Seventh in a series of reflections on sports by “Andy Tollhaus,” an Army officer currently serving in Iraq.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
FOB Speicher, Iraq
If you�re a New England farmer reading this, I have a request for you. Please go outside and check to see if your cows are still producing milk. Have you checked since Thursday morning? Check again. Just to be sure.
ESPN Radio is reporting today that the earth does seem to still be spinning on its axis. So we�ve got that going for us, which is nice.
I read an article a few years ago (maybe 1998 or 1999) with a preseason prediction that the Red Sox would win the World Series. The article opened with several �Armageddon-is-upon-us� scenarios, including all dairy cows in New England ceasing to produce milk. I remember thinking that there was actually a possibility that this one might come true, but, of course, we�d never know.
I didn�t use any milk, but I did do some toasting last night, with my St. Pauli�s (Non-Alcoholic) beer. It was neither the �near-beer� nor the sportsbar like appearance of �Club Boston� that made me feel as if I could be watching the game in a bar near Quincy Market. I could hear about thirty Boston accents talking about their SOX in the WORLD SERIES! Those accents all came from a group of soldiers from the 323rd Maintenance Company, an Army Reserve unit out of Devens, MA.
One of my best friends from High School, Kevin Fischer, is in that unit. The 323rd is currently deployed to FOB Speicher, so eight years after high school, Fish and I now �live� in the same �town.� I went looking for Fish, knowing that his Mobile Maintenance Team was probably still in Mosul, helping with some maintenance at a base in Northern Iraq.
Four and a half years ago, Fish and I drove to the Bronx for a day baseball game between the Sox and the Yankees. This was only two weeks after my brother and I attended the classic Pedro-Clemens, 2-0 duel, and we were seduced by the possibility of another classic involving these two pitchers. We rendezvoused in Concord, NH at 7:30 AM, hoping that the pitching rematch would live up to the high standard that it had set for itself. Clemens left after one inning to the DL and Pedro didn�t figure in the decision, but the 2-1 Red Sox victory made it well worth the trip. This year, in 2004, I was just hoping to catch a game on TV with my long time friend. Realizing that Fish probably wouldn�t be around, I figured I�d at least be able to find some guys from New England and a good place to watch the Sox clinch the World Series!
My search for Fish and his friends first led me to a civilian contractor from North Reading, MA, wearing a Red Sox hat. As I was asking him where the New Englanders on this side of base watched the games, a Sergeant in the 323rd overheard and told me about Club Boston. Unfortunately, he also confirmed that Fish was still in Mosul.
Club Boston is a wooden building that these guys from Massachusetts built. Plain on the outside, the inside has been touched up with little bits of home. The three TVs are obviously the key to viewing the Playoffs. They�ve fashioned a bar out of plywood and 2×4�s and have procured themselves an air hockey table. There are Bruins and Red Sox t-shirts hanging on the wall and a Tom Brady poster hangs behind the bar. The soldiers had pitched in with a lot of hard work to have a place to hang out on their down time. They probably didn�t realize it as they were building, but this would be the place that many of them would finally see their beloved Red Sox win the World Series.
At 3:40 AM, when I walked into this little colony of Red Sox nation, there were about eight fans still celebrating the Johnny Damon homerun that I�d just missed. They all looked suspiciously at the newcomer until they noticed the Red Sox hat I carrying.
I was carrying the hat, instead of wearing it, because throughout the playoffs when I had it on, the Sox would start losing. When I�d take it off they�d start to come back. Early in the Yankees series, I had worn the hat too long sometimes for them to come all the way back. Needless to say, the hat hadn�t been on my head during a game since the Game 3 shellacking. We�ve all got to do our part, right?
Game 4 seemed like it was over before I even got to a TV. Only down 3-0 for most of the game, it was as if the Cardinals were never in it. It had to have been the most commanding 3-0 lead ever.
Each inning more and more Sox fans filed into Club Boston, probably maxing out around 45 people. Of course thoughts of a collapse were never too far from our minds. How could they be? Fox played every last clich�d Red Sox clip they could find. (I�ve read some people complaining about the Fox announcers, and I�ll agree that they were pretty weak. But Game 4 was the first time I got to hear the Fox announcers. MLB International was the broadcast version we got on AFN, with Dave O�Brien and Rick Sutcliffe � just plain terrible. A Cardinals fan that I watched the first three games with summed Sutcliffe up best, he�s �amazing at predicting the very recent past.�)
When all the choke clips were played in the eighth inning, the reaction was mostly defiance from the fans I was watching with. �Get your money�s worth out of that clip, now, because no one�s gonna care any more!� This year just seemed to be different. It felt like no matter how much the Cardinals threatened, the Sox would prevail. I don�t think I�ve ever had that feeling before. This Red Sox team was clearly one of destination!
As the end of the game drew near, people naturally talked about friends and family and what they were doing for the game back home. The guy sitting next to me told me how he was saving a copy of the Stars and Stripes newspaper for each of his kids. It was a bittersweet moment, not being able to finally share the Red Sox triumph with those that we�d shared so many heartbreaks with.
On the final out, Foulke�s body language served as a perfect model for Sox fans everywhere. He looked in his glove, in a bit of disbelief that the ball was there. He then started to celebrate, caught himself, and ran toward first, not sure whether he should risk throwing it all the way over to the Gold Glover waiting at first for the ball. When he finally did, there was huge rush of relief and excitement, but he still knew exactly how to react: the pitcher�s job in that situation is to go pick up the catcher in a giant bear hug! Sox fans around the world shook off their own disbelief and celebrated exactly how they knew they always would.