"Tomorrow's gonna be the greatest game in Red Sox history!"
The date is Oct. 15, 2003, and the man speaking those words is a Red Sox fan, giddy with the triumph of watching his team romp over the Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
Everyone knows what happens next. Worse: "Still, We Believe: The Boston Red Sox Movie" has no choice but to replay for us the awful confluence of managerial hesitation, lousy timing, and bum luck that is October baseball in Boston. But I'd like to take a moment and point out what a wonderful, if sadistic, medium for emotional time travel is the documentary film, in that it can transport a viewer back to a nanosecond when hope bloomed and doubts fell away and the world was good. Fans of the world's only existential baseball team need to remember this optimism, if only because it diverts our attention from the anvil hanging above us.
"Still, We Believe" -- a title chosen by fans in a team-sponsored contest, and surely "The Passion of the Sox" would have been the better choice -- follows the 2003 season from the first ticket sale to Yankee Aaron Boone's 11th-inning home run. Here's what it doesn't have: much talk of the Curse, insights into the game from players, a decent sound mix, major Yankee bashing, or even a whole lot of baseball. While the camera teams headed by director Paul Doyle had unfettered access to locker room and Red Sox front office, the true subject of the film is the ion-charged zone between Fenway and its fans.
On that score, it scores repeatedly, capturing with bruised and sympathetic wit the psychological defenses rebuilt by New Englanders every spring. "The Red Sox are like a woman who treats you so bad, but you don't care," a fan says early in the film. "And still you love her."
"Believe" focuses on eight of the faithful around Greater Boston. Steve is an easygoing Roslindale fireman who does "what every good Red Sox fan does" when the team blows a win: "I turn off the radio and walk away." Erin and Jessamy are two blond office workers from East Boston who cherish their status as "professional fans" -- they travel to away games when money and time allow -- and bristle when someone calls them stalkers. Harry, in Dracut, who has been a fan for five decades, says, "This is the year," and appears to believe it, dear soul. Dan from Hyde Park is a young paraplegic whose hopes for the Sox and whose will to recover seem passionately linked.
Then there's Paul Costine of Watertown, aka "Angry Bill" to anyone who listens to Boston sports talk radio. A doughy-faced walking coronary of a guy, he's Red Sox fandom distilled to its blisteringly cynical, cuticle-shredded essence, and he runs away with the movie. "They can't hurt me anymore," Costine says, sighing, when it looks as if the team has yet again tanked late in the season. "I stopped drinking because of them, and they can't make me start drinking." Seconds later he's saying to the TV in disbelief, "This game is ova. O-V-A."
"Still, We Believe" does get some cute locker room footage of Pedro Martinez and others clowning around, but with the exception of 2003 newcomer Kevin Millar, the players seemed to have straight-armed the filmmakers. Doyle has a bit more luck with the front office, catching Theo Epstein phoning infielder Freddy Sanchez to let the player know he's been traded -- "That's the price of playing poker," the general manager says with a cool shrug -- and recording the buttoned-up bonhomie of Red Sox owners John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and Tom Werner. Every so often, manager Grady Little wanders through like the Ghost of Train Wrecks To Come. No one brings up the subject of ticket prices.
Doyle has to cover too many bases, and thus never goes deep enough into the season or individual games; like the sped-up overhead shots of Fenway groundskeepers that punctuate the movie, "Believe" is always rushing to the next moment. Or maybe to the Armageddon that awaits: As the wild card is clinched and the Sox head into the Division series against Oakland, the chorus of knock-on-wood naysaying turns to a roar. "This is when the bad stuff starts happening," warns one Doubting Thomas, and as someone who was in a room full of Mets fans when the ball went through Buckner's legs in '86 (I know, McNamara's fault, not Billy B.'s), I felt the same pit in my stomach.
But here's the thing: Hope always comes through in spite of history and better judgment. "Still, We Believe" even catches Angry Bill caving into the sweet possibility that the Sox may at last take it. He has held out until the middle innings of Game 7 against the Yankees, but now sweat beads his upper lip as he admits: "I'm excited and I'm sick. . . . I think we're gonna win."
Ah, well. Maybe in 2004. In a dark corner of his heart, Angry Bill probably believes he jinxed the game by daring the gods to slap him upside the head; I felt the tug of guilt that night, too, didn't you? There's so much that "Still, We Believe" could have been and isn't, but it effortlessly gets how fans shoulder the burden of a sports team in an ongoing argument with Fate, as if the remote possibility of understanding why this stellar, winning team loses in the worst possible way, at the worst possible moment, might someday make us free.
That and a deep bullpen could even get us a Series ring. Knock on wood.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.