My Mistress

Baseball on the Chalk Line of the Infield

Last Sunday I watched the last game of the 2019 season for my beloved Red Sox. It was a meaningless game, and represented the end of a colossally frustrating and  disappointing season. After last year’s historical romp, I knew repeating as champs was a tall order. No team had accomplished the feat since 2000, but the Sox were so overpowering last year, steamrolling all competition that lay in its path, I honestly thought that if any team could break that sting of futility, they could. After all, the team that started the year was virtually the same team that ended last season. Alas, it wasn’t mean to be, and reinforced something that I had learned a long time ago but foolishly assumed wouldn’t apply: one season has nothing to do with the next.

I had disgustedly reached the conclusion that they weren’t going to even make the playoffs back in late July. They had been playing out the string since then, but I still watched and attended their games anyway. Game 162 was no exception because E-Rod had the chance to win his 20th game, something no Red Sox lefty had done since back in the 1950’s, and they were playing Baltimore, one of the worst teams in baseball.

Like the rest of the season, he didn’t accomplish the goal as the team squandered a lead late in the game after he was no longer pitching, but they still won in satisfying fashion in their last at bat. As I turned off the television, I felt the sadness and void that typically occurs when a season ends with unfulfilled expectations. This year was worst than most because the reality didn’t even come close to what was anticipated, and I began to wonder why I take this game and this team to heart so much. It didn’t take long to figure it out.

While K is the love of my life, my soulmate, confidant and partner, baseball, and the Red Sox in particular, is my mistress.

This makes me a dinosaur, a card carrying relic of the last generation that remains passionate about the game. I’m a misfit in today’s world of short attention spans and instant gratification. This epiphany got me wondering what it is about the game that has me as hooked on it as an addict is to their drug of choice.

Perhaps it is because it harkens back to a simpler time. I started following and playing the game when I was 8. Back then nobody worried about their kids coming or going. In fact, it was better to be gone from the house because if you hung around too much our parents would find work for us to do. We’d ride our bikes anywhere and everywhere, sometimes for miles, to find a field to play on. We’d be gone most of the day during the summers, all afternoon during the spring and fall when school was in session, and nobody thought twice or worried about our safety.

Baseball was the king of sports back then, and when the Little League season wasn’t in session we’d play anywhere the was an open field. We’d pace the distance between the bases and from the pitchers mound to home plate, amend the ground rules based on how many players we had, and lose ourselves in the game and the camaraderie of being among one’s buddies.

My passion never wavered through high school, American Legion, and college, where I continued to play, or afterwards when my playing days were over. That was an accomplishment, because my mistress was a cruel bitch. Today’s generation of Red Sox fans are spoiled by their success during this century, because for the first four decades  of my baseball fanaticism, the Red Sox perfected the art of crushing one’s soul in the most heartbreaking and macabre fashion.

For years and years I had to suffer from the verbal abuse that Yankee fans liberally, gleefully and sadistically heaped upon us. They were indisputably the historical baseball kings, and often dominated the sport between 1976 and 2003, often at our expense. Any sane person would have said “fuck this,” and either found another team to root for or focus on the NFL and forget about baseball.

Ah, but she is an enticing minx, a voluptuous beauty who frequently allowed me to reach third base but never let me go all the way. The journey she took me on was wonderfully spellbinding  and pleasurable, but the ending was always the same: a 37 year case of blue balls.

But I kept coming back for more, thinking next year would be the year. My faith and patience was finally rewarded in 2004, and three more times since then. So I can at least cross that off the bucket list.

Baseball is my mistress because I love what most people hate about the sport. Each game is a drama that unfolds over nine innings. No game is the same, and each team has an equal opportunity to win because there isn’t a time clock. It’s a thinking man’s game, and a team sport based on individual accomplishment. The game is also incredibly hard because if you fail only 70% of the time, you’re considered an all-time great.

The regular season is also a mentally and physically grinding six month marathon that has a number of ups and downs. Each game possesses the possibility of seeing something you never saw before virtually every single day. To me, it represents the heartbeat of the best time of the year and has a history unlike any sport in existence, which makes it timeless.

I hate what is happening to the sport, with playoffs games ending around midnight, and the strategy I grew up with giving way to home runs, strikeouts, analytics and interminably long games. I want to scream at the batters to get their ass into the batters box without touching themselves and readjusting every piece of equipment they wear, and for pitcher to throw the damn ball instead of holding it for what seems like forever. But I still think it is the best game mankind has ever conceived.

The end of a season ushers in a bleak time of the year, especially here in New England. The weather turns cold, it’s dark and dreary most of the time, and everything outside shrivels and dies. When pitchers and catchers report to spring training in February, you rejoice in the hope and promise of the possibilities of a new season, and when the season actually starts, it ushers in the best time of the year. What is not to like about that?

I’m staring down the barrel of 174 days (but who’s counting) before the 2020 season starts. I’ll watch the playoffs, and actually enjoy them more because I’m not invested in any team, so who wins or loses isn’t important. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ll be rooting for anyone who play against the Yankees. As long as they don’t capture the crown, and I don’t believe they will, I will be a very happy guy.

It is going to be a fascinating off season for the Sox, and will probably have more drama than the season that just ended. Tough decisions on who they can afford to keep and who to trade or let go, that will impact not only next season but their future competitiveness, are going to be made, and I will be fully invested in them. I’ll applaud some, hate and curse others, and read every morsel I can find behind the story behind them all. The decision makers will alternate between being inspired geniuses and utter buffoons, and I will be along for every step of this roller coaster ride. I may hate what the end result is, but I will still go to my ten games next year and faithfully follow them, living and dying with the results of each game. Hopefully the outcome will be better than it was this year.

For now, I hope the NFL will give me something to follow through January. There is also UConn basketball, but those are mere appetizers for the sport I truly love. My mistress wormed her way into the fiber of my being a long time ago.  I crave her caress, utterly helpless to resist her spell. Even though she is often fickle, abusive and selfish, I can’t wait to resume our torrid affair come March.

It hurts so good!