BOSTON -- Baseball came back here yesterday and all the people opened their arms, welcoming an old friend. A man in a lobster costume danced in the street, surrounded by colorful balloons. The organ music trembled through the sun-drenched bleachers. It was a little chilly, 43 degrees, but the people kept their hands warm with soft pretzels and onion-and-pepper sausages.
All in all, a beautiful day to suffer.
That's what Boston Red Sox fans do. They are good at it. They always fill this old, green ballpark, hoping the Red Sox will win but certainly not expecting it. It is just as much fun to visit Fenway Park, see the players come close and then go home moaning about how awful their luck is. The complaints keep the fans comfortable and warm, like a cup of clam chowder.
The Orioles spoiled Boston's home opener yesterday, 8-6, battering pitcher Frank Viola, the most recent player chosen to bring this city glory. Yesterday's game read like a Red Sox history book. Boston pulled close, rallying to erase a 5-0 deficit, before sending all its hope-filled fans home deflated.
This game didn't matter, not really. Boston will win its share. Boston will come close. And then Boston will lose. Sorry. It has to be this way.
Boston has not won a World Series since 1918, and it makes you wonder if the anticipation of winning is not becoming more intoxicating than winning itself. The Red Sox have been to four World Series since 1918, lost each one in the seventh game. There have been two one-game playoffs in the history of the American League, and Boston has lost both.
No team has come as close to winning a World Series without actually doing it as the Red Sox did in 1986. One pitch away. The wives of the players stood up to cheer, waiting to celebrate the inevitable. Catcher Rich Gedman's wife was the only one who remained seated. She knew better. She had grown up in Massachusetts.
Sherry Gedman had heard about how Enos Slaughter had scored from first on a single in the 1946 World Series, heard about how little Bucky Dent's popup had turned into a home run in the 1978 playoff. And, in a few moments, she would watch a grounder dribble through Bill Buckner's legs. Of all the sad things that had happened to the Red Sox, this was a first. They had been beaten by a man named Mookie.
On Opening Day five years ago, local entrepreneur John McKeon stood outside Fenway and sold a stack of 16-page booklets detailing 68 years of Red Sox failure. They sold well. He explained why to Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe:
"The joy of being a Red Sox fan now becomes the thrill of marveling, not at the great plays and dramatic moments, but at the creative ways the Red Sox bring about disappointment."
If you don't believe McKeon, how about A. Bartlett Giamatti, the late baseball commissioner who was just about the biggest Bosox fan you ever saw?
"There's a sense that things will turn out poorly no matter how hard we work," Giamatti once said. "Somehow the Sox fulfill the notion that we live in a fallen world. It is as though we assume they are here to provide us with more pain."