Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 20, 2004
PATRIOT GAMES: View of the Sox-Yanks War From Iraq

Fifth in a series of reflections on sports by "Andy Tollhaus," an Army officer currently serving in Iraq.

October 20, 2004, 3:45 AM
FOB Danger
Tikrit, Iraq

I just woke up for Round 14 of the Red Sox-Yankees title fight. I turned on the
TV to find a very comforting image: a close up of Curt Schilling peering in over
his glove with the score across the top showing 0-0 in the 2nd. With all the emotions just conjured up, it’s hard to remind yourself that the Sox are actually trailing in the series two games to three.

It’s been a long, painful, tiring ride, just to get to this point. Not only have the games started at the ludicrous hour of 3 AM here in the Fertile Crescent, but for a while it looked as if the Yankees were just going to steamroll my beloved Sox. This series has been highly anticipated for a year, now. For the first couple of days, though, it seemed as if it was all hype.

The Division Series against the Angels was easy enough -- both for the Red Sox and for me. It started with an early, 11 PM start time and an easy Game 1 win for the good guys. I asked the company I fly with to put me on the late night/early morning schedule, so I’d be able to watch the games when I’m not flying. It backfired for me during Pedro’s 5 AM start in Game 2, though, as I drew a mission with a 6 AM takeoff time. The game was on TV during our mission planning, but it was only the 2nd or 3rd inning when we walked out to the aircraft. Of course at the same time, the Twins had taken a lead in the top half of the 12th in a classic Yankees game. As I took off for the mission I thought that the Yankees were down two games to none with their backs against a wall. The Twins’ loss didn’t really matter all that much, though, since it really was inevitable that we’d have a classic rematch between the two bitter rivals. The Yankees did their usual comeback routine with very little attention from me. In fact, I was having a hard enough time watching the Sox. After missing Game 2 for a mission, David Ortiz hit his walk-off homerun in Game 3 against the Angels while I was walking back from the bathroom. Feeling that this one was in the bag, I took my toothbrush with me to the bathroom during the pitching change so I could go right to bed when the Sox won it. Ortiz wasted no time proving me right, hitting Francisco Rodriguez’s first pitch out of the park.

The sweep gave the Sox a couple of days to get their pitching rotation in order and me a couple of days to make sure I had my sleep schedule down. Still on “deep nights,” as we call it, I’d been going to bed around 8 AM and waking up around 4 or 5 in the evening. I’d maintained this schedule for about a week by the time Game 1 rolled around, so I was primed and ready to roll.

Looking back at what could become one of the greatest series of all time, I realize that I need to record my own personal view of this bit of baseball history. As I sit here and watch Game 6, I’ll create a daily log of personal events during this series. I’ve got to warn you, though, this reflection may be as long and as rambling as the series itself.

Tuesday October 12th

Tuesday, October 12th may mean game one to you and the history books, but to me, it was still a day away. See the games all take place after midnight Iraq time, so though my watch says Tuesday, I have to remind myself that the game is really the next day. It’s kind of like sailing back and forth across the international dateline, but different.

Around 1 AM (about 26 hours prior to the first pitch of the series), I was playing some Playstation College Football with my roommate, Josh Burton. I clapped my hands a couple times, pulled my Red Sox hat down low, and exclaimed, “Sox-Yankees, baby! This is it!” He asked what time the game started and then laughed when I told him that the series didn’t start until the next day.

Wednesday October 13th, Game 1: 3 AM start

I spent the few hours right before the game really just looking for something to do. I ended up in our “internet café,” chatting with my wife, checking my on Fantasy Football teams, and downloading pictures of Jason Varitek crushing Alex Rodriguez. I found Lieutenant Adam Heppe, from Princeton, MA, in there on eBay. As soon as he was done buying a 1999 Porsche 911 (seriously), I invited him over to watch the game.

By the time Adam showed up, it was 6-0 Yankees, but I was pretty sure this one wasn’t over. Varitek hit his homerun only seconds after Adam had commented that the Sox were always a big homerun threat and I commented that while, Varitek was 0 for 35 in Yankee Stadium this year, “now was as good of a time as any.” That cut the lead to 8-5 and Adam and I woke up Josh celebrating. When he asked what had happened, we were brought back to earth a bit when we had to tell him the score and we realized we were still down by three.

The Sox put 7 runs on the board but couldn’t pull it off. A 10-7 loss wasn’t terrible, considering it started out 8-0. Of course the injury to Schilling loomed large, but being the optimistic (naïve, maybe?) Red Sox fan that I am, I figured we’d just sub in Derek Lowe and everything would be ok.

Thursday, October 14th, Game 2: 3 AM start

An email response from my cousin Josh, a huge Yankees fan, assured me that this is going seven games. I believe him… he’s been doing this for a little bit longer than me and he is a pro baseball scout.

This night/morning, I was eating at about 1 AM in our dining facility. They serve a late night meal for people who have to fly or work in the middle of night – or watch sports. I sat with Lieutenant Mike Ferlazzo, a Long Islander who likes to speak his native Strong Island tongue out the side of his mouth. This guy’s a good friend of mine, but he’s got Yankee Fan written all over him. So of course, I invite him over to watch Game 2.

As I was hanging on every pitch from Pedro, realizing that if Pedro doesn’t beat Lieber, the Sox are in some serious trouble, all Mike wanted to talk about is how awkward Johnny Damon looks when he runs. And how awkward Johnny Damon looks when he catches a ball. And how awkward Johnny Damon looks when he throws a ball. And how awkward Johnny Damon looks when he swings a bat.

At some point during the game, a pitching coach went to the mound and all Mike could muster was “when’s baseball gonna do away with the satin jackets?” Yankees fans… always focused on the important details.

Then when, John Olerud poked his homerun that eventually won the game, Mike commented on how nerdy John Olerud really is. Couldn’t he see that I was concentrating? Pedro needed me to concentrate. Typical Yankees fan. It must be nice to not have to sweat each and every game.

Oh yeah, in other news… it looks like Schilling’s done for the year. Good. That’s what we need.

Friday, October 15th, No game scheduled

After flying until 6:30 AM, I had a meeting during lunch. I stayed awake for it and didn’t get to sleep until almost 4 PM. Any sleep schedule that I’d established went out the window, and I was just hoping to wake up for the 3 AM start. This was the first time I contemplated not watching that game.

Saturday, October 16th, Game 3: rained out at 3:30 AM

No game. Good. Our bullpen’s tired. I woke up at midnight and I’m tired. Smart move: just calling the game and not dragging this out or trying to start it.

Oh yeah… the only one playing any baseball today was Curt Schilling. I knew I smelled foreshadowing, but I thought that’s what the rain was all about.

Sunday, October 17th, Game 3: 3 AM start

What a sight for sore eyes! Back at Fenway, this would surely be the turning point. We were sending our best Key West Fighting Conch to the mound to face the aging and completely beatable Kevin Brown. Ah the optimism, the hope!

The reality. This turned out to be the single most painful game I’ve ever watched in my life. It seemed that the Sox could hold their own in a slugfest, but apparently they couldn’t hold their own against the Bad News Bears this week. As the game dragged on past 7 AM, I had to go to bed. I was catching a Black Hawk down to FOB Danger (on the other side of Tikrit) at noon, where I’d be working for the next couple of days.

As soon as I laid down, the Sox scored twice and almost tricked me into caring again. This one was over. The series was over. Who cares? At least I was in Iraq, where I can just turn off the TV and not have to hear about the Yankees anymore. As I turned the TV off, I realized how nice that silence was. The Sox? Who are they?

When I woke up a few hours later, I went to the TOC around 11 AM to make sure I had a flight. CPT John Manfra (a Mets fan from New Jersey) asked me if I was going to be able to watch Game 4. I told him I’d rather not watch the Yankees celebrate on the field at Fenway, and began mocking the most obnoxious call in all of sports. You know the one, “Theeeeeeeee Yankees Win! Theeeeee Yankees Win!” I think that was Rock Bottom. It was so comical, the idea of the Yankees celebrating in the Fens, that I just kept repeating that chant and it’s been “stuck in my head” ever since. It’s kind of soothing, actually, when chanted in jest.

Being down 3-0, though, wasn’t too bad. It was almost ok that we’d get swept and this would all be over. I’m in Iraq. I won’t have to hear that awful call. I can avoid sports for the next two weeks until the World Series is over.

By Sunday evening, though, my Karma started changing. I made it to an internet zone and found an Army score, learning that they added to a winning streak for the first time since my sophomore year of college. That was the same year Randy Moss hurdled an Army defensive back that was standing upright. Remember when you first heard Randy Moss’s name? That’s the last time Army won two games in a row.

I also got to watch the Patriots continue their winning streak against the Seahawks. The Pats had won 20 in a row, Army won two in a row and the Yankees were about to win their fourth in a row. I was not getting up at 3 AM for that.

Monday, October 18th, Game 4: 3 AM start

I was hoping to wake up Monday morning and have found that the Sox died peacefully in my sleep. Instead I woke up to Johnny Damon walking in the bottom of the 11th. At the house that I was staying in at FOB Danger, on the other side of Tikrit, there were three pretty big Red Sox fans. All of us had the same reaction, when we saw that the game was still on in the morning, “C’mon, don’t drag this out.” Since my ride to breakfast and then work was leaving, I found out the Sox won by watching Sportscenter in the Dining Facility.

In case I wasn’t aware that the series record was still 3-1 Yankees, the office in which I’d be working, came complete with a couple of Yankees fans. It didn’t take long for the conversations to shift to the Sox-Yankees series. I had no fight in me. To be honest, at this point, I just didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to admit that with Pedro and Schilling pitching the next two games I felt like we had a chance.

Tuesday, October 19th, Game 5: 12 AM start

FOB Danger is one of Saddam’s old palace complexes on the Tigris River in Tikrit. We’ve turned it into a pretty impressive base, now. The main palace is really amazing. Surrounding the main palace is a small city of smaller palaces and houses that must have housed Saddam’s guards and all the people that were required for upkeep. This walled in base is pretty unique. Some people live in palaces along the river and others live in smaller houses.

The house I’m staying in is the home to about 15 people on the Operational Law Team. There are four bedrooms and a big living room in the middle where they have some couches and a TV set up with AFN satellite. I really lucked out in this temporary lodging, because finding a place to watch the games in the middle of the night isn’t always easy.

There’s even a phone in the living room, so for a few minutes, early Tuesday morning, I was able to talk to my wife on the phone and watch the game. It’s not quite the same as watching it together in our own home, but it was nice, none the less.

This was not a game I was going to miss. Especially since it only started at midnight and any rational person would probably figure that I could watch it and then get some sleep afterward. Similar to the Sox bullpen, my sleep schedule was completely shaken up. I got to bed about 9 PM and woke up at 1230 AM to a 2-1 Red Sox lead with Pedro on the hill. This was it. Pedro had the chance to redeem himself from last year’s disaster.

I sat in the living room watching this marathon of a game. At different points throughout the six hour game, people came in from a guard detail, woke up for PT (physical training – running and working out as a unit), and got up to get ready for work. All of these people passed through the living room, checking in casually with the game.

SFC Nebelkopf, a Sox fan from Dartmouth, MA, stayed and watched the last 4 innings with me, wearing his Superbowl XXVI Champions t-shirt. He’d missed the first 10 innings because he worked until 11 PM, only an hour before the first pitch and he was still pretty worn down from getting up in the middle of the night to watch the first three games.

Neither of us felt the least bit tired at 6:13 AM, though, when David Ortiz came to bat in the 14th with Johnny Damon on second. For six innings, now, this game had remained in a precarious tie which was bound to broken soon. When Big Papi had his second walk-off hit in less than 24 hours there was no “acting like you’d been there before.” So much for going back to bed after this one. By the time all of our celebrating and post game analysis was done, it was 6:30 AM.

The rest of my day was filled with Yankees fans quoting stats to me about the number of series in which a team’s gone down 3-0 and not come back to win it. And all day long I explained to them that it’s no longer about coming back from 3-0, it’s about coming back from 3-2. Oh yeah, and Curt Schilling is pitching Game 6. I’m so sick of Yankees fans telling me… wait, I’ll just stop at Yankees fans. I’m so sick of Yankees fans. But this is what the rivalry is all about.

Wednesday, October 20th, Game 6: 3 AM start

When my alarm went off at 3:15, I had a hell of a time getting out of bed. The part of me that wanted to sleep was trying to convince the Red Sox fan part of me that they were just going to lose and it wouldn’t be worth it. For close to thirty minutes, I wrestled my alarm clock and had weird dreams about what that beeping was until finally a sane thought shattered my drowsiness: Schilling’s pitching Game 6!

When I saw Schilling pitching, a calm came over me. He looked great. This was perfect. SFC Nebelkopf joined me in the fifth inning with the Sox leading 4-0. As we watched the game, the four run lead seemed so fragile. Had we seen this before? We wondered who’d come out of the bullpen if needed and how Francona would find a way to mess this up. Of course, when Schilling came out after 7 innings, we second guessed the manager, but still felt strangely confident. It couldn’t happen again, could it?

By the time the Police were lining the field in riot gear, there were four or five interested viewers at any one time. Some just paused long enough to sit and put their combat boots on, as they headed out the door to work, but many got hooked and if they couldn’t stay and watch, they’d return after shaving or getting dressed.

In the bottom of the ninth, though, it was just me, SFC Nebelkopf, and Major Hayden, a Sox fan from Springfield, MA. We were the only ones still around to watch Foulke strike out Tony Clark. With the final out and assurance of a Game 7, there was at first an overwhelming feeling of joy. That was quickly put in check by a strange sense calm and accomplishment.

Sox fans are weird like that. It’s not that I’m satisfied just to get to a Game 7. And it’s not so much that I expect the Sox to blow Game 7 tonight (or early tomorrow morning, depending on which side of the International Date Line you’re sailing). But if they do, I’ll have to wonder, what if the Sox had died peacefully in my sleep on Sunday night? Wouldn’t that have been easier? Damn them for sucking me back in.

As MAJ Hayden pointed out last night, though, we never start talking about “next year being our year,” until the end of the season. So, by that reasoning, this is still could be Our Year.

LET’S GO SOX!

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:00 AM | Baseball 2004 • | Patriot Games | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

I'm so glad Andy got to see Schilling's game. He summed up what it's like to be a Red Sox fan. Go Sox!

Posted by: Trevor at October 20, 2004 03:38 PM

I stumbled upon this site and would like to say thank you to Andy for serving and protecting our country. Also, I am excited to see that the Sox/Yanks series is a diversion for the troops. Go Sox and God Bless our Troops. Thanks again Andy.

Posted by: Matt at October 20, 2004 05:42 PM

I saw this posted on the intern's daily links, bostonsportsguy.com (if you havent already, go read his stuff, especially from the last two games, chilling)
great post, I enjoyed reading about your struggles watching the games and even worse, as a Sox fan. Thanks for serving and protecting, we are behind you.

Posted by: Laila, Idaho at October 20, 2004 06:50 PM

Watching via the internet from work in the 9th inning. Who knows what the Yankees will pull out of the hat, but at 10-3, and Damon at bat, Beantowners have got to be feeling good!

This was a great read. Go Sox, and God bless all of you over there (even Yankees fans)!

Posted by: sfp at October 20, 2004 11:45 PM

Enjoyed your comments about watching the excitement and struggles of the series. I'm pulling for you, Sportsguy and all Sox fans around the world. Take care of yourself out there and thanks for your service and hardwork.

Posted by: alisa at October 21, 2004 05:50 AM

Enjoyed your comments about watching the excitement and struggles of the series. I'm pulling for you, Sportsguy and all Sox fans around the world. Take care of yourself out there and thanks for your service and hardwork. God bless you guys.

Posted by: alisa at October 21, 2004 05:50 AM

Enjoyed your comments about watching the excitement and struggles of the series. I'm pulling for you, Sportsguy and all Sox fans around the world. Take care of yourself out there and thanks for your service and hardwork. God bless you guys.

Posted by: alisa at October 21, 2004 05:51 AM

Just wanted to say hey to the guys in Iraq. Dam I am am forever grateful for ya'lls sacrifices. I am from Houston and an Astros fan but thrilled for ya'll in Boston. Hope we get to meet ya'll in the Series. Thanks again, good luck and be careful.
Scot in Houston

Posted by: Scot at October 21, 2004 12:18 PM

I came to this site from a link on espn.com and this totally put it all in perspective. Win,lose or draw, it's still a game folks, and this guy is over in Iraq defending us all, Redsox fans, Yankees fans, it doesn't matter....we are all Americans first and foremost. Thank you for protecting us, and may God shine down on the Sox and on all of our troops.

Posted by: Nick Wright at October 21, 2004 02:25 PM

Awesome stuff Andy. I'm from Pittsburgh, but like so many around the country, I was as big a Sox fan as there was this week. Congrats and good luck in the Series. Be safe.

Posted by: Dave at October 21, 2004 03:25 PM

Who is SFC Nebelkopf:

He must be related to me. All Nebelkopfs are related. No doubt about it.

Harold Nebelkopf Schiffer

Posted by: Ljschiffer at November 7, 2004 01:59 PM

Who is SFC Nebelkopf:

He must be related to me. All Nebelkopfs are related. No doubt about it.

Harold Nebelkopf Schiffer

Posted by: Ljschiffer at November 7, 2004 01:59 PM
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