When I was eight, my dad brought me to my first game at Fenway. As we zipped down the Mass Pike he gave me packs of 1999 Topps to open; getting a Nomar card had to be a sign of good things to come. Wake and his knuckler led the Sox to a win that day, and I was hooked.Over the next few years I watched Pedro dominate, Nomar flirt with .400, and Trot’s helmet grow ever dirtier. Aaron Boone gave me my first-ever heartbreak. But it wasn't until the fall of 2004 that the game would truly make its mark on my life.
On September 11, 2004, my dad unexpectedly left. The reasons were tied up in alcohol; the details I won’t expose here.
It took a while to hit me, and I remember the exact moment that it did. About two weeks later, the Red Sox were beating the rival Yankees 11-4. Curt Schilling, my favorite player at the time, had been solid and the offense had exploded. Excited, I called my dad’s cell to ask him if he was watching. The phone rang and went to voicemail. I tried again. Nothing. I tried again. And again, and again…
He was gone.
In this moment, I was crippled. That my favorite baseball team had won suddenly seemed inconsequential and stupid compared to my life.
As a coping mechanism I retreated deep into my own mind. I didn't stop talking or anything like that, but as I was told afterwards, any subject even slightly emotional would bring me to a complete stop. During this period, my brain deleted – actually deleted, not hid – large chunks of memories related to my dad, I suppose as a way to numb the pain they elicited.
In this state of existence, I devoted myself to the largely non-emotional: schoolwork, more schoolwork, and, of course, baseball. In October of that year the Red Sox were in the playoffs. I’ll set the scene for those who don’t know it: they are facing the hated Yankees in the American League Championship Series and they haven’t won a title in 86 years. It’s a best-of-seven series, and Boston has lost the first three games. No team in history has ever come back from such a deficit.
In the ninth inning, the Sox are down one with the great Yankee Mariano Rivera pitching. Speedster Dave Roberts is on first base. Everyone in the world knows he is trying to steal second.
He scores later in the inning; they go on to win the series in dramatic fashion, and then the World Series. And while I didn't realize it at the time, that improbable comeback triggered something. I believe the perseverance of that team gave me a profound sense of hope that began lifting me out of my shell. It wasn't the only factor, it wasn't quick, and it wasn't easy. But here I am today, free of the pain that might have consumed me.
People always talk about how baseball bringing people together in dire times: President Bush throwing out the first pitch after 9/11, Ortiz’s impromptu speech after the marathon bombing, etc. But what about its power to bring an individual together?
Objectively, it was a man I don’t know running from one place to another before a ball got there. But even today, more than a decade later, I cannot watch a clip of that steal without crying. It is an integral part of me.
To see the play, search “the steal” on YouTube. I’m happy that it’s the first result.