By Jason Keidel
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This is the closest I will ever come to New England envy.
My public contempt for the Red Sox is so profound that I hardly consider Boston a part of the republic. My fury spills into other matters of Massachusetts, including the Patriots, Ben Affleck, the native, noxious accent, and perhaps anyone named Kennedy.
But they got one thing right: keeping Fenway Park. It’s Boston’s bedrock ballpark, a temple that doubles as home to a signature franchise and a resounding salute to the sport. Fenway belongs in baseball as much as any accoutrement over the last century. There is now no other place on the planet where Babe Ruth played in his loved and loathed uniforms.
The Yankees are playing Boston today, fittingly, as the Red Sox celebrate Fenway’s 100th birthday. As Boston glows on American map, a century deep into a game with no clock, who else but Boston’s eternal tormentors should be there? And the fact that Boston has flipped the script over the last eight years adds a little sizzle to a feud that was biblically one-sided for nearly a century.
When I’m asked – and I’m asked often – which loss hurts me the most, I’m invariably expected to regurgitate the titanic gag in 2004, which remains a dubious monolith in baseball history. Only the Yankees have 27 World Series rings, and only the Yankees have blown a 3-0 series lead.
And yet that doesn’t bug me the way it should. The 2001 World Series, played in the symbolic shadow of the fallen towers, while the embers churned in Manhattan, is the one that broke my heart irreparably. I didn’t speak to anyone for a week after we lost Game 7.
Yet when Boston beat us in ’04 it was comical, almost as if it didn’t happen. It was so surreal that it took 2007, when Boston won another ring, for it to register in my pea brain. And as if to remind us that nostalgia and sentimentality are traits of the weak, the Yankees demolished the greatest place in sports: Yankee Stadium. And no matter how hard the brass tries to con us into calling the new place the old place, it will never work. Just spend five minutes inside and the vibe is decidedly corporate.
The Ghosts are gone. They died when the wrecking ball slammed into history. They died when the Yankees, not satisfied with four million fans per year and a $4 billion television network, decided that they could build a new place on the next corner and we wouldn’t notice.
That limestone ode to the almighty coin, the embellished martini bar with $300 jerseys and faux boutiques selling ornate slices of a history that doesn’t exist, replete with nine-buck beer, walls lathered with synthetic pictures of yesteryear, and patrons who can’t name two players prior to 1996 is, well…not home.
Call me crazy, but I want my parks rusty, rustic, and, yes, a little smelly. What’s the worst thing that happened in the old place? Someone illegally lit a cigarette in the bathroom? A toilet backed up? Someone ten-beers deep into the night said the wrong thing to the wrong dude and was ushered from his seat to the subway? I’m one of those fools who find charm in the imperfect.
A few years ago I was driving a truck (yes, 18-wheelers) for a company in New Jersey that had a weekly run to Boston. I’d done the haul the week before my boy got the gig.
He worships the Yankees. But I warned him that the first thing they ask (when they notice we don’t speak in their tongue) is if we’re Yankees fans. I told him to answer in the negative because they are equally vitriolic toward us. He pondered my admonition, and then drove his 80,000-pound vehicle northward, and barreled into Boston wearing a Bernie Williams jersey.
His appointment was at 6 a.m., and he arrived early. But as soon as they saw his attire they suddenly had no doors open on the dock. My friend gazed upon three available doors, but the crew was way too busy with other loads to help. He cringed as other trucks whisked by him, and backed into the very doors he was denied. They ambled over to his trailer shortly after noon, making him wait six hours for a transaction that should have taken 15 minutes.
Despite his arrogance or ignorance, we respected the fact that the people up there had the nads to make Yankees fans pay for preening on their turf while flying the wrong colors. It is that kind of vigor that fuels Fenway Park.
Ghosts don’t migrate, not even a city block, which is a country mile from what should still be the Cathedral. Sadly, that title now belongs to Boston, which today is teaching us a lesson in etiquette, loyalty, and common sense. Keeping Fenway is good form, and appeals to every ethos that tethers baseball to every generation, and gives our pastime its lone prerogative over every sport, including football. While no one doubts the NFL’s authority, it can’t compete with Fenway Park.
This week a woman asked me why the Yankees don’t stitch names to the back of their jerseys. I called it tradition.
“What tradition?” she asked.
“It’s symbolic,” I said. “It means that the name on the front trumps any name on the back. It’s about the team.”
“I don’t see how putting their names on their backs changes anything.”
“If it doesn’t change anything, then why not keep it the way it is?”
“Because some of us don’t know all the players, and it helps us follow them.”
I really couldn’t counter her logic. She was right. We both were. How do I explain the embedded virtues and the mythology, the quirks that made the game maddening and marvelous all at once? How do I explain the illogic of sports fanaticism to a casual observer?
I so loathe that team and that town that I’ve never been to Fenway, out of fear that my allergy could be fatal once I crossed the city line. And, in an odd way, I think Bostonians respect that. It’s the kind of thing I couldn’t explain to the gal who grilled me on the archaic and barbaric gestures of bitter rivals.
And how can I explain the virtues of loyalty and honoring our past when they pummeled it into extinction? We’re always told to lead by example. Someone forgot to tell the New York Yankees. This will be the first and final time I say that if Boston beats the Yankees today, the stars may have ordained it.
Since the evaporated apparitions, the spirits, ghouls, and goblins – all that aura, mystique and destiny Curt Schilling so famously flouted in ’01 – can’t cross the street, they won’t make it up to Fenway. But they actually belong there now. Even ghosts, like memories, need a home.
Feel free to email me: Keidel.Jason@gmail.com
Yankees fans, are you miffed the old stadium will never have a 100th anniversary bash? Be heard in the comments below…