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Just Another Boston Summer
by Kristen D. Cornette

A guest column for published in July, 2001

I suppose a lot of baseball fans spend their summers having fun outdoors. Normal people probably spend their time at the beach, or head to Six Flags for the amusement park rides. But no roller-coasters for me, thanks. I don’t need them. I’ve got the Red Sox, and that’s all the stomach-churning I can take.

Other teams often have up-and-down seasons, but here in Boston, the roller-coaster runs year round. This year’s ride started as soon as last year’s ended. The 2000 season had been frustrating. The pitching was good, but the Red Sox always seemed to be missing that one hit that would make the difference in the game. They hung in, despite a lot of injuries and distractions, but ultimately finished just two games out. After the season, GM Dan Duquette signed his big pitching acquisition, Frank Castillo (whose only recent good season was a 10-5, 3.59, effort for the Blue Jays last year), while the Yankees pursued long-time Orioles ace Mike Mussina. To make matters worse, ticket prices, already the highest in baseball, were raised again, yet there was no indication that the increase would put a better product on the field. It was then that Sox CEO John Harrington announced he was putting the team up for sale, a move which only served to introduce more questions. Would the new owner be willing to spend money to bring the best players to Boston? Would they try to move the team to a new ballpark somewhere outside the city? Why would players or coaches want to sign with the team, if they thought they could be let go under new management? There’s always a little letdown at the end of the season, but this year I felt worse than usual. Optimism was not exactly running at an all-time high.

And then a miracle happened. Instead of dipping into the free-agent market to get the usual bunch of washed-up veterans, rehabbing hurlers, and guys who can only hit in Colorado, Duquette netted one of the biggest prizes of the off-season, Manny Ramirez. Manny’s an RBI machine, we were told. He’s averaged over an RBI per game for the past three years. He’s a perennial MVP candidate and a serious Triple Crown threat. This could be the one piece of the puzzle that would put us over the top. With Ramirez sandwiched in the lineup between Nomar Garciaparra and Carl Everett, we’d never lose again! Tickets went on sale January 7. A record number of tickets were sold that day. I started dreaming about spending my summer afternoons in the stands, and life was good again.

When Spring Training started, everything was fine – for the first week, anyway. New England was blanketed with snow, but the sun shined in Florida, as player after player arrived and declared himself in the best shape ever. But, as usual, the calm was short-lived. Garciaparra, the reigning batting champion and cornerstone of the franchise, had an old wrist injury flare up. When Grapefruit League play started, the Sox lost 12 of their first 14 contests, averaging two errors a game. Ramirez said he’d rather not play left field as the team had hoped, and then pulled a hamstring chasing down a ball in right. On April Fools’ Day, manager Jimy Williams announced his Opening Day lineup. Jose Offerman, Trot Nixon, Dante Bichette, and Lou Merloni all expected to play every day, but none were. I hoped it was a joke, but Jimy was serious.

Nomar underwent wrist surgery on Opening Day, and he wasn’t projected to return until the All-Star Break. That night the Sox lost another one-run heartbreaker, despite the brilliant pitching of Pedro Martinez. It seemed like we were in for a repeat of 2000, only worse. But losing a star player and then proceeding to lose the whole season would be too easy. What makes the Red Sox, uh… special, is that just when we think they’ve hit bottom, they do something to make us believe again. Hideo Nomo pitched a no-hitter in the second game of the year, a feat which had not been accomplished by a member of the Red Sox since 1965. The team came home for the Fenway opener, and Manny hit the first pitch he saw over the Green Monster. The next weekend the Sox took three of four from the Yankees, with Castillo out-dueling Mussina. Before we knew what had happened, the Red Sox were competing for first place.

First place! And they were doing it without Nomar, and with All-Star closer Derek Lowe struggling in April, and with the team wasting Pedro’s amazing performances as quickly as he could give them. Several players began complaining about the absence of a set lineup and a lack of playing time. A few pitchers griped about Jimy Williams’ quick hook. All the while, Jimy and Dan Duquette took public shots at each other. Just as catcher Jason Varitek was putting together an All-Star type season, he broke his elbow making a diving catch of a foul popup, disabling him for the next three months. Yet through it all, they’ve kept finding ways to win.

Now the half-way point in the season is fast approaching, and the Sox are still in first. The pitching is strong again, Manny has been even better than anyone imagined, and Nomar should be back in July. So why does it not seem like my team is winning? Is this for real, or is the Bambino just setting us up for an even bigger heartbreak down the road? Would I feel comfortable even with a 20 game lead? Probably not.

Being a Red Sox fan isn’t easy. While other people get to enjoy the summer, I have to spend every moment watching the out-of-town scoreboard and obsessing over every roster move and lineup change. I spend every fifth day worrying that they won’t score runs for Pedro. But I wouldn’t trade places with a fan of any other team. Because, after all, this is what summer is all about. This queasy feeling in my stomach is what I waited all winter for. I’m going to make the most of it.

I know there are more ups and downs to come before the season is through. I have a feeling, though, that this could be the year we finally do it. Don’t laugh – it could happen. After all, the Cubs are in first place, too. Maybe the planets are aligning for a rematch of the 1918 Series…

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Copyright © 2001-2007 by Kristen D. Cornette.