Saturday, 22 March 2014

Boston Red Sox win: A redemptive baseball season

The Boston Red Sox celebrate after defeating the St Louis Cardinals in the 2013 World Series at Fenway Park on in Boston, Massachusetts, on 30 October 2013
Six months ago, just two weeks into what was expected to be a rebuilding year, the focus was not on championship banners, but bombs that exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, less than a mile from Fenway Park and a mere 45 minutes after the Red Sox had finished an early season game.
Three people died in the blasts and more than 260 people were injured, many in life-altering ways.
For a day, the city was locked down as law enforcement pursued a suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (his brother Tamerlan was killed), who was apprehended and charged with murder.
The day after the arrest, the Red Sox saluted government figures, law enforcement officers, first responders, runners, spectators and other citizens who reacted courageously and resolutely in the minutes, hours and days following the incident.
The city and the team (along with Boston's hockey team, the Bruins, which made its own run to the Stanley Cup finals) embraced the slogan "Boston Strong", with the emblem "B Strong" painted on Fenway's legendary Green Monster scoreboard.
Long-suffering fans The bombings and sports became intertwined in ways that undoubtedly helped the city heal and gave the resurgent Red Sox a larger sense of purpose. Are there broader lessons beyond baseball? Maybe.
The huge wall housing the scoreboard is known as the "Green Monster"
The World Series victory was Boston's third in 10 years. The Red Sox are now a baseball superpower.
But before 2004, the Red Sox went 85 years between world championships. Over the same stretch, Boston's arch-rival, the New York Yankees, won 26.
During that drought, rooting for the Red Sox became theological (full disclosure, my father worked for the Red Sox for a quarter century and my nephew works for them now).
Being a Red Sox fan was about the afterlife: they will win eventually but only after most long-suffering fans are dead.
Talk to a Red Sox fan for five minutes and heaven and hell are sure to be mentioned.
There were celebrated near misses over the years.
Most Red Sox fans, regardless of age, can recite the names and circumstances of those who played starring roles in various tragi-comedies: Pesky holding the ball in 1946; Lonborg pitching on two days' rest in 1967; a fluke Yankee home run made Dent a four-letter word in 1978; Mookie's dribbler rolling through Buckner's legs in 1986; and Pedro being left in too long in 2003. Full names are not required.
Intriguingly, prior to Wednesday's clinching win, the Red Sox didn't try to hide from its history or rewrite it.
Community spirit The team put every one of its ghosts on the Jumbotron, the stadium's large-screen television.
Fans celebrate at Fenway Park on in Boston, Massachusetts, on 30 October 2013 Fans go wild at Fenway Park
This night was about overcoming history, not being paralysed by it.
Those who root for the Red Sox are audacious enough to call themselves a Nation.
Unlike countries, which are defined by common geography, a nation is defined by a common identity, and shared interests and values.
The Red Sox are one of a handful of sports franchises in America that surmount geography and have a national and, with the introduction of players with ties to Latin America, Europe and Asia, international identity.
Dear Japan, thank you for Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, but we digress.
This season, the team and community exceeded expectations, the whole truly greater than the sum of its parts.
It was about chemistry - and beards that even the Taliban might admire.
Acts of terrorism target chemistry, attempting to tear the fabric that binds a community together.
No replay The mutual embrace of Boston and its sports teams demonstrates how communities can respond to acts of terrorism - by refusing to be terrorised, choosing to be inspired and embracing what unites rather than divides.
Tributes to victims of the marathon bombings in Boston, Massachusetts, on 17 April 2013 Tributes to victims of the marathon bombings in Boston
Terrorist narratives are exclusive - there is one truth; everything else is heresy.
Sport on the other hand is ecumenical. The Red Sox define themselves in relation to their archrival, the Yankees, the Evil Empire.
The Red Sox goal is to emulate the Yankee achievement, not eradicate it. At the start of every season, they begin as equals.
Life and sport are different.
Life is of course more consequential.
For those killed and injured back in April, and their families and friends, there is no replay.
But the virtue of sport is the shared hope that transcends the individual, but also the competition that is inclusive, not exclusive.
This season started with bombs and ended with banners. After the victory, many Bostonians returned to where the bond between a resilient city and a special team was formed, at the marathon finish line.
Boston was strong. The Red Sox won. The bombers failed.
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