BOSTON -- Walking around Kenmore Square on a particularly cold Tuesday night -- it's going to be freezing out there for Game 6 tonight -- I was stricken by how quiet Boston was on a night off from baseball. The Cardinals team plane, stranded on a St. Louis tarmac with kids running up and down the aisle, must have felt like a discotheque compared to Fenway on Tuesday night. Everyone was indoors, resting, preparing.
An entire city waits for tonight, when the Boston Red Sox can win their first World Series at Fenway Park since 1918. This might be old hat for the 123-year-old Bolivian man who is the oldest man alive -- he was a hearty 28 when the Sox beat the Cubs in 1918, though it's unlikely he could score a ticket -- but for the rest of us, this is a rather big deal.
Every person I talked to Tuesday night spoke of a potential Red Sox celebration with an odd mix of elation and fear. The general consensus: You're going to want to be here, but you're not going to want to be here. "It's going to be crazy town," a hotel manager at the Howard Johnson next to Fenway told me. "I'm getting my car out of here [Wednesday]. That thing might get torn apart."
In 2004, when the Red Sox finally broke through and won their first title, they were in St. Louis. The celebration around Fenway was wild, but contained; after all, there weren't, oh, 40,000 people and a massive sports-industrial media complex crammed into a confined space at that moment. Same with 2007, which they won in Denver. This is an experience this city hasn't had before. They're ready: At 6 am this morning, I saw a guy in full David Ortiz regalia waving a Red Sox flag on Yawkey Way. He must have the day off.
The entire Boston Red Sox organization, from the front office to the fans, has transformed so much since that 2004 title that you barely recognize them as the sad sacks they were before. During Game 5 in St. Louis, I remarked to a Red Sox fan sitting next to me how stressful these World Series games are, how every pitch can mean so much. He just sort of shrugged. "I dunno, after '04, honestly, everything seems like a bonus," he said. "We don't get too worked up anymore; all that pain and fear is behind us now. We can just enjoy it all. We can just have a good time now." This, of course, plays into the worst stereotypes about some Red Sox fans: That once they got that title, they turned into a bunch of front-running, bandwagonners, that they must not have ever been that tortured in the first place. It also happens to strike me as a completely healthy and normal way for a sports fan to be. At least they're not acting like they're cursed anymore. The hard part is over: Now they just get to have fun.
And there may be no bigger party than tonight. The Boston PD will be ready; if you're in Boston and want to celebrate the Red Sox tonight, you better get to the park early, because after the seventh inning, the streets around Fenway will be shut down. The whole city feels a bit shut down already, like they're all just going through the motions of the day, staring at the clock until they get to head back to Fenway.
Because it's not the same when you clinch a championship away from home. For all the nice stories about Cardinals fans letting Red Sox fans into Busch Stadium at the end of Game 4 back in 2004, those people would have rather been at Fenway: When they went drinking afterward to celebrate, they did so at a bar with pictures of Stan Musial and Albert Pujols everywhere. It was the same way in 2007 (except with pictures of John Elway). To win a title at home, surrounded by everything you know, in familiar places, with the people you see every day … it's just different, and better. The Cardinals' two championships in the last seven years have both been clinched at Busch, and it turns the whole city into a block party. It's something the parade a couple of days later can't match: It feels more spontaneous, more reckless, more of an explosion of glee.
Even with the two championships in the last decade, the Red Sox winning a title at home for the first time in 95 years seems like one of the biggest local celebrations sports could have right now. There are certain franchises -- the Bills, the Browns, the Eagles, the Vikings -- who could win a title and rouse their fanbases and their cities into a frenzy. But for teams having a wild party right outside the stadium, waiting nearly a century for such a moment … well, this would be the biggest one, and basically unparalleled (it would also cause a rift in the space-time continuum and essentially doom our planet to extinction):
But a party in Boston in tonight would be about as close as you could come. And everyone here knows it. This is not going to a productive day in New England. People are ready to explode.
All the Red Sox have to do is win. In a way, you wonder if it's best if the Red Sox lose tonight and force a Game 7 tomorrow. It'll bring back some of that old fear, that sense that it's not supposed to come that easy anymore, a reminder of what it was like in 2004, the way it can never be again. That is the thing about clinching at home: You have to actually win. The Red Sox are poised to make the next five days a riotous street fair. All they have to do is win one little game. This is a match ready to be struck. If you're a Sox fan, you probably owe it to yourself to get down here. Just don't drive.