They were so wrong, you know.
All of those real-life Ron Burgundys who, four Octobers ago, took smug delight in warning us that a Red Sox victory over the Cardinals in the World Series would result in another difficult loss — namely, of our well-established and torturous identity as baseball’s perennial hard-luck losers. (Well, co-identity. Next year, Cubbies. Next year. All right, maybe the year after.)
If they win it all, the Red Sox will become just another franchise, the Burgundys warned us way back when. Be careful what you wish for, they scolded, as if there was some meaningful value in perpetual sadness and misery, as if we’d actually miss the angst that gnawed at the insides of our bellies when our team was on the verge of another creative, agonizing, and inevitable betrayal.
They were so wrong. We suspected it then. Two Red Sox championships later — and, let’s see, quick count ... yup, six major pro sports championships since 2001 — we’re pleased to confirm the sheer ridiculousness of the notion now. In retrospect, Be Careful What You Wish For was the lazy man’s lament, a simple angle for those who found easy comfort in clichéd storylines and the status quo.
That fellowship Rick Pitino so memorably sniveled about? It couldn’t be further from miserable. There’s never been a more enjoyable or rewarding time to be a serious Boston sports fan — and more specifically for the sake of today’s rant, a Red Sox fan — and that’s not solely because of our teams’ habitual success.
See, it’s not only that the burden was lifted, but how it was lifted, and by whom. Papi, Manny, and that merry band of Idiots were the perfect foils for the franchise’s bleak history, characters worthy of a special place in our memories. In retrospect, the highlight video of that ’04 season — or, should we say, the documented proof that baseball miracles do indeed happen — had the perfect title: “Faith Rewarded.” Three years later, a more strait-laced but nearly as admirable crew of champs took it upon themselves to emphasize the Red Sox’ new status as postseason royalty rather than sad jokers.
But the joy comes from more than just the victories, parades, and trophies. It’s the small things, too. It’s refreshing to be able to turn on a Saturday Sox-Yanks showdown on Fox without being clubbed about the head with worn-out footage of Bucky, Buckner, and the Babe. After so many years of wearing the bull’s-eye, you finally have a comeback for that Yankees-loving, Jeter-worshiping drone in the next cubicle over — countless comebacks, actually. And it’s been a pleasure to confirm that it’s more satisfying to witness and write history than to relive it.
Ultimately, I think the Burgundys’ ill-considered theory was rooted in this: Those who claimed we’d miss our tired old identity simply forgot what it truly meant to be a fan. Do you remember how you felt in October 2003, how you felt during that precise soul-crushing moment when Aaron Boone’s home run sailed deep into the Bronx night and Tim Wakefield plodded off the mound with the saddest look you’ve ever seen on a pro athlete’s face?
I remember. I remember being so damn depressed in the following days that I seriously reconsidered my allegiance to this team, asking myself again and again why I spent so many hours on something that left my 33-year-old self in such a pathetic, childish state.
I remember being resigned to the fact that my generation’s experience following the Sox would mirror that of so many who came before, unfulfilled all the way to the grave.
I remember writing these words in the newspaper the day after: So we ache, and we curse, and we mourn and we fume. And although we know there is no crying in baseball, that doesn’t mean we aren’t also tempted to shed a tear or two. Silly, but sometimes it hurts to be a sports fan.
Hell, yes, I remember. How could anyone with any sincere emotion invested in their teams possibly miss that?
But the Burgundys were dead on in one sense. Our identities did change in the delirious aftermath of 2004, and though there might be a certain few among us who have developed an incurable case of entitlement, for the most part we’re so much better for it.
We’re fulfilled yet ravenously hungry for more. We’re as passionate as ever, yet clear-eyed and rational (all Friends of Ordway excepted, of course). We’ve learned to savor the pivotal moments rather than to quiver in fear as they unfold.
When our teams prevail, we celebrate, shake our heads at this blessed turn of fate, then celebrate some more. When they lose, particularly to a superior opponent such as the remarkably resilient Rays in this season’s ALCS, we might mutter to ourselves about one strategic mishap or another, but ultimately we tip our well-worn blue caps and head outside to rake the leaves, already looking forward to the warm promise of next season. And of course, we continue to sympathize with our Chicago brethren, for it wasn’t that long ago that we were the ones with slumped shoulders and aching hearts.
You bet 2004 changed us. Thank heavens it changed us.
The Burgundys may have been full of it, but a certain other cheesy icon, well, he delightfully caterwauls the truth, every eighth inning of every ballgame at a certain lyric little bandbox near you.
Good times never seemed so good.
Play it again, Neil. You, we’ll listen to.
OT columnist Chad Finn is a sports reporter for Boston.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org