For my entire life, I have esteemed the Red Sox above all other teams. I adored everything they represented: New England, Fenway, and, prior to 2004, the seemingly predestined way the Red Sox would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I shouldn't say that I adored that last part, because no real fan likes for their team to lose, but I understood and felt comfortable in the old paradigm, the one dominated by the Curse of the Babe. Their World Series win of 2004 was the greatest sports moment ever, and (sports) life will never get that good again. But with the 2004 win (and to a lesser degree, the 2007 title), things were lost, too. The fallout from those two titles is what currently troubles my baseball soul.
This year's Red Sox season ended last weekend, and, as you probably know, they have missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006. How does that grab me? It really doesn't. I don't feel relief that my team wrapped up a mediocre, dispiriting campaign; I don't feel the "there's always next year" optimism so endemic in hardcore sports fans. I don't feel frustrated. The fact is, I don't feel anything. I have never been as disconnected from them as I am right now, and that sucks.
I haven't adjusted to the new type of existential dread the Old Town Team creates. The pre-2004 existential dread, where fans knew something terrible would happen — be it Grady Little leaving Pedro in the 2003 ALCS, or that baseball rolling through Buckner's legs 18 years earlier — was horrible but familiar. Ah, yes, you would think, as season after season went into the shitter, for a second there I forgot that the Sox were cursed. Now, my baseball existentialism has a slightly different focus. Instead of feeling like I'm part of a large, unlucky tribe (Red Sox Nation) trying to make my way in a harsh, unforgiving world (the AL East), I feel cut off from that tribe. Not only am I wandering the wasteland without my team, but I don't miss them. I hardly notice that they're gone. The Red Sox? Who are they?
There are other reasons for this gloomy phenomenon: the team had so many injuries this year that they should have been called the Boston Sea Dogs. Pedroia, Youk, Lowell, and Dice-K all went down, to name a few. Big Papi was on the schnide from April until June. John Lackey was mediocre. Also, large personnel questions loom over this off-season: Will Ortiz be back (probably)? Will Jason Varitek, the Red Sox captain, return (probably not)? Who will be the everyday catcher in 2011? Who will play third base? Why should I give a rat's ass?
Perhaps the best example of how to bear this new and bewildering brand of the existential blues comes from English Literature. When John Milton lost his sight, he composed a sonnet (commonly called Milton On His Blindness) that finds the poet adjusting to his new circumstances. Unable to serve God in the way he previously had, Milton instead exhorts himself to patiently bear whatever God asks, faithfully, and without complaint. (Milton's self-penned pep talk worked, too. Paradise Lost, his masterpiece, was yet to come.) The poem's famous last line, "They also serve who only stand and wait," could have been written about my current predicament. To reconnect to my favorite team, I need patience and faith. I need to trust that things will improve, and somewhere, deep down, I do.
But until then, it's time to watch the Pats and the Celtics.
Rick Wormwood can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.