This book was eighty-six years in the making. When the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 Word Series, an avalanche of emotions poured out from New Englanders. Leigh Montville, the former Sports Illustrated and Boston Globe writer, takes the reader through the whole gamut of feelings that Red Sox fans went through in the aftermath of that euphoric victory.
For citizens of what has been referred to as “Red Sox Nation,” that swath of New England that encompasses, among others, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, the baseball team is both a source of joy and intense frustration. Every spring, there is hope as the team acquires a key player or changes its manager. The hope crumbles typically, as does the team, toward the end of the season. An anguished introspection occupies New Englanders and takes them through the harsh winter months, only for the cycle of expectation and plaintive cries of “what if” to repeat it self. Whether it is Bucky Dent’s homerun or the dribble through Bill Buckner’s legs, autumns have been unrequited for Red Sox fans. That is, until now.
Montville’s book offers the perspective of “Where Were You When the Boston Red Sox Won the World Series?” His search to capture fans’ feelings introduces him to a nun, a teenager living amid Yankee fans in New Jersey, and the father of the team’s youthful general manager, Theo Epstein. While each fan recounts the team’s victory and what it means to them, it is clear that, while outsiders may consider them overly sentimental and strange, the passion for the team and the identification with the team’s vicissitudes is palpable and runs deep.
Montville presents Red Sox fans’ emotions in their raw, unedited form. The book thus describes grown men unabashedly pouring out their innermost feelings – feelings that they are unlikely to express anywhere else for fear of being ridiculed. In an amazing chapter, Montville recounts the letters sent to the Sons of Sam Horn website when the Red Sox were on the cusp of World Series success. Shaun Kelly, an English teacher, began the thread in the website by writing a piece on what the Sox meant to his father. It is a telling and emotional piece that gets to the heart of what it means to be a Red Sox fan. Much to Kelly’s surprise, his piece touched a deep chord, and soon the site saw a multitude of deeply felt responses. From policemen to teenagers, these responders tearfully recounted their connection to the Sox. As Montville writes, most New Englanders inherit the Catholic Church, the Democratic Party, and the Boston Red Sox. None of these is an easy gift to carry and pass on to the next generation.
Montville describes his own connection to the Red Sox as bookends to the narrative. For much of his adult life, he was the objective sports reporter and strove to subjugate his personal feelings for the team. But Montville, who as a young boy stoutly defended the Red Sox against his Yankees-loving store owner employer, cannot keep his feelings pent up for long. In a series of superbly written vignettes, he conveys the team’s elemental connection to him and to his family. As he watches the team’s victory parade, he recounts:
"The crowd might be listed as 3.5 million, but hasn’t everyone brought along someone else who 'really would have loved to see this?' Maybe a bunch of someone elses? How large would the crowd be if all the someone elses were counted? Ten million? More than that.”
In the days following the team’s victory, a multitude of books have appeared on the market. Montville’s is singular in that it captures the essence of what it is to wait for eighty-six agonizing years for something to happen. It is at once maudlin and cerebral. But, above all, it is a compelling read.