By Laurie French

Poland Regional High School

“Baseball is not life or death, but the Red Sox are.” That’s a statement made by Mike Barnicle, formerly of the Boston Globe, now with the Boston Herald. Some fans live by it, while others just watch the game and look at the sport as the American Pastime. But overall, the fans of Boston, more affectionately known as Red Sox Nation, love to cheer on their beloved team- win or lose, life or death.

Here’s a question to ponder: why were the Red Sox still the biggest sports story in New England even when they weren’t playing? Every week last week, there was something new happening with the team. It started as soon as the decision was made to leave in ace Pedro Martinez just a little too long in game seven of the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. As soon as it happened, those five outs away from ultimately beating New York vanished. Red Sox Nation started blaming manager Grady Little for not pulling out Martinez the first time he visited the mound in the eighth inning. That decision basically ended Little’s career in Boston.

The majority of November was focused on finding a new manager to replace Little. General Manager Theo Epstein and CEO Larry Luchino had a lot of candidates to consider. By the end of the month, a decision was made. The Oakland Athletics bench coach, Terry Francona, was named Boston’s 44th manager. Along with the managerial search, the club decided to put All-Star left fielder Manny Ramirez on waivers for 72 hours. No one wanted to take him for numerous reasons. Another big thing that happened in November was the trade of five time All-Star Curt Schilling from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Boston sent pitchers Casey Fossum and Brandon Lyon along with two minor league players to Arizona in order to get Schilling.

In December, the biggest talk that occurred was the trade rumor of Ramirez going to the Texas Rangers. In return, the Sox would get 2003 American League Most Valuable Player and elite shortstop, Alex Rodriguez. Red Sox Nation kept a close watch on this because concern arose about what would happen to their shortstop, fan-favorite Nomar Garciaparra. Speculation also arose that ol’ GP wouldn’t be around to wear number five this coming season; he could end up in Los Angeles or Chicago. The talks between the Rangers and the Red Sox lasted into late January before they were broken off, so Garciaparra and Ramirez are staying put. A-Rod was named the team captain in Texas shortly after, but the week that pitchers and catchers were supposed to report to Spring Training, a big turn of events happened. After thinking the Sox had finally out-done the Yankees in off-season movements, the Yanks are the ones ending up with A-Rod because of the knee injury to third baseman, Aaron Boone.

Fifteen days after Schilling was signed, it was Keith Foulke’s turn to be welcomed to Beantown. He was the closer for the Oakland Athletics last season and led the American League with 42 saves. With the addition of Foulke, the bullpen has strengthened significantly. Hopefully, there’ll be fewer bullpen problems than a year ago, no “closer-by-committee” off and on for the first part of the season, and fewer blown saves.

The team chose not to resign one of last post season stars, Todd Walker. Some fans were disappointed by Epstein’s choice. Epstein went and signed Pokey Reese and acquired Mark Bellhorn. Reese will be the everyday second base, while Bellhorn will be backup. After being gone for a year, Brian Daubach is back in Boston. At the end of the 2002 season, Boston decided not to re-sign Daubach and he ended up with the Chicago White Sox for the 2003 season. Now “Dauber” has changed his Sox yet again. He signed a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Most of the other players who needed contract extensions received them- most notably, Trot Nixon, who’s with the club through 2006.

Meanwhile, the New England Patriots had to win their second Super Bowl in three years and the Boston Bruins had to start playing better hockey once the calendar turned 2004 to be considered Stanley Cup hopefuls in order to attract the attention of the New England sports fans.

Red Sox Nation does love their team, but they all have their own opinions on certain aspects.

Ken Chutchian, a Humanities teacher at Poland Regional High School, knows he takes the Red Sox too seriously, but he tries to laugh about it. “After the 1986 World Series, I had a headache that lasted through Christmas. I decided then that I was a baseball fan first and a Red Sox fan second,” Chutchian commented.

Are the Sox a matter of life and death?

Jen Small, a Phys. Ed. teacher at PRHS, offered her opinion as a true Red Sox fan. “Well, I would have to agree with this statement…seeing as I can’t deny staying up to watch playoff games until the wee hours of the morning.”

Scott French, a resident of Minot, believes that baseball and the sports world are a great form of entertainment, but doesn’t top his importance in life list. “It’s false. While baseball is a wonderful pastime, there are multitudes of things that are far more important in life.” But then he admits to watching nearly every game out of devotion for the team.

Brian French, a resident of Mechanic Falls, is a Red Sox fan, but believes in the game first and the team second. “I disagree. Baseball is a game and if the Sox don’t win, life goes on.”

Fans of Red Sox Nation love to blame their pain and suffering on the little trade way back in 1918, after Boston won their last World Series title. Of course, Babe Ruth, the Bambino’s real name, just had to be traded to the New York Yankees. It all went down hill from there. New York has gone on to win many World Series titles, while Boston has made it to the playoffs numerous times, but has fallen short on going to the World Series most times, or just not capitalizing when being part of the biggest, most worthy series there is in Major League Baseball.

Is the Curse of the Bambino real?

Stacy McDougall, a former Humanities teacher at PRHS, who now lives in the Boston area and is an avid Red Sox fan, believes the team is truly cursed. “I believe in the curse because he always seems to appear! There have been many opportunities for them to do it…it just slips through their fingers.”

Manda Sessions, a junior at PRHS, doesn’t believe in the supernatural. “I don’t believe in the curse because I believe curses are for superstitious people and aren’t true,” explained Sessions.

Dealing with the pain and suffering also means remembering the anguish felt after World Series losses. It’s been 17 long years since the Red Sox last made it to the World Series. They came close last season, but obviously not close enough. The most hurtful World Series that most people remember is the 1986 series versus the New York Mets.

David Burke, a Math teacher at PRHS, explains his pain on not only the 1986 series, but the 1967 and 1975 series as well. “Like a blistering tattoo, I remember them.”

Even through it all, the Fenway Faithful, another affectionate term for Sox fans, always try to make it to at least one game at historic Fenway Park. Even with the most expensive ticket prices in Major League Baseball, a good 97-99 percent of the home games are sellouts.

As Spring Training comes and goes, and the 2004 season is at our doorstep, it’s time to reflect back on the 2003 season and team. Midway through the season, Red Sox Nation had a new motto to chant, thanks to relief pitcher Mike Timlin and first baseman Kevin Millar. “Cowboy Up!” became a fixture in New England sports terminology through the summer and into the playoffs. “Cowboy Up!” meant never give up, always try your hardest, be strong…a mixture of all kinds of positive comments wrapped up into two simple words. So comes the question, after almost going the distance, did the Red Sox have a successful year?

Alex Smith, a junior at PRHS believes that they did. “Overall, the Red Sox had a successful year. Their offense thrived and their defense was solid. They had some tough breaks but I was pleased with their performance this season,” explained Smith.

Bruce Houghton, a Technology teacher at PRHS added, “They made the playoffs-beat Oakland in those five games, and nearly won the ALCS. They also had many players on the All-Star team.”

Obviously, what differences and improvements the fans want and what the team does are two totally different things. The team signed new players, hired a new manager, and decided not to sign some players during the off season.

While the old adage goes, ‘Good pitching beats good hitting every time. David Rawson, a Math, Science, and Computers teacher at PRHS, believes different. “While another starting pitcher and a solid closer would be good, we need hitters. Homeruns and RBI’s are ok-but we need people who can get on base more often.”

Burke covered all angles when he explained, “They need to add more bench, defense at second, starting pitching, hitting from both sides of the plate, lefty relief and a closer.”

What’s a baseball season without having a favorite moment or game? Instead of picking from 162 games, Sox fans got an added twelve. Here are three:

B. French says, “The American League Division Series versus the Oakland Athletics. We came back down 0-2 in the series to win 3-2.”

Sessions always likes a little roughness in the sports that she watches. “In the post season, Game four of the ALCS, when Martinez took down Don Zimmer I thought it was the best thing I saw in MLB this season.”

Rawson mentioned a game versus the ‘Evil Empire’ in the ALCS. “Beating the Yankees that last game in Boston…when the team acted like they’d just won it all.”

Sox fans never run out of things to talk about. They all seem to have faith-even those who claim they don’t. The Boston Red Sox are more religion than sport. Just ask those who live and die with the team year after year.


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