x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Victory can leave you hollow

Boston Red Sox had a perfectly good 86-year drought going until 2004 when they won the World Series. Now they're just another good club having a rough stretch.

The Boston Red Sox have struggled with form recently.
The Boston Red Sox have struggled with form recently.

We all have met people who support teams that never win any silverware even across vast swatches and epochs of human history.

Many of us have seen that curious process by which these adorable fanatics absorb the losing until it seems to meld into their bone structures and help forge their character.

In observing these Homo sapiens, some of us have witnessed a further phenomenon of an exquisite weirdness, the one in which the fanatic has bathed in the disappointment for long enough that he begins to relish it such that any interruption of it would qualify as jarring.

Fan identities entrench. Public themes form and grow tired but stay true. A Newcastle United, title-less since 1927, fumbles all of a wintertime lead to Manchester United through a wretched springtime of 1996, and a whole much-rehearsed minuet ensues. A tribe of fans suffers. Meanies from other tribes exult in that suffering. Years pass. The "suffering" itself becomes a cliche, but also a badge of honour.

One such occasion could be happening in the United States just now except that it isn't (happening). Tellingly. In Boston, New England, the cherished and well-off Red Sox began September perched safely in the play-offs, yet have managed to win five of the ensuing 20 games and feel the appealing Tampa Bay Rays lurch to within discomfort.

But for two things, this would be a loud national occasion of preening and caterwauling. It would be deeply emotional. It would lay a fresh coat of pavement upon a path exhaustedly familiar, that of Boston imploding in a way the fans feel right down to the bone structures in their toes.

It would be monumental except that the Red Sox of recent years went and marred the whole plot. They had a perfectly good 86-year drought going until 2004 when they won eight games across 11 nights and won the World Series.

Lending further clutter, they won it again in 2007. Now they're just another good club having a rough stretch. Now the story bears the price of soaring moments that redefined identity.

On a Sunday morning in October 2004, a vast country knew that Red Sox identity as well as it knew anything. Boston fixed to lose again, the fans readying for another dour winter in a miserable climate. A certain aching beauty of want and loyalty was present, if overwrought.

On that Saturday night in Boston, the New York Yankees of Boston's contempt had about 100 runs - most people left and stopped counting - to grab a three-games-to-none lead in their best-of-seven series and lurk close to a repeat of their championship-series win over Boston from the previous year. Talk-radio became must-listen and the howling did not disappoint, even if it did come with big helpings of grim resignation.

As adored as any team anywhere, Boston still had not won a World Series since 1918.

Of course, the strangest thing ever happened next. Boston beat New York on Sunday night, and again on Monday night, and on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday night. They then beat St Louis Cardinals four straight times in the World Series to wreak an amphibious and sudden victory parade.

Of all the moments in all the cities, it would have to count among the merriest, yet still it packed more. People took laminated newspaper articles to the tombstones of deceased Red Sox-loving relatives. People felt anew their connections with those who lived normal lifespans yet never saw such a crescendo.

One man told of standing in a raucous cafe as revellers cheered the final out in St Louis. Except that he stood silently as one adamant tear took a long tour of his face in honour of his mother, who had died just that year after a 76-year life raising children and living well and giving unheard instructions toward Red Sox managers through television screens.

For a few other fans here and there, though, something strange accompanied their mirth. They claimed that when the suffering ended, a part of themselves ended also, entailing a sort of a death, a loss from the win. Other fans belittled those fans, but it is hard to question the sincerity of a good wallow.

Seven years on, some proof of their loss has surfaced. As Boston's gaping lead over Tampa has eroded, a few of the Red Sox-minded here and there have tried to resurrect the suffer card, revisiting their familiar pangs of dread. They might be accurate technically, but nobody is listening anymore, and nobody cares, and nobody should.



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