Ten Years On: A Message For Kansas City, From A Red Sox Fan

Marc Sterne Producer, "The Tony Kornheiser Show"
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The World Series is back, with the upstart Kansas City Royals trying to beat the San Francisco Giants and win their first title since 1985.

Twenty nine years. That’s a long time. So long ago that people back then didn’t wear bike helmets, and everyone could eat all the peanuts and gluten they wanted, without any dire consequences. Now if the Royals do pull this off and win, there will be a celebration of epic proportions in KC, as well there should be. A small-market team that was off everybody’s radar when the season began is now making a charge through the postseason that ranks with the greatest in baseball history.

Kansas City fans have been on a wild ride, and I expect things will get a little crazier before this thing is over. I wish them well, because ten years ago, I went on a ride that was the greatest any sports fan could ask for: the Boston Red Sox World Series Championship. It was something every Sox fan had hoped and prayed for, but never actually thought would happen – and for the way it did happen was nothing short of miraculous. Down 3-0 to the Yankees in the ALCS, they mounted the greatest comeback in sports history to advance to the World Series. It wasn’t one of the greatest comebacks – it was and remains the greatest comeback of all time.

The shifts from utter despair to wild ecstasy throughout the course of that week are almost unimaginable. The actual World Series win was anticlimactic – but how could it not be after that legendary battle with their mortal enemy. I was lucky enough to have two great friends on that ride with me. To protect their reputation, I’ll just call them Sonny and Dominick. We were great friends, but the bond we formed during all of this will never be broken. It was our Henry V moment: those guys shed their blood with me that Fall, and they will forevermore be my brothers.

The seeds for everything were planted the year before in 2003, when the Sox lost to the Yankees in game 7 of the ALCS. That postseason had been a crazy ride too – nightly gatherings at one of our houses to watch the game until late in the night. The shared thrills of victory and agonies of defeat. Like Charlie Brown we kept expecting Lucy to keep that ball down and went charging right in, and just on cue, the Red Sox coughed up a late lead and went on to break our hearts in a way nobody thought was possible.

God, I remember like it was yesterday. The night began with such promise. We gathered at Sonny’s house wearing cowboy boots and hats for a pre-game cookout (For those that can’t remember, Cowboy Up was the rallying cry for the Sox that year — a little dorky, but when your team hasn’t won since WWI, you’ll try just about anything). The early portions of the game couldn’t have gone any better for us. Boston chased Roger Clemens early, and that was a phenomenal moment. Clemens, the Red Sox legend who turned to the dark side, walking dejectedly off the mound – it really felt like the gods were on our side. But as it turns out, the gods can be cruel. The Yankees rallied, and tied the game up sending it to extra innings. The look of triumph that was on our faces seemingly moments ago was gone, replaced with a hunted look

“Oh my god. This can’t be happening again!” But it was.

As the game progressed, there wasn’t much talking, just nervous pacing and some incoherent shouting. Then in the bottom of the 11th, with Aaron Boone standing at the plate, Dominick turned to me and said “You know, Boone’s the kind of guy who could hit one out here” I turned to look and yell at him for jinxing us like that, but before I could say anything, a knuckleball from Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield failed to knuckle, and Boone launched it into the night. The Yankees had won. Again.

Still stunned at what had just happened, I screamed at my friend “This is your fault!!!” There may have been some other things I shouted, but my basic point was that this was his fault and that he would carry the shame of this for the rest of his days. There was a brief guttural argument, and then I fled the scene. Ok, I’ll admit, this wasn’t my finest moment, but dammit – who says something like that right then?

When the cab dropped me at my apartment, Sonny called me to see if I would take back what I’d said to Dominick. I refused, and went in to drink until dawn. I seem to remember it was a combination of red wine, bourbon and aquavit. Let’s just say that it was not a pretty scene when I got ready for the work the next day. I can’t recommend that combo to anyone, except maybe someone on a Meth bender just looking to crash for a while.

Eventually Sonny, Dominick and I got back together. I apologized and we moved on. If anything the bonds of our friendship were stronger at that point than they’d ever been before. And they were tested when the Sox lost 19-10 to go down 0-3 to New York the following year. This time though, we responded with gallows humor, laughing at how ridiculous it all was. But then, the Sox won – and kept on winning, until they’d won it all.

And who was there to smoke a victory cigar and celebrate with me like it was VE day? Dominick. It remains one of the greatest moments of my life, marred only by the fact that Sonny was out of town for work, but he was with us in spirit that night. Ten years later I look back on how much that win changed things. It transformed an entire region. New Englanders were no longer the punchline for every bad joke in the sports world. And for me, sports ceased to be a life or death passion. When my teams win, I’m happy, but whern they lose I’m no longer utterly despondent – which probably makes me a lot more fun to be around these days.

Boston has won 2 more World Series since then, and I feel like someone who is rich beyond his wildest dreams. But as great as the last 2 were, nothing will compare with that win in 2004 – and the journey to that victory which began on a grim night in October of 2003. So to the Royals fans, I say good luck and godspeed, but no matter how it turns out, take my advice: stay away from the red wine/bourbon/aquavit cocktail – you’ll thank me in the morning.