I can't think of a better way to describe the events at Fenway Park on Saturday than simply to point out that it was so moving that the head of the freaking Federal Communications Commission was touched. Do you know how difficult it is to get anyone at that place to show even a modicum of human emotion or humor? OK, fine, the FCC has gotten a little better since the Tipper Gore/PMRC days -- it's even getting a bit more lax and reasonable, by design -- but still, when the FCC decides to publicly stand behind a guy who just said "f---ing" on national television, we are all, at last, on the same team.
David Ortiz's "this is our f---ing city" rallying cry was just the start of an amazing day on Saturday at Fenway Park, the day after Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was apprehended in Watertown. It was reminiscent of New York in the weeks after 9/11, with Mike Piazza's homer, with George W. Bush's first pitch in the World Series. It was great and awesome and the wonderful distraction from hard times we all want sports to be, and when Daniel Nava hit that homer in the eighth inning, it was inspiring and lovely and enough to make grown men stifle sniffles. Just 24 hours after they'd been commanded to stay in their homes, Bostonians took the normalcy of a day baseball game and made it something sublime and triumphant.
I loved it. I cheered for the city and its people. And I'm so glad it's over. Because I want to get back to everyone hating Boston sports teams again.
I hold no particular ill will toward Boston's teams. I'm a native Midwesterner: I have no horse in this race. (All told, Cardinals fans and Red Sox fans get along.) But most sports fans still haven't quite recovered from that rather unprecedented explosion of sports success Boston enjoyed in the middle of last decade -- basically, from the Patriots' second championship in 2004 (no one minded the first one when they beat the Rams) up to the Celtics' out-of-nowhere title in 2008 -- and, worse, how many Boston fans' initial exuberance morphed into aggressive entitlement, like, immediately. It's not as bad as it used to be, thanks to the Celtics' aging, Tom Brady's increasingly apparent mortality and Bobby Valentine, but I bet most non-Boston fans haven't shaken it. Nothing personal: Irrationally and unfairly disliking sports teams and/or their fans is one of the core principles of being a sports fan. And hey, Tommy From Quinzee is funny.
And cheering against a town's sports teams is, essentially, normal. I don't mean that everybody does it, or everybody should. I mean that this sort of anodyne antipathy is normal, even healthy. Having an enemy, whoever it is, is a basic aspect of sports fandom, and when the entire sports world is rallying around one team or one fanbase, even for the most justifiable of reasons, the sports world feels out of balance. Boston sports teams are for Bostonians, in the same way that the Knicks are for New Yorkers and the Lakers are for Angelenos and the Red Wings are for Detroiters and the Cubs are for Chicagoans (and budding alcoholics). Everyone popping in to cheer on a concept, an idea, a cause, is the sort of sports tourism that makes real sports fans blanche. Boston fans should absolutely cheer for their team; I was certainly cheering for them on Saturday. Everyone was. (Considering the pitch Nava hit, that apparently included Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera.) But for things to return to normal, I, and everyone else, needs to stop.
That is, after all, what normal is. Normal is not everyone cheering for freaking Neil Diamond, for cripes sake. Normal is heckling the other team's bullpen. Normal is booing their best hitter. Normal is waving like an idiot when you're sitting behind home plate. Normal is paying too much for too many beers because it's your day off and you've had a hard damned week. Normal is treating sports like they're separate from your life because they are. What happened Saturday at Fenway Park was fantastic, but it was abnormal; it was a disruption of the natural order of things. A strong argument could be made that the best way to fight those who disrupt our lives is to make it clear they aren't disrupting anything.
Other countries, more plagued by terrorism than ours, have learned this. As John Cassidy pointed out this weekend in the New Yorker, cities like Jerusalem, places that have far more experience with acts of terror than Boston (or New York, or anywhere in the States), make a huge point of getting back to regular life as soon as possible; in the afternoon after a morning bombing at a coffee shop, the coffee shop right next door was open for business and citizens were going about their lives . In London after the July 2005 bus bombing, the bus system was back up and running within hours. These were tragedies, and we do what we can to prevent them in the future. But when they happen, the best way to deal with them is to pick right back up what we were doing.
In sports, that means not lingering too much on this "go Red Sox" business. It's downright un-American. One of the most moving, truly American sports commentaries on September 11 was from comic book artists Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso in a DC Comics collection of 9/11 reflections called "9-11: September 11, 2001 (Stories to Remember, Volume 2)." In it, a Red Sox fan bellies up to a bar to watch the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and the Diamondbacks, and notices his longtime pal … wearing a Yankees cap. His friend explains that it felt like the right thing to do, rooting for the Yankees, after all the city had been through. The first Red Sox fan isn't having it:
Them lousy so-and-sos. What they did, was a slap in the face. Not a fist in the guts. So stop suckin' air. This is Boston, Jimmy Boy, the birthplace of America. And we stand tall. We did when that ball went through Buckner's legs. We did when big Mo took the money and ran. We do every time that Benedict Arnold Roger the Rocket comes back to Fenway dressed in the pinstripes we were raised to loathe. We hate the Yankees. Like our fathas, and our grandfathas hated 'em. They're the f---in' Yankees! Acting like their god's gift to baseball, like if they aint in the series, it don't mean squat. That cocky swagger, pretty boy shortstop - what happened on 9/11 - you can't let it affect you that way, Jimmy, 'cause that's what they want. I'm telling you … you root for the f---in' Yankees … the terrorists win.
His friend puts down his Yankees cap. "Go D-Backs." (You can see the full comic here.)
To stand strong, we must be ourselves. Later that Saturday, the Knicks hosted the Celtics in Game 1 of their playoff series. Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce came out to address the crowd. Pierce took the microphone … and you could almost feel Knicks fans at the Garden slapping their hands over their mouths so they wouldn't instinctively boo the Celtic who has caused them so much pain over the years. A few boos actually escaped, and they were quickly drowned out by cheers. By the end of the game, though, everyone was booing Pierce again. Why? Because fans forgot about the Boston bombing and got back to normal. Which is exactly what sports are supposed to do.
Saturday, at Fenway, we were all one team, standing together. But not Sunday. And not Monday. And not anymore. Boston Strong? Hell yes. We stand with you, Boston. But not your teams. We know you wouldn't want it any other way.
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