I miss the old Boston Red Sox
I miss the old days. Perhaps it is due to age. Perhaps it is due to the last two seasons of abject misery. However, in quieter times, I find myself thinking mawkishly about that golden age just gone, when Fenway hummed to an excited beat and the favoured sons brought glory to Boston.
I think about Manny, swaggering to the plate, and Youk, firing balls off the Monster with that vicious swing. I think about Papi, launching moonshots in his prime, and Jacoby, scampering about in youthful glee. Sometimes, I even think about JD Drew, and conclude that he was not that bad after all. Yet, most of all, I think about time marching on and epochs fading away, leaving only memories in our minds and feelings in our hearts.
The Red Sox were an integral cog in my childhood. Yes, I grew up 3,120 miles away from Fenway Park in a sleepy corner of England, where the existence of baseball barely registered, but after discovering the sport in late-2004 as a 10-year old kid, it seeped into my blood and set me on a course for obsessive fandom.
The Red Sox became my team and my instrument for learning the minutiae of baseball. I watched games in the dead of British night, sometimes surviving on Gameday graphics in the days before I could afford MLB TV. I read every book you may care to mention, consuming the knowledge of Shaughnessy and Massarotti, Gammons and Cafardo.
I lived and died with every pitch. An ocean away. A world away.
Some of my fondest childhood memories involve those powerhouse Red Sox teams built by Theo Epstein. When they hit four homers in a row against the Yankees in 2007, for instance, or when Manny launched his 500th career long ball. For me, the World Series triumph of 2007 was the pinnacle of my sports-watching life. I remember trembling with unconfined joy as Jonathan Papelbon closed out the final game in Colorado; the overwhelming sense of jubilation derived from feeling part of something so special and historic.
It was just a truly intoxicating era in baseball history, when the Red Sox were so important, throughout America and around the globe. Now, they struggle for attention beyond July, when the Patriots return to training camp and the American League basement is once again home.
In many ways, the present-day Red Sox make me sad. I look at the unbalanced roster, stocked with overpaid players who underperform annually, and I see little hope for the future. I look at the front office, run with no clear vision for progress, and I shake my head at the wastefulness. I look at the owners, so confused about how they wish to spend money, and I wonder where it all went wrong.
How did the Red Sox, once a trailblazing juggernaut managed by the sharpest minds and defined by generational superstars, become such a dysfunctional mess? Why is it suddenly acceptable for the Boston Red Sox, this proud institution, to routinely finish last and show so little passion for the game?
When another ball is misplayed in left field, or another grounder is bobbled at third base, I seriously question what is happening. In times gone by, when the Red Sox appeared in pennant races, every play was important, every game was intense, every season was a sacred opportunity to achieve something great. Now, there seems to be very little purpose to Red Sox baseball – very little direction or philosophy underpinning what transpires on the field. Failure is now tolerated.
However, this frustrating malaise is generally true throughout baseball, which despite young stars like Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton, is struggling to remain relevant in a tech-savvy world of fast-paced drama. Now, we seem to yearn for instant satisfaction, which a 162-game baseball season cannot provide. Thus, kids today are more concerned with football or basketball and, as a result, baseball loses some of its significance.
Moreover, the increased parity and revenue-sharing in baseball is having negative connotations, especially in the American League, where the quality of play and intensity of competition has been flattened rather than enhanced. Many will argue that mid-market teams competing makes for a more level playing field, but I would suggest it actually creates a less compelling product, as the horrendous television ratings for last year's World Series attest. Ultimately, baseball wins when marquee franchises clash in October, when the Red Sox and Yankees fight like old times. Right now, baseball has lost that edge – that drama, that meaning – and Boston is suffering more than most.
The Red Sox and Major League Baseball are not totally doomed, however. Far from it. Perhaps with an infusion of thought into management, a sensible shakeup of players and a genuine rededication to winning, Beantown can once again become a central hub of the baseball world, a cauldron of fervent hardball dreams. And perhaps, when the Red Sox rediscover their core identity and morph into a juggernaut from the ashes of indifference, baseball will experience a renaissance of popularity, a resurgence of purpose.
I doubt baseball will ever be as exciting as it was during the mid-2000s, when Red Sox-mania swept the world, but as time moves on, I'm just grateful that it happened, and that I experienced it firsthand. Maybe that is how nostalgia works. Maybe our childhood memories and impressions are always meant to remain sacrosanct, like the ultimate standards of greatness. People reading this will undoubtedly have their own special era, and their own personal heroes, which is the great thing about sports. Time ticks by, but memories remain unchanged.
So in the months and years ahead, I will be watching and waiting for the meaning to return to baseball, for the stars to align in Boston, and for the Red Sox to win my heart anew by rediscovering what once made them so great. I will be watching and waiting for the team of my youth to become the team of my future.