between Pedro and former Sox ace Roger Clemens, some hit batters led to the benches clearing and Pedro dropping eighty-year-old Yankee coach (and former Sox manager) Don Zimmer to the ground. The Yanks took a 3-2 advantage in the series back to the Stadium. But the Sox evened things up in the sixth game, leading to another Clemens-Pedro match-up to decide it all.

We watched the seventh game as we had watched all of them, in the living room of our New York apartment. I was in my recliner. She was propped up on the couch. The Sox jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead, knocking Clemens out of the game early, which was pretty sweet. But the Yanks brought Mussina in out of the bullpen, who kept them in the game. Meanwhile, Pedro was cruising, other than giving up a pair of homers to Giambi that brought the Yankees within two. Until Ortiz homered off David Wells, giving us the breathing room of another run with only two innings to go before everything in my life might change. I know it was only the League Championship, but beating the Yankees seemed like the sign that me and my family and everybody back in Boston had been looking for that this Curse thing might finally end. That’s the part that I didn’t think the wife quite got. How lucky she was going to be to have arrived at this time.

When the bottom of the eighth began, she commented on how surprised she was to see Pedro back out on the mound. It was true that the rule of thumb that season was that once he had reached one hundred pitches his fastball became hittable, and should come out of the game. And the team had groomed specialists, Timlin and the lefty, Embree, to handle that part of the game and set up the closer. But you don’t vocalize that kind of negativity at a point like this. We had to trust that Pedro had something special left in the tank. Then, just like that, Jeter doubled and Bernie knocked him in with a single. They had good swings off Pedro, too. The tension in the room was thick, and the wife suddenly got up in a huff and began to do the dishes as the Sox manager Grady Little went to the mound. I didn’t like that she did that. Everything had been going right with us sitting where we were sitting. Making a sudden change like that was dangerous. My hands were gripping the arms of my chair tightly to keep me in place.

Then, even more surprisingly, Little left Pedro out on the mound to work his way out of the jam. I couldn’t believe it, as the bullpen guys were ready, but I wasn’t going to say anything. My wife started yelling at the TV, saying he was doing the wrong thing. That was sending the wrong message. You were supposed to keep the faith.

Matsui was the next one up, and he pulled a ground rule double down the right field line, keeping Bernie at third. The wife started banging things around in the sink. I wanted to yell at her to stop, but that would just increase the jinx energy. I managed to shush her and held onto my chair for dear life. Posada was next up and he hit a bloop that fell in for a double. The score was tied. We ended up getting out of the inning, but the score was tied. The wife was frustrated with the game, and I was frustrated with her. But I kept on trying to believe. Rivera came out of the Yankee bullpen and pitched three shutout innings. The Sox ended up having to bring in Wakefield, their pitching hero of the series, to pitch the extra innings. And it was Wakefield who had the indignity of serving up the home run ball that lost the series for the Sox, and basically ended my marriage.

By the time the 2004 playoffs rolled around, she had left me. She had learned what real commitment was, and she couldn’t hack it. When the Sox got the Yanks in the playoffs again, it did not start out so promisingly. In fact, it appeared they might get swept. But I hung in there, watching the series alone in my tightly gripped recliner daze. They managed to win a game, then a second, and then a third. Playing for pride. I went into game seven like a man with nothing left to lose. Breathed deeply. Stayed calm. When the Boston Red Sox pulled off the greatest comeback in sports history, my phone started to ring. From the caller ID, I could see that it was her. But you can be sure that I was not going to pick it up and let her ruin everything. We still had a World Series left to win, and a new life to begin with it.

David Lawton is the author of the poetry collection Sharp Blue Stream (Three Rooms Press) and serves as an editor for greatweatherforMEDIA. He believes in Brock Holt.

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