Everyone Loves a List! (from 2008)

In looking for that photo I took of Pedro for today’s entry, I came across this, my entry for the “Next Great Sports Blogger”.  This isn’t the original that I sent in that got judged by folks at WEEI and put me in the finals for the contest, but the entry I submitted that was voted on by you, the public.  I don’t often say this about things I write, but I really enjoy reading it.  So, because I found it and because I hate sitting on things and because this morning finds me still on the computer and fiddling with the blog, I give you a repeat performance of “Everyone Loves a List”!   (This is the entry in its original form with no credits for some photos and a blanket credit at the end of the entry for Kelly O’Connor because that is how it got formatted for WEEI…my apologies!)

An off-night is a great time to reflect on the sports moments of the past. So, because I’m nothing if not specific, I give you five favorite moments and five least favorite moments in New England sports history and how they affected me. Moments that I was alive (and old enough) to witness (not necessarily in person). What this means is no Fisk’s home run (which I was alive for but, alas, have no memory of), no Impossible Dream team of 1967 (predates me), no Ted Williams. You get the point.

Also, I’m purposely leaving out the 2004 and 2007 post-seasons of the Red Sox. Because, truly, I could write a book about them both and we really don’t have that kind of space right now.

Let’s start with the good and do it countdown style since that’s so darned popular these days:

5) “Now there’s a steal by Bird!”

It’s 1987. Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals. With five seconds left, the Detroit Pistons (all of whom I hated almost as much as the Los Angeles Lakers at that time) are up by one point and they have the ball. Game over. I’m sitting on the back of my mother’s couch with my hands covering my face. My mother and sister both have pillows covering their faces and my father is dejectedly watching the Pistons bench celebrate. We have the sound off and are listening to Johnny Most, as we did for most Celtics games. None of us can believe this is happening. I’m pretty sure I had tears in my eyes. Then the Pistons did, arguably, one of the most bonehead things I’ve ever seen done in basketball – they don’t call a timeout. Isiah Thomas was having trouble in-bounding the ball and instead of calling a timeout (which coach Chuck Daly was screaming for, unheard by any of the players in the noisy Boston Garden), under pressure, he passes the ball to Bill Laimbeer.

Except he doesn’t. Because, seemingly, out of nowhere, Larry Bird darts in front of Laimbeer and steals the ball. He then passes the ball to Dennis Johnson, who knocks one in off the glass. Celtics win, pandemonium ensues. My mother and I are screaming, my father is pounding the floor and my sister is speechless. As if we didn’t already know this, we decide right there and then that Larry Bird is a basketball god and will remain so forever. Don’t tell me about how cranky he is. Don’t tell me he has 50 children in 50 states by 50 different women. I don’t care. He is Larry Freaking Bird and he is, forever, THE man.

I met Larry Bird once. It was the first year the Fleet Center was open. I was walking around, checking everything out when I LITERALLY walked into someone. I look up and realize it’s KC Jones and start flipping out, telling him how awesome he was and thanking him for all he did. He was great. Shook my hand, told me I was welcome, the whole bit. Then he smiles and says, as he jerked his thumb toward the person next to him, “You might want to thank this guy too!”. Right there, next to KC Jones, was Larry Bird, laughing like a fool at the idiot girl who recognized KC Jones but didn’t even notice a legend standing next to him.

4. “Holy Cow, they actually WON??

I never believed for a minute the Patriots would actually win a Super Bowl. I didn’t. I was okay with it too. I grew up in the era where local newspapers routinely referred to the Pats as the “Patsies”. I liked the team, liked the players, and just figured it was something that wasn’t meant to be. (Unlike the Red Sox. Man, I’m convinced every year they’re going to win. And that even predates 2004.) But everyone else I knew felt differently. My sister decides we’re having a “Super Bowl Party” and goes crazy cooking and buying decorations. She went all out. The Saturday before, we both hit every store we can think of to find her six-month old daughter a Patriots do-rag to wear for the big game. At six months, Madison couldn’t speak, but if you yelled “TOUCHDOWN” to her, she knew to immediately raise both arms up straight and cheer.

Another game that came down to the final moments. With the score tied, Adam Vinatieri kicks a 48-yard field goal to end, and win, the game. Madison, who stayed up for the entire game, is screaming with the rest of us, her arms outstretched in the “touchdown” motion. We still talk about this game, even though we’ve seen two more championships since. This was the team who insisted on being introduced as a team during the pre-game ceremonies, instead of individually, immediately making them a favorite of anyone watching the game who wasn’t rooting for the Rams!

– My bosses gave the entire office half a day off so we could all go to the Patriot’s Parade, and we did. It was freezing and miserable and somewhere there are photos of me bundled up so much that I’m unrecognizable. But Tedy Bruschi waved at me from a duck boat. That kept me warm for quite a long time!

3. “Don’t Say a Freaking Word!

I wasn’t supposed to go to the game. I was going Friday night and Sunday afternoon and was taking Saturday off. Problem was, this was the weekend that Mike Timlin was to make his 1000th career appearance. Mike Timlin is my man. My absolute favorite on the Red Sox. Everyone who knows me knows this. So Friday while waiting for friends at Boston Beer Works, I get a text message from my friend KellyO telling me she had an extra ticket for Saturday night’s game. I started to text her that I’d think about it and that if Timlin came into the game on Friday night I probably wouldn’t go. Then I thought about it being September and there being few games left that I’d be attending and I deleted what I wrote and texted her back “Sure, I’ll go!”.

Best baseball-related decision I’ve ever made.

He wasn’t supposed to pitch that game. Tim Wakefield was supposed to pitch Friday night, then Julian Tavarez on Saturday and Jon Lester on Sunday. But Wake’s back was acting up and he got scratched, giving Julian the Friday start. I received another text “It’s going to be Clay on Saturday!”. I had seen Clay Buchholz’ major-league debut and KellyO had been following him for a while. We were excited to have a chance to see him at Fenway again – but I had no expectations.

We were sitting in loge seats behind the Red Sox on-deck circle so we had a great view of the scoreboard. By the seventh inning we were barely speaking to each other, never having mentioned what was going on. In the 8th the cell phone of someone behind me rang. He answered it, barking, “Don’t say a freaking word!” and he hung up. I wanted to throw up and KellyO looked like she was going to burst into tears at any moment. When it was finally over we were screaming and crying and hugging people we didn’t know. On NESN, Don Orsillo said the game had sent Fenway “into a frenzy” and it had. It was supposed to be a throwaway game. No one had any expectations, just hope that it would be a better game than the horrible one we saw the night before (Timlin got tattooed on his 1000th appearance and the Sox lost). Clay more than came through.

KellyO and I spent the bottom of the 8th inning wanting the Sox to just get outs and they wouldn’t comply. They scored two runs in the 8th, prompting the two of us to start yelling “SWING” to Coco during his at-bat. I’ve never rooted for my team to make outs. It was beyond surreal.

2. “What you see is what Ray Bourque will wear from now on!

For the longest time it was all I heard, “Bourque shouldn’t have taken that number. Why would they give him Phil Esposito’s number?” It drove my father crazy. So when the Bruins announced they were retiring Phil’s number, my father was thrilled. “They can’t retire his number and let Bourque wear it too!”, he was convinced. But the stories were that it was exactly what would happen. My father refused to believe it. So he wasn’t surprised at all when Bourque skated over to Phil, handed him his jersey and then took off the jersey he was wearing to reveal the “77” one. But he was touched. And so was I. Ray Bourque went from being just another good hockey player to an athlete who “got it” in one moment. The fans went crazy and Phil Esposito got emotional as well. I tend to get emotional while watching retirement ceremonies, but this one took the cake. I cried like I knew him!

I know I’m in the minority, but I’ve never forgiven Ray Bourque for asking to be traded so he could win. The only thing that keeps me from finding photos of him and setting them on fire is remembering this moment.

1. “He’s just the most unbelievable pitcher I’ve ever seen!

The 1999 ALDS. How much more miserable could the Red Sox make us? Game 1 against the Cleveland Indians at Jacobs Field and Pedro gets pulled after four innings because of his back. Derek Lowe comes in and the Sox have their first loss. I remember going to work and one of my bosses telling me the game made him want to stop watching baseball. In game 2, Bret Saberhagen made us all wish we were watching something else. Thankfully, the team was going back to Boston to either watch Ramon Martinez get hammered, or stay alive another day. Brian Daubach gave us hope and the Sox won games 3 and 4 at Fenway (Game 4 being a memorable 23-7 win). But the Sox had to go back to Cleveland for game 5 and they were going without Pedro on the mound. Saberhagen got the start, and Derek Lowe made an appearance, but it was Pedro who made all the difference.

They showed him warming up in the bullpen and you could just feel the tension in the park. When he came out of the bullpen to relieve Lowe, you could see the fear in the Indians, even though the score was tied. My memory of Pedro’s entrance is totally skewed by time and my own homerism, but it was epic. Like watching the Phoenix rise, the Indians and their fans watched Pedro, essentially left for dead, come into the game and absolutely dominate. The Sox went on to win the ALDS…which is where I choose to end my memories of the 1999 post-season.

I made sure I was at Fenway when Pedro returned with the Mets. Left work early and stood out in the bleachers because I so desperately wanted to cheer for him one last time. People can say what they want about him but he always gave you your money’s worth – and then some. And many fans believe, as I do, that he loved us as much as we loved him. There will never be a time when I don’t think of Pedro Martinez and get ridiculously happy.

Now for the bad. I hate focusing on the negative so I’m going to try and make these short and painless.

5. “Johnny Damon broke my heart!

I was watching Law and Order when they broke the news on the ticker at the bottom of the screen, “Johnny Damon signs with the Yankees”, and I didn’t believe it. Thought it was a typo or something. Figured they were trying to tell us that the Yankees wanted him but he didn’t sign. He told us he would never sign with them. It wasn’t ever going to be about the money. He was a big fat liar and I cry giant tears of happiness for every year he’s been with the Yankees that they haven’t won anything.

The broken heart quote provided by my, then, 4 1/2 year-old niece who absolutely adored him. She’s still waiting for him to leave the Yankees so she can “like him again”!

4. “When you stop crying do you think you can come into work?

I wasn’t yet 21. He was beautiful and he was part of the 1986 Championship team. When the Celtics traded Danny Ainge to the Sacramento Kings, I took two days off of work because I was so devastated.

Ironically, prior to last season, Danny Ainge went from being one of my favorite Celtics to being the one I’d most like to run over repeatedly with a Zamboni. He can thank Kevin McHale Garnett for my not wanting to do that any more!

3. “Where is Nomar?

I never believed the bitter writings of some of the local sports writers. Nomar played his butt off and it wasn’t his fault he got injured. You can’t make me hate him just because he doesn’t like being in the spotlight, dammit! But then, there was THE GAME. July, 2004. I was alone, in bed, because it was one long game. I even nodded off at different points in the game. But not for the important part. The game went 13 innings. The score was 3-3 going into the 13th and the Red Sox even scored in that inning. Of course that was after Jeter made his unnecessary dive into the stands in the 12th. The Yankees went on to win and I shut off the tv crying. It was probably the first regular season game that ever got me that emotional. I watched Nomar barely move. He didn’t stand with his teammates to cheer the team on and he didn’t put himself in the game. I didn’t need the sports writers to tell me what I saw. When the rest of the team was putting themselves out there to grind out a win, Nomar, seemingly, sulked off in a corner of the dugout.

Of course, two World Championships and four years later, it seems almost silly to have been so upset over something I had no proper way of interpreting. But in that moment? It was like Nomar had stomped on my chest with his spikes.

I was devastated when Nomar was traded, even though I thought it was the right thing to do. I still think Nomar is a class act and look forward to the day he comes back to Fenway.

2. “And the Yankees dugout cheers the final score of the Red Sox/White Sox game!”

Sensing a trend here? Yes, the majority of the “bad” moments are Red Sox-related.

I never thought the Red Sox would get to the 2005 ALDS. So when they did and Matt Clement got annihilated in game 1, I was okay with it. Red Sox were probably going to lose and that was fine. Until they did.

Being swept, at Fenway, was devastating enough. But the lasting image for me from that final game is Mike Timlin on his hands and knees, covered in dirt in the ninth inning. I’ve blocked out when it happened, but I think it might have been on his throwing error that caused Juan Uribe to take second – I’ve erased it from my mind. Timlin had a career-year in 2005 and it wasn’t supposed to end this way. Finding out that Alan Embree (designated for assignment earlier in the year and, at the time, with the Yankees) cheered when they showed the final score at Yankee Stadium, was the kick in the stomach to end the hell of the 2005 post-season.

I’ve not really forgiven Embree for that. It’s a ridiculous grudge that I have no interest in letting go. I understand being mad at the team for dumping you, but Timlin was his friend and he cheered what certainly wasn’t Timlin’s finest moment. My grudges run long and deep – even if they’re on behalf of people who don’t know me!

1. “What do you mean Pedro’s coming back out?

Forget it. I still can’t write about it. Every time I think of this game, I see Mike Timlin, Scott Williamson and Alan Embree looking out from the bullpen with these expressions that screamed “But he’s DONE!! And WE’RE GOOD!”, and I want to throw up. The only good that came out of this game was it gave Red Sox fans the opportunity to show the world that we aren’t that stereotype people expect when we all got behind Tim Wakefield after he gave up that home run, instead of blaming him. For the most part, more often than not, I love Red Sox fans. Their treatment of Tim Wakefield after this horrific game exemplifies why.

I still haven’t seen the home run. I was in another room, away from the tv, unable to watch what I knew would happen. In all the time since October of 2003, if I ever happen upon a replay of the game, or Fox decides to torture us by showing the home run, I shut the tv off. I have 2004 and 2007 to enjoy, no need to dwell on that night.

I found it interesting that in revisiting these memories, coming up with the good ones was easy. I really had to dig for the bad. The times sure have changed!

Clay Buchholz and the Red Sox celebrating his no-hitter photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.net and used with permission.

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