Return Trip To Mecca

by Ryan

I am and always will be a Buffalo Sports Fan.

It’s an interesting feeling, then, to watch your team from Boston win a World Series. It gets a bit more complicated when they win twice in four years.

When I watch the Sox suddenly my rooting interests go from the perpetual underdog with minimal payroll to a team expected to win based on a monster salary. It’s about as big a leap as you can take in the sporting world, and one that has taken a bit of time to adjust to.

I’m certainly not complaining, but it is something worth noting. I would be crazy not to recognize that this Red Sox team is the result of some Yankee-like free agent signings. We have the second biggest payroll in the league, and guys like J.D. Drew are still finding places for those truckloads of cash to be stored on Theo’s behalf.

Still, this Red Sox squad is one of the most likable teams I’ve ever seen, and free agency has nothing to do with it. I am being completely honest when I say that this year has been the most fun I’ve ever had watching the Red Sox. Sure, in ’04 it was amazing and terrifying and wonderful, but to paraphrase Peter King, I’m pretty sure we led the league in smiles this year. (I will never say that again, I promise)

Every home run celebration, with Ortiz and Manny creating intricate handshakes the team is obligated to follow. Screaming “Youuuuuuuk” when the Greek God of Walks raises his OBP once again. Dustin Pedroia taking all kinds of abuse in the clubhouse because his swing looks like a lawn gnome trying to break someones kneecaps. Our terrifying closer doing the YMCA while warming up. Almost everything this team does is completely obstinate and ridiculous, but oh my God does it work.

I guess people can say that we bought a World Series again, and that the Red Sox are no better than the Yankees. You can make a strong argument with signing guys like Drew, Daisake, and Schilling that point to just that. However, you cannot ignore the homegrown talent this team has produced, as well as the some shrewed roster moves Theo has made.

World Series MVP Mike Lowell was a contract the Marlins demanded come with Josh Beckett. Now Sox fans are pleading to resign him at any cost. Okajima makes less money a year than Mike Comrie, and despite two home runs given up in the last two games he was a major part of our bullpen.

Then you have to look at the homegrown talent. Jacoby Ellsbury is the fastest Native American I’ve ever seen, and Sox fans have been raving about him since he scored from second on a passed ball over the summer. Toss in Kevin Youklius, who’s been in our system forever and has some high quality facial hair. Ignore Dustin Pedroia’s receding hairline and remember that he’s just a rookie too, one that started off the sweep with a leadoff homer.

Don’t even get me started on Jonathan Papelbon. This guy is the most absurd pitcher I’ve ever seen. Rich says it right, I’ve never seen a pitcher who would be a serial killer if not for his arm. This guy claims that the “voices” in his head told him to dance, and that flash of intensity he shows on the mound is just plain unsettling. Still, I’ve never felt safer late in a game than with Paps, and my next jersey purchase may have his name all over it.

This Red Sox team was a good collaboration of fun ball players that knew how to get the job done. For every rookie there was a Schilling or Wakefield or Timlin. For every Matsuzaka and Okajima a Papelbon or Lester. I mean, it’s hard to believe the pitching performances turned in when you consider Wakefield was left off the World Series roster and a guy with a no hitter, Clay Buchholz, never saw the postseason.

I know I’m rambling here, but it’s hard to come down from this feeling so soon. Finally winning in 2004 was the best sports moment of my life, but a championship with this team may be at the top. This is the kind of team that turns ordinary baseball fans into lifelong Sox fans, and makes people on the edge of fandom immerse themselves in the ride.

“You picked a fun team” is what my girlfriend said to me when the Sox hit back to back home runs in Game Two of the ALCS. Even though we went on to lose that game, she’s right. I picked a team that seemed to fit my rooting interests (read: complete failure) and have never looked back. It’s been a hell of a ride, and one that I will never regret.

One final note: Every year I’ve gone to see the Sox in person they have won a World Series. If you think I’m going to put off another trip to Fenway, you are out of your freaking mind.