Lords of the Rings

Lords of the Rings
April 4, 2014, 10:45 am
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This afternoon on Yawkey Way, the Red Sox will take the field at Fenway Park for the first time since October 30. As a reminder, that’s the night John Lackey (John Lackey!) shut down the Cardinals, and the Sox clinched their eighth World Series title in franchise history. Their third in 10 years. And did it in Boston for the first time since 1918.
October 30 was 156 days ago, but the memory is still incredibly clear. It doesn’t take much to bring yourself back to that moment and dial up the feelings that took over down the stretch in Game 6. The buzz that filled the air as Koji Uehara stepped on the rubber, three outs from a championship. The burst that followed Matt Carpenter’s swinging third strike and was followed itself by a pig pile on the mound. Then beers, beards and champagne. Drake’s “Started From the Bottom” blasting in the locker room. David Ortiz and his goggles. Jonny Gomes and his war helmet. Drunken Mike Napoli running around with his shirt off. Then a few days later, the parade. The duck boats. That moment with the trophy at the marathon finish line. Drunken Mike Napoli running around with his shirt off.
It was a great night and a great few days. It was a great season. The 2013 Red Sox were just a great team. More than that, they were the perfect team for what this city was going through last year. They connected with and came through for the fans on a level that few teams ever have. And thinking back now, it’s still hard to believe that it actually played out the way it did. It was a movie. It was crazier than a movie. If you’d paid $12 to watch that story unfold, you’d have walked away thinking, “OK, that was cool. But everything was a little too perfect, you know?”
Except in this case, it’s real. It happened. The Sox were the 2013 champs. They are the 2013 champs. And before today’s game, they’ll receive the hardware to prove it — World Series rings. Presented as part of a ceremony that essentially serves two purposes.
First, it’s a celebration of everything that the Sox accomplished last season. Not just the World Series, but all that went into making that World Series so special. The return of John Farrell. The revival of John Lackey. The leadership of Jonny Gomes. The heroics of David Ortiz. The superhuman art of Koji. Worst to first in the A.L. East. The ALDS. The ALCS. The Marathon. It’s all on the table. And it should be awesome. Of course, because it’s the Red Sox, I’m sure they’ll take it too far. Do a few things to make us squirm. But it won’t be enough to spoil the experience. (You hear that, Dr. Charles? Not this time!)
So yeah, it’s a celebration. But this celebration also marks the end of a celebration. After 156 days, today’s ring ceremony brings World Series closure to Boston. It’s everyone — players, coaches, fans — taking one last opportunity to bask in the glow of what happened, and then once the show’s over, it’s over. One second, the championship’s real, you can feel it. The next second, it’s just a memory. And that’s always a little sad. In a perfect world, we’d spend the rest of our lives getting drunk off the 2013 Red Sox. But it’s time to move on. The quicker everyone shifts focus from last October to next October, the more likely it is that there we’ll have another reason to celebrate.
And anyway, let’s be honest, last year’s title isn’t going anywhere. Even if it’s not something that the team or the city will obsess over on a day-to-day basis, the impact of that championship will be felt for a while. It changed a lot. Titles always do.
As you know, the 2013 World Series was Boston’s eighth championship in the last 11 years. Since then (with the February 3rd anniversary of Super Bowl XXXVI) the era of winning has crossed into its 12th year. So, that’s eight titles in 12 years. After eight titles in the previous 33 years. And at this point, we’ve run out of ways to adequately describe what it all means or how it really feels or how different things are now compared to then. You could write a thesis on the transformation of the Boston sports fan. From battered, deeply depressed and insufferable to anyone on the outside to empowered, incredibly fortunate and insufferable to anyone on the outside. Everything (except for the insufferable part, but even that’s a different kind of insufferable) has changed. And each of those eight titles has played a role in shaping the course and leaving us — for better and worse — where we are today.
The 2001 Patriots brought peace to football. They taught us that anything’s possible long before KG came around. The 2004 Sox brought peace to baseball; salvation to a nation. If Super Bowl XXXVI taught us about the sheer random power of one game, those Sox taught us the power of one game plus one game plus one game plus one game. The power of one out. Of one stolen base. They redefined Boston’s concept of hope.
The back-to-back Super Bowls taught a new generation of Boston fans about dominance and power. They made us arrogant and greedy, and we loved every second. The 2007 World Series only magnified that. It assured us that 2004 wasn’t a fluke. That the Sox didn’t need a miracle to win the World Series. They could just storm in and take it. Long droughts were old news. There was no more fear.
The 2008 Celtics brought peace to basketball. They reminded us of how quickly it all can change. A message that still powers the entire fanbase six years later. The 2011 Bruins brought peace to hockey. They woke a sleeping giant. That Game 7 victory in Vancouver changed the whole landscape of Boston sports, and hasn’t let go since.
Obviously, most of this change has been good. But if there’s a negative, it comes down to expectations. That where we once only hoped that our teams might win a title, over the course of 12 glorious years, we’ve come to expect it. And that’s no fun. Where’s the satisfaction in winning a championship when all you can say at the end is “I told you so”?
That’s not why we love sports. That’s not what kept Boston going from 1986-2002, through season after disappointing season. Instead, back then, it was the unknown. It was the dream of limitless possibility. Sports wasn’t about simply meeting expectations, it was about defying them. It was about the hope of one day seeing something so extraordinary, that you wouldn’t believe it as you were seeing it. It was the idea that something so wild and unlikely was even possible.
The 2013 Red Sox reminded us once again that it’s all very possible. On and off the field, they demonstrated the true power of sports — and across the entire spectrum. They helped put sports in perspective while somehow simultaneously extending the limits of what we believed sports capable of. Its role in healing. In inspiring. Or simply as a distraction.
That team emphasized all the reasons we care so much about these games to begin with. And that message won’t be lost. Even as we officially turn the page.
This afternoon might be the last time we celebrate the 2013 Red Sox for a while, but there’s no way we’ll ever forget them.
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