Expect The Unreal

This morning, while walking my children into their school, a friend of my 6 year-old’s told me, “My dad was at the Red Sox game last night, but he left after the top of the seventh inning.”

Then, at the coffee shop, the guy at the cash register (observing the B on my sweatshirt) said to me, “I assume you stayed up to watch that game. I turned it off after they went down, 5 to nothing. But what a comeback. That was unreal.” Then another woman in line said, “What, they WON? I was there but I left after the fifth inning. They WON?”

Yes, I was at the game last night, and I could write pages and pages about what I saw and what I felt. But the morning after the greatest comeback in League Championship Series history, I’ve gotta write about Yogi’s profound quotation, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

The whole reason to attend a baseball game is to see the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. If you are leaving a game before it’s over, or turning off your TV before the game ends, you haven’t yet evolved to the point of understanding what baseball IS ALL ABOUT. (Or, you fell asleep on your couch after a long day at work…. regrettable, but understandable.)

I know that there are many reasons to attend a baseball game besides seeing great comebacks. The festive atmosphere, majestic home runs, phenomenal defensive plays, spending quality time with a child or sibling… but the core point of baseball is to remind us all that, in life, anything CAN happen, and anything WILL happen. And the decision to stop watching a game before it’s completely over nullifies a fan’s potential to personally experience this amazing truth in all its glory.

Now, I must say that only about 10% of Fenway’s seats were empty when J.D. Drew smoked that game-winning line drive over Gabe Gross’s head in the wee hours of the morning. It turns out that most of the fans who ventured out to the game last night were the kind who always stay ’til the end, and based on the LOUD noise they made when Pedroia drove in the first run of the comeback (to make it 7-1 Rays, still a bleak situation), they were a fervent band of believers. They “get it” about baseball.

To suck all the juice out of being a baseball fan, you must become A BELIEVER. You must resist the tug of logic that lectures to you, “This game is over, there’s no way they can come back and win.” You must ignore the mature voices in your head that advise, “If you leave now, you can beat the crowd and be asleep in your bed by midnight. After all, big day at work tomorrow.” To be rewarded with all that baseball has to offer, you must bet the house every game. Truly expect something spectacular to happen, and sacrifice convenient home-bound transportation, sleep, and even your reputation as a grounded human being to the Diamond Gods. Have faith in the unreal.

People who leave games early have their feet planted firmly in “reality,” and in “rationality,” and in “the odds are…”, and in “being smart,” and in avoiding life’s (and baseball’s) sublime exquisiteness! People who leave Red Sox elimination playoff games early …. well, they just haven’t learned yet that you don’t do that, despite the lesson of Dave Henderson in 1986, and the lesson of Dave Roberts in 2004, and the many other startling lessons from recent Sox history (some happy memories, some not).

“The Rays haven’t lost a game all season when leading by 4 or more runs”…. “no team since 1929 has overcome a 7-run deficit in an elimination playoff game”…. “the Red Sox are slumping and the Rays are at the peak of their game”…. all of these “facts” scream at us to “face reality,” give up, and go home. But reality doesn’t exist until it unfolds before us, and over and over again Red Sox fans have learned that in postseason play, the reality that unfolds is usually shocking!

A friend came into my office this morning and said, “Watching those hits by Coco, Papi, and Drew — it was like a DREAM.” Not only was it LIKE a dream, it WAS a dream. Reality and rationality and the odds and being smart go right out the window when the Sox have their backs against the wall. Red Sox playoff games – indeed, ALL baseball games are dreams that we get to participate in with eyes wide open. And you don’t leave dreams early.


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  1. dlaxmurf@yahoo.com

    I really love what you wrote because there is INDEED no rational explanation for what happened last night! Kharma is a strange phenomenon and when Petey got things going by getting that first run in and bringing Papi to the plate with two on and two out all of a sudden the Rays were not so invincible! We got smoked for six and a half innings but we won the last two and a half and those were the ones that counted!!!
    The Red Sox did not want Jason Varitek to potentially end his career as captain by being pinch hit for and having Casey strike out and all the other baggage that would have come with losing three straight to the upstart Rays in BOSTON for God’s sake!!!
    There was a Will and they found a way! I am glad I was one of the few people at work today who actually STAYED up and watched the magic happen LIVE, I am exausted and will go to bed right after dinner but it was all worth it to see a walk off win and the greatest comeback in decades!
    Instant Classic! Still pinching myself- the Nation lives for another 48 hours until we get our next chance to extend the season another 24 and then who knows?
    Baseball and life are both mysteries and I feel sorry for the few fans who chose to leave at stretch time in the 7th because they will not have an amazing story to tell! I was at the Mark Henderson snowplow game against Miami back in 1980 or 81 whatever it was and my good friend Betsy and I were freezing in the first half and the game really stunk and I had to drive her back to Harvard in the snow and so we both agreed to leave at halftime- now I can say I was at the game where John Smith hit that winning field goal to beat the Dolphins at Sullivan Stadium but I can not say I witnessed it with my eyes! Glad so many faithful stayed in the park and thanks for giving us your passionate prose today!
    GO SOX!!!

  2. mrwrite

    Well written, Rob. That is the beauty of baseball – expecting the unexpected. Unlike sports that have a time clock, in baseball you’re not limited by time when you’re behind. Thus the reason dramatic comebacks are more prevalent and more attainable in baseball. Of course, I have never watched a comeback so dramatic. Funny how three innings can change the momentum in a series, even for a team that is still down 3-2.


  3. amysoxgirl

    Wonderful sentiment. When I was young and went to games with my parents we ALWAYS had to beat the traffic. I hated it and always tried to convince them that we might miss something. Now that I’m an adult I stay until the last pitch of every game. I almost had to leave the 13-inning game the day of Picnic in the Park, but I convinced my mother she could babysit for another night (we live 3.5 hours away from Fenway, my son is 2 and stayed with them the night before the game). I was sitting 6 rows back on the 3rd base side of home plate and was RIGHT THERE when Duncan ran over Tek. I was THERE when Youk hit that walk-off. I was wide awake when we made the amazing comeback 2 nights ago, and now I have finished watching game 6 and excited for Game 7.

  4. foxposse@gmail.com

    one thing i wonder about. speedy ellsbury is on second. one out. pedroia drives one deep to center. torii hunter races back and backhands it over his shoulder. ellsbury, with all his speed, should in my opinion be tagging all the way. if it’s not caught, he’ll score anyway. if it’s caught, he’ll get to third base because hunter’s momentum takes him into the wall. ellsbury has the speed to handle either situation, but he goes halfway and winds up back at second. yet all the baseball guys think going halfway is the way to go and there is no criticism over jacoby’s decision to go halfway

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