Boston sports has won eight titles in the past 12 years, lost another four times in the finals and lost another six times in the conference finals. Needless to say, this is a golden age for our teams. But Wednesday night, when the Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 6-1 to capture their eighth World Series title, was different. It was special.
To understand why, you have to get inside the mind of a Bostonian, something that’s not easy to do. Boston isn’t the biggest city in the U.S., it’s not the most important economically and doesn’t have the best skyline. But almost everyone from Boston is loyal to the bone. If you’ve ever met someone from the city, you probably have seen them become fiercely defensive over any slight to it. Bostonians walk around with a chip on their shoulder and are always ready to prove their city’s worth.
That’s where sports come in.
Sports give Boston the chance to claim victory, to clearly defeat New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and every other city across this country. It’s the opportunity to stand up to the Evil Empire, point at the scoreboard and say, “We’re the best.” We can raise a banner, cheer on the duck boats and know that we are unequivocally better than everyone else in America at something. It’s a point of immense pride for Bostonians.
This is why Boston fans seem to be everywhere. It’s why 3.2 million people flooded the streets in 2004 to cheer on a bunch of idiots, and it’s why millions more will do so later today. It’s why 86 percent of televisions on in Boston on Wednesday were tuned to the game. Whether or not you agree with the meaning Bostonians place on their sports teams, that meaning is real.
This brings us to the 2013 Red Sox. More than any team in recent memory – including the 2004 Sox – this team encapsulated what it means to be a Bostonian. They connected with the community on a unique level. They were underdogs in the fullest sense of the word. Few writers chose the Sox to make the playoffs, much less win the AL East and the World Series. After a disastrous 2012 season that saw them finish in last place and trade away their high-priced free agent acquisitions, 2013 was shaping up to be more of a rebuilding year than one in which they would vie for a world championship.
On an individual level, the players on this team were scrappy, underdog overachievers as well. Nearly every single one has a story. There’s Daniel Nava who went undrafted, hit a grand slam on the first pitch he saw in the majors, and then wasn’t even invited to the major league camp in 2012. This year, he surprisingly made the roster and had a great season. John Lackey was the scapegoat for the Sox’s miserable 2011 campaign, underwent Tommy John surgery and came back to have a terrific year in 2013. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz both had rocky, injury ridden seasons in 2012 to come back and pitch like aces this year. Pedroia tore a ligament in his thumb during the first game of the season and fought through it all year. Big Papi was written off in 2010, missed half of 2012 and came back to have one of the best World Series performances in history. Koji Uehara was never supposed to be this team’s closer and at 38-years-old, he pitched nearly perfectly in that role. Jonny Gomes is a career .244 hitter, but was the hero of game four. The list goes on.
This team wasn’t built around superstars. It was built around heart, will, toughness and perseverance. On paper, this isn’t the best team in baseball, but that’s why we play the game. This team played all year with a chip on its shoulder, with a point to prove and they came out every night ready to do whatever it took to win. That’s the reason this team built such a deep, personal connection with Red Sox Nation.
After the Boston Marathon bombings, the players on the team took it upon themselves to become a focal point in the community, but they didn’t want the media attention that came along with it. All they wanted to do was to help people heal. The team still had to earn back the trust of fans that it had lost the previous year, but the foundation of a deep connection between the city and its team began with the player’s commitment to be a force for good in the Boston community, on and off the field.
As this relationship grew stronger over the summer and into October, it was only fitting that the players would get to celebrate the pinnacle of the year with their fans. It was only fitting that this would be the first team to clinch the World Series in Fenway Park in 95 years. For Boston, this was a celebration decades in the making. It didn’t break any curses, but it represented everything that Bostonians see and believe in themselves. It was a moment for a team of dirt dogs to share with its resilient fans.
That’s why this title is so special.