Friday, December 30, 2005

Carry the Flag

As the big game seems to have gone somewhere else (and probably for too much money) and nothing’s on the news horizon besides more Miggy deals and the Hunt for J.T. Snow, the mind turns to musings of a more general baseball sort. And while Joy of Sox’s thoughts on the guiding hand of Theo do provide some modicum of comfort for those of us wondering what the heck kind of team Boston’s going to have next year, I’m talking deep spiritual musings. Musings on Curt Schilling.

My future brother-in-law Steven is not only a New York sports fan; he’s a lover of sports in general and a man with an opinion. A ball does not get hit, thrown, passed, shot or otherwise propelled through space that he doesn’t know about it and has an opinion of some sort on what happened and why. So, of course, we talk about Curt Schilling and his legacy in Boston. Steven thinks that Schilling thinks too much of himself, that he’s too much of a self-promoter and that fans in general don’t think he’s as important as he thinks he is. I tend to agree on some levels; Schilling is a huge self-promoter and he knows how to endear himself to Boston fans – look at all of the SOSH postings, calls in to WEEI, charity work, the bloody sock…the man not only has a flair for the dramatic, but he’s used the typical Boston sports fan’s insanity to his advantage. On top of all that, however, I think he’s the victim of happy circumstance that’s sealed his place as a local legend forever.

I refer, of course, to the 2004 season and Schilling’s role in ending the 86 year championship drought. 21regular season wins, the ankle injury against Anaheim, the startling fall from grace in Game 1 of the ALCS, the triumphant return with stitches twice to get it all done…these things are important not just because Curt did them, but because of the circumstances in the background.

Imagine if you will two armies on a battlefield. We’re talking old-school armies here: guys with colorful uniforms, muzzle-loading guns, cannon, the whole nine yards. And most importantly, each army has a guy carrying the flag. The flag is the symbol of each army’s hopes, its point of patriotic pride. To lose that flag to the enemy is the ultimate in disgrace and although the men who survive such a loss can fight again, they will do so with the psychic wound of that loss until the flag is recovered. In fact, if the man holding up the flag is killed, someone else will jump in to take his place and keep the flag high. Now imagine those two armies are the Red Sox and the Yankees during the 2004 ALCS.

In three games, the Yankees pushed Boston to the brink of elimination. The Sox pulled out everything they could find just to stop the onslaught before starting to turn the tide in Game 4 – and Games 4 and 5 were drawn out, desperate affairs, with both sides struggling to gain the upper hand, the balance of the battle swinging either way. By Game 6, that soldier holding the Red Sox flag was dead and that flag was falling to the earth, despite everyone’s best efforts. We all wanted a rally, we wanted to win it all despite the impossible odds…and then Curt Schilling walked out with bloody sock and sown-up ankle, grabbed the flag, rallied the troops and saved the season. It wasn’t the only thing needed to win, but it was a necessary thing and it secured Schilling’s Boston legacy.