Robert Sullivan doesn’t get into the nuances of baseball strategy. Nor is this a game-by-game account of the Red Sox’s historic 2004 season. What Sullivan does, though, is to draw the reader into the heart of Red Sox Nation and what it is to be a fan of this often star crossed franchise. Sullivan has a unique perspective. He works in New York City and lives in Westchester County, New York – “behind enemy lines” – surrounded by Yankee fans. Sullivan’s fealty to the Red Sox comes from his birth and upbringing in Chelmsford, Massachusetts and the move to the City for professional reasons does not sunder this love. In engaging style that often tugs at the heartstrings, Sullivan links family and friends to the Red Sox by offering a very personal narrative of the vicissitudes of the team in the playoffs of 2003 and the triumphant march in 2004.
For long a closet Red Sox supporter in New York City, Sullivan discovers the BLOHARDS (Benevolent Loyal Order of Honorable and Ancient Red Sox Diehard Sufferers of New York), an otherwise motley crew of respectable professionals, who turn into rabid and vociferous fans when their team is involved in its ubiquitous life or death struggle with its arch rivals. The BLOHARDS hold regular meetings in the City and frequently travel to Fenway Park for games. Sullivan’s description of the raucous road trips with the BLOHARDS is laugh out loud funny, yet rings plausibly true.
The first part of the book chronicles the heartbreaking 2003 loss to the Yankees on Aaron Boone’s home run in the eleventh inning. Having attended the final game in the City, Sullivan has to keep his sorrow in check and wait for the next BLOHARD meeting to vent his frustration. He uses this to astutely set the reader up for the thrilling roller coaster ride that was the 2004 season.
Throughout the book the link to family and friends is the poignant thread that holds it all together. The author’s family visits the Sox’s minor league team in Lowell, a suburb of Boston. Although it is only a single “A” affiliate of the Sox, the team sells out every game. The author’s visit with his wife, daughter, brother, and friends turns scary when his daughter is hit by a fly ball and has to be rushed to the hospital. Going to the game allows the author to reminisce about his childhood in nearby Chelmsford and how the Sox connected him with his father and brother. As the team goes through the historic season, Sullivan reconnects with his boyhood friends and together they bask in their team’s glory.
In the aftermath of the Red Sox’s 2004 season, a multitude of books have come out about the team and its fans. Sullivan’s stands out simply because it rings true and succeeds in capturing the chords that connect a team across generations of fans who are widely dispersed both in age and geography. This is a short, yet heartwarming journey that every fan of baseball should enjoy. As a bonus there is an articulate foreword by that doyen of baseball writers, Peter Gammons, that once again attests to the undeniable fact that this game has the best writers.