Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Peter King and Stephen King on the Red Sox

I am not a fan of Stephen King. I don't believe I have ever read one of his books. But he is a fellow denizen of Red Sox Nation, so that covers a multitude of sins. He has co-authored a just-released book: Faithful : Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season by Stewart O'Nan, Stephen King. This book will be the first Stephen King tome that I will read!

Speaking of Kings who write about the victorious Red Sox . . . .

My friend, Mike O'Malley, star of the CBS series, "Yes, Dear," recently sent me this excerpt from SI writer Peter King:

MONTCLAIR, N.J. -- The earliest e-mail came Wednesday morning at 1:23 a.m. That's 6:23 a.m. where my brother Ken, the Yankee fan, lives and works. In England. It was four words long, with no greeting or salutation. "I can't stand it.''

My brother-in-law Bob Whiteley, the dentist from northern Connecticut, checked in by cell phone around 10 in the morning. He spoke, I think, for him and my sister, Pam, both Red Soxaholics. "I can't take any more of this.''

I called my brother Bob, another Yankee fan, just before the first pitch, and even though he has his life in glorious perspective, he too was a frazzled mess. "I can't take it anymore. Too much. It's madness. Madness.''

I was no different. We'd all grown up in Enfield, Conn., 90 miles from Boston and 105 from New York, in a split baseball family and area. My father (Sox) took my mother (Sox), brother (Yanks), sister (Sox), brother (Yanks) and me (Sox) to our first family game at Fenway in 1963. I was 6. Bob Tillman homered. Sox lost 5-3. I got Mel Allen's autograph after the game on Lansdowne Street. An addiction was born. Transistor under the pillow for West Coast games in 1967, not falling asleep till 1. Worshiping Yaz. Buying Yaz Bread. (There really was such a thing. Arnold made it.)

Taking the love to Ohio University, to the freshman-dorm basement TV (kids, there was no such thing as TVs in dorm rooms in 1975), being vastly outnumbered for seven games against the Reds, crushed after Game 7. They lost. So crushed after the '78 playoff game that I Black-Velvetted my way to my only "F'' in a journalism class ever for not turning in a paper due the day after Bucky Dent made me violent; can't write if you can't see. They lost. Hugging my wife in the upper deck at Shea Stadium late in Game 6 of '86, sure we'd finally won a Series; got Bucknered. They lost. Lost my voice in 1999 ALCS Game 3 at Fenway, Clemens-Pedro. Won the game, but the series? They lost. Last year, I barely saw the Aaron Boone homer clear the fence from seats way up the third-base line before I turned and got away from the stadium as fast as I could. They lost. Last Saturday, I did the unthinkable: I left a Fenway Park playoff game in the sixth inning. Couldn't take it anymore. The season was going down in flames, and watching the end from the Fairfield Inn TV had to be better than > suffering in person. They lost. Down 3-0.

Just end it, I thought. Euthanize the season. Can't hit, can't pitch. On the way back to the hotel, I'm playing Theo Epstein with the same intensity and fantasy I used to play Yastrzemski, trying to hit Stottlemyre on the Mark Twain School diamond in pickup games. Sign Jason Varitek, at any cost. Try to convince Orlando Cabrera to do what David Ortiz did -- sign short-term, cheap. Let Pedro and Derek Lowe go. Get Barry Zito, whose market value is down. Or compete for Carl Pavano. For God's sake, get one more middle-reliever. See if anyone out there will give a little bit of value for Manny Ramirez, who, and I don't care what he hits, isn't worth $20 million a year.

Then baseball intruded. Dave Roberts, who showed twice in this series just how smart Epstein is, extended two games with his legs, and the best value player in sports, Ortiz, won them both. I had to drive to Foxboro at 5:30 Tuesday morning to interview Corey Dillon, and on the way, Chris Russo, the anti-Yankee WFAN Mad Dog, reached me by cell at the Mystic Starbucks to say: "The Red Sox are winning the World Series, baby.'' (An omen? The Mystic Starbucks?) He had the best reasoning of all: It had to be this way. The Red Sox had to do it this way -- the incredibly hard way -- to put the Yankee ghosts to bed forever. It had to be something cataclysmic, like being the only team in baseball history to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series 4-3.

Then Curt Schilling pitches the game of his life, and fearless Keith Foulke fans Tony Clark to win. The unthinkable is happening. The unspeakable. The impossible. Wednesday morning. My HBO Inside the NFL' producer, Brian Hyland, has his Yankees ski cap on throughout our taping. Cris Carter wears a Yankees cap. He took the Lexington Line up to Game 1 last week and was stunned at the intensity of the rivalry. Almost turned off. Which happens to me sometimes when fans act like first-graders. At the end of the day, Hyland gave me an extended fist > to knock. "Show's over,'' he said. "Now we're enemies.''

I am not a good person to watch the game with. My poor wife. I pace, I walk outside, I go to the computer to check pitch counts, I marvel loudly at what in the world happened to A-Rod and Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui, who have gone from trained killers to invisible in a matter of days, I take notes, I say things to TV you can't say in public or around children when Terry Francona brings Pedro in the game, I rock back and forth Mazzone-like. At one point, for some reason, I recall stopping my Volkswagen Rabbit for 35 minutes on a hill in Cincinnati, where we lived for five years after getting married, on the way home from work because WTIC was coming in so good from Hartford, and I could hear the last two innings of a Yankees-Red Sox game. Pre-MLB Extra Innings, obviously. Where did that come from? Who knows? I just knew not to be overconfident. Up 9-3 in the bottom of the eighth, with Derek Jeter, A-Rod, Sheffield, Matsui and Bernie Williams on the horizon, it is not over. But Mike Timlin makes it be over, with a final assist from Alan Embree, and all I can do is hug my wife and be thankful.

I'm sure most of you out there in Red Sox Nation were overcome with glee and jumping up and down and pouring drinks on heads, but I was just ... happy. And relieved. I hate the concept of the Yankees, but I can't hate this team because of the people they have. And to beat such a great team, such a class team, with such a class manager and class shortstop and clutch lineup, on the hallowed ground, hitting four homers into the same stands Babe Ruth hit so many ... happy. That's what I was.

I flipped the channels on TV to see every interview, and the one that hit home was John Henry, whose emotions he could barely keep in check. He's a zillionaire, and he said to some mini-cam, "It's so wonderful. There's a World Series in Fenway Park this weekend,'' and he sort of shied away from the camera, barely shaking his head. Like he was going to cry. I thought: That's me right now. That's me. Just marveling.

My cell phone rang. It was Laura, my daughter. She's a senior at Tufts, on the outskirts of Boston, and she goes through some intensely devotional spurts to the Sox. She'd watched the game down the street from Fenway, and now, I could barely hear her because of the background noise.

"Dad!'' she yelled. Horns blaring. People shrieking. Laura shrieking. "I'm at Fenway! I'm out on the street! Biggest mass of humanity I've ever seen!''

Line went dead. She called back. She went on like she hadn't ever gotten off.

"This is the greatest moment of my life!''

Congratulations, Red Sox Nation. You've baptized another one. For life.

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