Jonathan Yardley, a Washington Post book critic, knows his sports, having penned biographies of both Ring Lardner and New York Giants superfan Fredrick Exley (best remembered for the excellent A Fan’s Notes, a roman a clef about madness and football; imagine a hybrid of Fever Pitch and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and Yardley once said: “There are only two seasons: baseball season and the void.” Amen, brother. After every World Series, no matter who wins, baseball’s sudden absence leaves me bereft. Sure, baseball will return, just like Stefano DiMera always returns to Days of Our Lives, but that doesn’t make coping with the next five months any easier.
This season, the Red Sox opener in Japan has ruined one of my favorite personal rituals: buying some Budweiser pounders and a pizza, and then parking myself on the couch for the first official tilt. Only then do I truly feel relieved to have again survived winter; only then do I look forward to a softened earth erupting into bloom. But this year, the live broadcast from Tokyo starts at 6 am Portland time, and while pizza for breakfast isn’t that extraordinary, my days of drinking that early are over. (Drinking before 10 am is irresponsible!) NESN will rebroadcast the game, but with people feverishly talking Red Sox all day, avoiding the results required hours of confinement in a footlocker, a Skinner box, or a sensory deprivation chamber.
Not to mention the fact that after two regular-season contests in Tokyo, the Sox return stateside for three meaningless spring training games with the Dodgers before jump-starting the regular season on April 1. How are players and fans supposed to energize for official games, and then endure the letdown of three more games that don’t count, only to then go through a second start of the season? Does that make sense? In theory, I don’t mind the Sox going to Japan; it’s the least we can do to say thanks for producing Okajima and Dice-K (and sorry for having nuked them, twice), but doesn’t Major League Baseball realize that messes with my rituals, and that those rituals tell my fragile psyche when to finally start dispelling the mental gloom of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
No, this year, things won’t be the same.
But that’s OK, because things aren’t the same. Suddenly, Yardley’s void isn’t empty. Celtic Pride has returned. My alma mater, the Memphis Tigers, are still alive as a #1 seed in the Big Dance, and the recent Pats season was ... er, memorable. The Red Sox aren’t the same, either. After winning it all twice in four years, the underpinnings of their mystique has changed forever. How do I know? Yesterday, a friend showed me something hilarious on YouTube, a reenactment of the Mets’ half of the 10th, from Game Six of the 1986 Fall Classic. Graphics from RBI Baseball, the late-'80s Nintendo game, were set to Vin Scully’s classic call (“The Oil Can, for the moment, looks like he has tomorrow off”). Before 2004, any dramatization of that terrible moment would have seemed to me like the last scene of Hamlet, with Mookie Wilson’s at-bat roughly equivalent to Gertrude drinking the poisoned wine. You want to shout a warning, or avert your eyes, at the very least. But, safely ensconced in this strange new Red Sox era, what used to make me cry made me laugh. The horrors of Black ’86 have finally lost their power.
So I say, to hell with the opener. Catching up with the Sox when they finally get to Oakland is fine. My life requires beauty sleep, and some new traditions.
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Rick Wormwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.