Friday, September 30, 2011

Sport. Bloody Hell.

I am exhausted this week. But it's not down to kids waking me up, or burning the midnight oil to finish a book, or illness, or anything else like that. It's entirely self-inflicted. Because on Tuesday and Wednesday night, despite knowing I would be woken at 7, I stayed up until 4 am and 5.30 am respectively.

To watch baseball.

(Sorry for bringing this up when it's so raw, Beth...)

Despite being a Limey, and a distaste for many other popular American pastimes - NFL, basketball, voting for swivel-eyed, right-wing retards - I love baseball. And in baseball I love The Boston Red Sox. I was taken to Fenway Park one gorgeous August day in 1980 to see the Sox beat the Brewers. I can't remember the score but I remember the sounds and the smells: the gasp of excitement and then the roar as Freddie Lynn homered, the scent of hot dogs and body odour of the fat man sat next to me, the sheer  greenness of it all. This was before I'd even been to a cricket match. Cricket became, and still remains, my favourite sport, but I've always retained a fondness for baseball and the boys from Boston.

But I lived in the UK. So I would follow the scores in the newspaper, printed the day after the day after the game. Soon I realised the Boston Red Sox scores weren't worth following, but I still did. Channel Four over here showed a few games in the 1990s, and then Channel Five. I caught a few when I could and sometimes they showed the Sox. I read books written by a very gloomy man with big teeth which spoke about a 'Curse.' And when he visited, I asked my Bostonian uncle about the Red Sox and how they were doing and he would also curse.

One curse was lifted - my uncle still employs the vernacular - in 2004, which I remember fondly. I watched as many games as I could on TV, especially the remarkable comeback to vanquish the hated Yankees (I love New York and have been to it more times than Boston, but still, it's the bloody Yankees innit) and revelled and shared in the sheer wonderful euphoria of a town that I had only visited a few times, but whose ballpark was etched on my memory forever. (Speaking of which, Fenway is 100 years old next April. It was opened only a few days after Titanic sank. I'll leave the metaphors to the rest of you...)

I soon realised I could pay a meagre sum to the cash-strapped folk at the MLB and watch the Red Sox as many times as I wanted. I could watch them live on my PC, or the day after, or highlights. My baseball fandom grew, as did my love for The Sox and their gum-chewing, egg-headed (as in head shaped like an egg not clever, though he seems bright enough, though he may be gum-chewing elsewhere soon, sadly) coach Terry Francona. They won the whole show again in 2007 and I felt as if I had shared it with them. Seasons since have been less favourable but you can't argue with two World Series in the space of three years.

But every sports fans know you have to pay. That with the smooth comes plenty of rough. This is why we hate the Yankees, or Manchester United, or the Australian cricket team. Those people don't know what pain and loss is. All that never-ending success (except it does end, like it has with Australia and, please Lord, soon will NYY and MUFC). The average Red Sox fan above a certain age could sandpaper their house and the whole street with the rough they've experienced (I'll leave others to work out what fans of the Cubs could cover...). Another chapter of pain was written this week. I'd been watching the 'collapse' with some disbelief over the past few weeks, wondering how a team so good could become a team so bad. This isn't the place to share my theories, other than to say big-name players don't alway make big-game players, and characteristics like bottle and mettle don't always show up in people's averages and ERA (you hear me Theo?).

I watched in bleary-eyed disbelief as Tampa came within one strike of losing and won, and the Sox went from within one strike of winning and lost. And as the Sox lost, still hoping to make a one-game play-off, almost simultaneously the Rays hit a walk-off home run to go through and Boston were eliminated.

Part of me was crestfallen. The part that wanted my team to win, and that's a pretty big part. As my wife will tell you, I can be pretty moody for a few hours after Liverpool are defeated or England lose at cricket (I did think I'd grow out of that actually, as life and kids and other properly important stuff came along, but I haven't - if anything it's got worse). But at the same time I was flabbergasted and amazed and even invigorated by the capacity of sport to provide such unbelievable, unscripted drama. It reminded me why I spend so much time watching, reading about, writing and talking about these foolish games. The highs of the ALDS of 2004; the European Cup Final of 2005; the Ashes of 2005. Then there the lows, too painful to go over here, but the Red Sox collapse now goes alongside them. But without them the highs wouldn't mean so much. 'You gotta lose a coupla fights to know what it's like to win,' Frank Sinatra once said, and he was right (he wasn't a Cubs fan either...)

The title of this blog is a misquote of a famous comment made by the hated manager of the hated Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, a charmless man but a wonderful manager. His team had just won the European Cup against Bayern Munich by scoring two goals in the injury time. 'Football,' he said afterwards, when he was how he felt. 'Bloody hell.'

It means nothing, but everyone who follows sport knew what he meant. It carries all manner of meaning depending on how you say it. It can be said in triumph or in disgust. Everybody fan has their ' bloody hell' moment. Boston Red Sox fans, and both of the Tampa Bay Ray fans, had it this week. It hurts like hell/tastes like the sweetest nectar, delete as applicable, but one thing's for sure - it means we'll be coming back*.


Dan - Friday

*except one of the Tampa fans. I've heard they divorced and he got the cowbell.


  1. Great post, Dan, for several reasons. But most important to me is how it reminded me just how blessed I am to be a Pirate fan and thus forever spared the angst of a competitive season. For we Pittsburghers, it's not whether you win or lose, but how you curse the game.


  2. Cheers Jeff - Pittsburgh, if i remember correctly, did take two out of three against the Sox earlier this year in Interleague play, so they played some part in their downfall.

    But yes, maybe the Pirates have less 'bloody hell' moments than some...

  3. Dan, I watched the 1979 World Series on TV from the luxury of Pittsburgh's Greyhound bus depot [on TV sets that looked like parking meters], and a motel bedroom and was hooked.
    I think it summed up the difference in the two sports when Argentinean "mercenary" Carlos Tevez refused to play in an important game, but Rafael Ibanez at 39 tried to beat out a double play in a game that meant little to the Phillies.
    What an end to the regular season! My recorder will be working overtime over the next few nights rugby, and baseball.

  4. While i agree baseball is not beset with the same problems as football Norman, a quick glance at the Interweb will tell you a few Red Sox fans are questioning the huge money paid to the likes of Crawford and Lackey given the effort and results that have ensued. At least they played when asked...

    I'll be watching the play-offs too - and cheering on Detroit I think, mainly for Victor Martinez, who i think the Sox were unwise to let go.

  5. First, I must point out that the Pirates have won the World Series five times. There is no need to quibble about dates but the Red Sox went 86 years between World Series wins.

    Sox fans are loyal to all things Red Sox including playing in the smallest venue in baseball. Not for us the big baseball stadiums with their large capacity. We go with small and consistently sold-out games no matter what the teams standings. That the Red Sox have the most expensive tickets in the sport and some of the highest paid players is irrelevant when it comes to willingness to mortgage the house to go to a game.

    There is no explanation for what happened at the end of the season. The last game of the season separated the true fan from the wanna be (and I am not referring to you, Dan). My husband and my brother shut off their televisions because a close score in such an important game is too difficult to watch. And to lose to Tampa, a team originally named after a fish, who plays in a stadium named after a brand of orange juice, and who didn't exist before 1998 is just too ridiculous.

    Even their fans don't show up for a game that decided what team would go to the playoffs. Their tradition -shaking cowbells during the game. Our tradition - singing Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline". In terms of class who wins?

    Let's not discuss what Terry Francona chews; it used to be tobacco but he got into some trouble when it was discovered that teenager boys were buying chewing tobacco to emulate the coach and to get an early start on developing various forms of cancer.

    As to the future, we have Jacoby. Tampa drafted him but didn't sign him. The Sox were a lot smarter and Tampa must be cursing their short-sightedness. Wouldn't you agree, Dan, that my favorite player had a very good year?

    The Red Sox followed the Patriots when they took a player no one else was interested in. The Patriots took a chance on a kid named Tom Brady and look where that got them. Who is the Steelers quarterback?

    Not to rub it in, Pittsburg' hocktey team is called the Penguins. Boston's is called the Bruins. Enough said.

    Dan, you are a man of exceptional intelligence and sports savvy. "Wait till next year" isn't a promise, it's an often repeated threat. You know that an outsider can make negative, judgmental statements about our other teams, but anyone from "outside" who makes a disparaging comment about the hometeam risks damage to live and limb. Same goes for anyone who says a good thing about the Yankees.

  6. Beth, Ellsbury is brilliant - he and Pedroia are two guys they can build the club around for years to come. Bard too, once he overcomes his tendency to wobble. Lavarnway also looks a hell of a player.

    And I forgot to mention: part of the weirdness of Wednesday night as a Red Sox fan was having to root for the Yankees. Nothing good could ever come of that. And sure enough, it didn't.

  7. You're absolutely correct Beth, the Pirates have won the World Series five less than the number of PITTSBURGH STEELER Super Bowl Championships...


    [I think I should sign this Anonymous]

  8. All I know is that Wednesday night (here) was one of the most exciting baseball nights ever. My remote was hot from switching. Being an SF Giants fan, I hate Atlanta and their "chop," and Tony La Russa is my least favorite manager, and I was rooting for the Sox, and for the Yankees *!?!* and all these games going into extra innings. And they call Giants baseball "torture." Pittsburgh had some role in the standings, winning when they shouldn't :) They have a nice ball park, though.

  9. How about them Dodgers, huh?

    What? Oh . . . .

    Sorry. Continue your conversation.


  10. Tim--

    Please don't knock the Dodgers. I need the Dodgers. The current edition, anyway.

    The McCourts may be the only schadenfreude balm with which we Cubs fans can soothe our eternal wounds.


  11. KNOCK them? They've broken my heart. Not till the last six weeks did they turn into the team they should have been all year long. The McCourts are a train wreck, but they weren't responsible for all the fumbling on the field. I think Mattingly was getting his legs and Matt K was deciding he was a member of the team, as opposed to last year, when he seemed to feel like a slumming member of the master race.

    But there's always next year.

  12. I'm sorry, Tim. The Dodgers are in that other league so they don't fire up the memory bank. All I know about them is that they used to be in Brooklyn.

    Francona is gone because someone has to take the blame and it won't be any of the overpaid prima donnas who decided the season ended in August.

    Within the next few days the intrepid sports reporters will find out which of the players decided they didn't need a manager. If anyone is outed as a drag on team, he will not be forgiven by the fans, ever.

  13. Judging from the number of comments, maybe we should change the name of this blog to BASEBALL IS EVERYWHERE.

    We could debate the Designated Hitter intercontinentally.

  14. Tim--

    I trust you saw today's article about Matt K's agent advising him not to sign an extension, but to play out his contract and go free agent, at which point he'd be too expensive for what's left in the Dodger's piggy bank.

    Trust me, as a Cubs fan I recognize the art of developing a major young talent and then losing him soon as possible.

    The DH sucks.


    You are not alone in your transAtlantic sports addictions. My wife and I tape all the major bike races and watch them after dinner, all summer. Which of course leads to reading the bike mags with all the daily gossip; Christ, there's no soap opera like bike racing soap opera.
    (Well, perhaps soccer [fooootballl!] but I'm blissfully ignorant of all that.


  15. I was in Boston on Wednesday night. The whole town quivered, and quivered, and vibrated, UNTIL......

    The lights of the city seemed to dim, and a wailing covered the town like fog.

    And the next morning, there wasn't a smile to be seen.

    Fortunately for my heart, the Twinkies tanked around Game 3 this year - in their gorgeous stadium. I'll wait until next year.