I didn’t go to Boston to watch baseball.
It was hockey that drew me to one of my favorite cities last month, as TD Garden and the Boston Bruins played host to the Anaheim Ducks on Halloween night.
But as timing would have it, the night I flew in, October 30, was also Game 6 of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Red Sox were up three games to two, with the chance to close it out at home and claim their third World Series Championship in a decade.
And while I wasn’t at Fenway Park that night, I did watch the game and it had a surprising effect on me.
Being an Angels fan my entire life, there probably isn’t a team that gets under my skin more than the Red Sox. Some consider the cross-town Boys in Blue to be the Angels biggest rival, but as far as rivalries go, I place much more importance on the postseason and the Angels biggest postseason nemesis in my lifetime has been that team on Yawkey Way. They have caused more playoff heartbreak for Halo fans than any other team in the league.
So watching the World Series wasn’t at the top of my list of “things to do” when I arrived. But after my good friend Shawn picked me up from the airport, we headed to one of his favorite local restaurants, sat in the bar, surrounded by plenty of other Red Sox fans, and watched Game 6 from first pitch.
It’s a bit of a surreal experience, to be in another city when one of their sports teams, a team you don’t follow, is on the brink of winning a championship. It’s nearly impossible not to get caught up in the excitement of it all.
And as I watched John Lackey take the mound for the home team in this World Series clinching game, it became that much more surreal.
Wait a minute. Didn’t he just do this? For my team?
It was the rookie John Lackey that Mike Scioscia handed the ball to 11 years ago in the decisive Game 7 when the Angels beat the San Francisco Giants for their first and only Championship.
I could see that same fire in Big John’s eyes from when he pitched for the Angels. And I told Shawn, “No way Lackey loses this game. The Sox will win.” I could just tell.
Lackey pitched a heck of a game, even arguing with Red Sox Manager John Farrell when he wanted to pull him, just like he used to with Scioscia. That combined with timely hits and a lights-out bullpen and the Red Sox were the 2013 World Series Champions, winning at home for the first time since 1918. Just like that.
It’s easy to roll your eyes at how often sports teams from Boston seem to win championships. I know, “East Coast elitism”, right? But I could sense from Shawn and the others at the bar that night that this win was different for them.
At the end of the 2012 season, the Red Sox were in last place in the AL East, with a clubhouse implosion that was highly documented and fueled by chicken and beer.
Oh, how the mighty had fallen. That brought out more than a few smirks in these parts.
But the team cleaned house, brought in a new Manager, made some key signings, regrouped and showed up at Spring Training on Day One believing that this was going to be a special season, even when their fan base scoffed at the idea.
And then a couple of weeks into the regular season, their city was ripped apart by the unthinkable when bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line.
As the city tried to heal, the Red Sox kept winning, going from worst to first and bringing hope to a city that desperately needed something to rally around.
Seven months later, the Boston Marathon bombing is not an event that is at the forefront of most Americans’ minds. But let me assure you, in the minds of New Englanders, it’s still very much there and very raw. They are a proud sports fan base and a proud region, hence the phrase #BostonStrong. And while they are healing, there’s still a long road ahead, not only for those who were injured in the bombings, but for those who are left with the emotional scars of a terrifying time.
I asked Shawn to tell me what he thought the three Red Sox championships meant to him and New England, if they were different in any way, and this is how he described them to me.
He said that the 2004 World Series Championship was for their parents, their grandparents and all those who lived through that 86 year curse, through Bucky Dent, through Bill Buckner, and who had passed on before they got the chance to see the Sox win it all. The 2007 World Series Championship win, as he described it, was for “us”, for the current fan base.
And this championship?
“The 2013 World Series Championship is for Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, Officer Sean Collier and all the victims and heroes of the Boston Marathon bombings,” he told me. “We needed this.”
And there it was, one last time this baseball season, another example as to why the experience is often times bigger than the game itself. The phrase I had used to get me through the mess of the Angels 2013 season had followed me to Boston and showed me how sports and the belief in something bigger than the game can bring healing to a hurting region.
I didn’t go to Boston to watch baseball. But it was no accident that I was there at that time.
The experience caused me to view the Red Sox, and baseball, in a way that was much different than I had ever viewed them before.
And it made me an unlikely fan of a very unlikely champion.
**Bottom photo by Darren Durlach, Boston Globe Staff