Monday, May 16, 2011
The passion on both sides of the field is palpable.
Last night, I watched the last two innings of the final game of a three-game sweep as Boston invaded the Bronx and won 7-5. I had been listening to it on the radio until someone on FaceBook told me that it was on ESPN.
I didn't even know I had ESPN.
Like I said, I'm not a big sports fan.
The rivalry between the two teams is often termed "the best rivalry in sports," resulting in games between the two teams often broadcast on national television, schedule permitting, and an increase in television ratings.
In most cases, whenever the two teams play a weekend series, the Saturday game is broadcast on Fox, while the Sunday game is broadcast on ESPN as part of Sunday Night Baseball. Reportedly, these games have had at least 50% higher ratings than all of the other games broadcast.
I'm not at all surprised.
I love my T-shirt that says, "I have two favorite teams: The Boston Red Sox and anyone who beats the Yankees."
I've seen T-shirt with the reverse message in the NY Metropolitan area.
I was stunned to see my former senior warden, a kind, genteel man of 75 and a conservative Republican donning a T-shirt on his FaceBook page that read, "Buck Foston."
I mean, this man's guiding question in life is, "Is it fair?". That hardly seemed a 'fair' statement to me. Apparently, 'all's fair in love and war' - and sports. Well, at least in the NY Metropolitan area.
After I recovered from this atypical - for him - display of un-classy behavior, my first thought was, "Huh! The Yankees must really be in bad shape."
Granted, this is pretty consistent with my experience of many Yankees fans. I once got on the train in Chatham to visit our daughter in NYC. I was in jeans and, since it was drizzly, wore my Red Sox baseball cap.
It was early-afternoon and the car was empty, except for one male passenger. I took a seat and, shortly after the conductor took my ticket, the man turned around and asked, "Are you from around here?"
"Yes," I said, a little startled, "Yes, I am."
"Well," he said, clearly agitated, "You should know better than to wear that cap."
"Oh," I giggled, a little more nervously than I wanted, "Oh, well, see, I'm FROM the Boston area."
"Yeah, well," said the man, the level of his agitation rising, "You're HERE now. Take it off."
He wasn't kidding.
"What?" I said, looking around for the conductor and trying to figure out how much time I had to the next stop when other passengers might arrive.
"You heard me," he said, angrily. "Take it off."
Instead, I gathered my stuff, got up from my seat and moved to the next car.
I could hear him yelling behind me, "Yeah, just like a Red Sox fan! The heat gets turned up and you turn tail and run."
I was standing at the door to the next car. "Actually," I turned to him and said, "It's just that we have more class than to pick a fight over a baseball cap."
I was actually relieved to see the conductor in the next car. He immediately got what was going on, shook his head sadly and said, "I'm a Philly's fan, myself."
I'm not sure of the source of all the heat. Some say it dates back to May 7, 1903, when the game was marked by a fight when Boston pitcher George Winter was knocked down. Boston would eventually go on to win the pennant and the innagural 1903 World Series.
Others say that it happened when Babe Ruth - the legendary 'Bambino' - was sold by the Red Sox to the Yankees in 1919 so that the owner, ("The Evil") Harry Frazee, could finance the Broadway musical, "No, No Nanette."
My father, a diehard BoSox fan who was born in 1919, would never let any of the music from that show be played in our house. Turns out, the story was a myth. Actually, it was the play 'My Lady Friends' that had been financed by Frazee.
Even so, no one in my house was allowed to sing, "I want to be happy / But I won't be happy / Till I make you happy too."
After that sale, there was no joy in Mudville. 1918 would be the team's last championship for 86 years.
The "Curse of the Bambino" was finally reversed when The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. Johnny Damon played for both the Red Sox and the Yankees. However, he is remembered by Red Sox fans for the home run that erased the Curse of the Bambino in the 2004 World Series.
My father hung a picture of Damon and Manny Ramirez - who had carried a sign in the Victory Parade that said, ""Jeter is playing golf today. This is better!" - right next to the ones of Jesus and JFK, Jr. that hung over our kitchen table.
Don't get me wrong. I think team rivalry is a good thing. Well, let me say that it's not necessarily a bad thing. It's part of the whole psychology of team sports that drives the whole sports industy.
Actually, rivalry is not unknown in seminaries, either. General Theological Seminary in NYC is often referred to as "The General" - meaning, that it has superior rank over all the other seminaries.
Others refer to it disparagingly as 'The Priest Factory' - for its pedagogical emphasis on liturgical perfection.
Virginia Theological School is often referred to by its graduates as "The Seminary" - a clear swipe at "The General" for the claim of excellence in theological education.
Other people take a swipe at the 'low church' tradition of VTS by referring to it as "That Seminary" - lamenting that "God may ring her hands over The Episcopal Church, but God doesn't even know about 'that seminary' in Virginia."
Nashotah House has often been referred to as "Natasha House" - where the liturgical training tends to be 'nose-bleed high' if not 'precious', the lace on the cottas (not surplices) are up to one's armpits, and the seminarians (for years, Nashotah would not admit women as students) were wildly rumored - if not widely assumed - to be 'Closet Queens'.
The Episcopal Divinity School has long been known as "The Bleeding Hearts Club". That's okay. We were so busy learning how to work for gospel justice, we rarely paid attention.
Besides, we had to conserve our energy. It's hard when your heart is always bleeding.
And, pity the poor Episcopal seminarian who chose to attend Harvard or Yale or - gasp! - Union. Their reunions at General Convention tend to consist of four or five people, hanging around the bar.
Some of the more uncharitable among us have been heard to refer to them as "St. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Some giggle silently while others invite them as guests to our reunion banquets.
There is something about being part of the "home town team" - especially when they're winning - or even when someone from your home town 'done good'.
Boston is abuzz this morning with the fact that 'the boy from Bean Town' won the Survivor's program last night, even though many of us don't even watch the show. Apparently, he always wore his Boston Red Sox cap. That will be remembered long after he's spent his $1 Million winnings.
His name? Who knows? He was from Boston. What else do you need to know?
Rivalry is fine, I suppose, as long as it doesn't get nasty, and, in my experience, Yankees fans are among some of the nastiest. I don't get it, but then again, I'm not a big sports fan.
Oh, I'll cheer when the Bruins win, but I don't think I've watched a hockey game. Ever. Looks to me like a bunch of Yankees fans on ice with sticks. Nasty stuff, that. And, the Celtics of my youth could always get my heart racing, but I confess I rarely watch a game. I do cheer, however, when they win.
It's a tribal thing, I guess. Something in our collective DNA.
I'm just glad my boys in The Red Sox Nation are doing so well this year. The trick now is for them to avoid the scourge of complacency. That's been their undoing many a time. We've still got a long way to go before the World Series.
Which is part of why I cheer them. I want them to know that even someone like me - who could never be described as much of a sports fan - is rooting for them.
Rain or shine, good times or bad, win or lose, I'll be there for them.
It's not so much about rivalry as it is loyalty.
And, faith. And, hope.
The Boston Red Sox have taught me more about faith and hope than anything I ever learned in the Baltimore Catechism or, in fact, many of us learned in seminary.
Faith and hope can't be taught. They arise from a life of experience.
I'm thinking this year just may well be our year. It's been seven years. We're due for a Big Win. Besides, seven years has a nice biblical ring to it, don't you think?
If not, well, that's okay. It's only a game, after all. Loyalty runs deep in Boston. And well, frankly, most of us have lives outside of Fenway Park. And, friends in the NY Metropolitan Area.
"Wait 'till next year" is the antiphon of Red Sox Nation Psalm of Lament.
You can't get more faithful or hopeful - or loyal - than that.
Please God, just let it be THIS year. Amen.