Wednesday September 28th, 2011

This season I've watched countless Red Sox games, and at the same time not watched them -- only hearing them leak from car radios in the school parking lot, every driver's side window down, the same voice emerging from each vehicle as at a drive-in movie circa 1957. That movie now plays to an excruciating climax, watched through splayed fingers while palming one's face, until the screen is filled by THE END or that B-movie coda: THE END???

Often I've not heard the games at all, but only seen them, on muted TVs in takeout joints and taverns -- the Brewster Pizza House on Cape Cod, the Wood N Tap in Hartford. At least one game I never saw or heard but only smelled (and overheard), from just outside Fenway, while following the Boston Marathon on foot on Patriot's Day, when Dice-K beat Toronto 9-1 to improve Boston's record to 5-10, in an April that was almost as damaging as September has been.

In between those abysmal bookends, I've eye-, ear- and nose-witnessed nearly every Red Sox game without once having set foot inside Fenway, which is fine, as the sight of the Sox on TV here in New England is inescapable and leads -- after repeated viewings -- to the discovery of many hidden Easter eggs. And so I've noticed that the name of the health-care provider on the Green Monster (COVIDIEN) is an anagram of what you get when you are provided health care in America (INVOICED).

I've enjoyed the odd occasions when a home plate umpire walks a few feet from his post at Fenway, obscuring part of the GIANT GLASS ad on the rotational signboard behind him. In that instant, he appears bracketed by an illuminated phrase -- GIANT ASS -- that is not always inaccurate, depending on the umpire in question. (I always hope that some eagle-eyed photographer is capturing the moment for posterity, or at least for posteriority.)

What I'm trying to say is, even as all appeared to be lost for the Red Sox this September -- a nine-game wild card lead shriveled to nothing -- all has not been lost on those watching them. I can still admire Dustin Pedroia for his Pigpen professionalism and his commercials for Sullivan Tire, in which the possessor of a $40 million contract allows himself to be splashed in the face by a baseball landing in his soup.

For grown men prone to pie-ing one another in postgame interviews, a little soup administered nasally seems an inconsequential indignity, and even an encouraging sign of self-deprecation. Among local TV pitchmen, Pedroia is second in my esteem only to the 325-pound Patriot nose tackle who heartily endorses the Super Bird rotisserie chicken at Big Y grocery stores. That would be the aptly named Vince Wilfork (and will he ever).

There is one moment from this season that I will not soon forget, and it wasn't Robert Andino's inside-the-park home that beat the Sox in Baltimore on Monday and epitomized Boston's wretched September. Instead, it was a getaway day in July, a Thursday matinee when Andino victim Josh Beckett saw a boy taking his picture on a cell phone before the game, prompting the righthander to stride over to the stands, hand the boy a baseball and keep walking, leaving the kid to momentarily regard the object in his hand with disbelief, like Hamlet contemplating Yorick's skull.

But that pause was only momentary, after which the boy -- 10-year-old Dylan Sylvia -- shook with sobs, buried his face in his Dad's rib cage, and raised the ball in triumph over his head. My own Saharan tear ducts, rendered inoperative by years of journalism, unexpectedly returned to life. "This video," my wife said, "should be played in every clubhouse every year in spring training."

All of these moments are unavoidably forgotten in the hysteria surrounding the Red Sox futility, which has focused on the coming "fallout" from their epic "meltdown". (As a side note: Perhaps it's time to retire the language of nuclear catastrophe when hyperventilating about sports.)

And while I'm not a Red Sox fan, I am certainly an interested bystander -- less rubbernecker at an accident scene than concerned citizen of a place (Connecticut) in which nearly everyone is required to be a Red Sox or Yankee fan, including my own children, who attend a Catholic grade school that makes one exception to its uniform policy, allowing kids to wear either Red Sox or Yankee T-shirts when the teams player each other. Those are the choices. As in American electoral politics, this two-party system doesn't satisfy everyone, or even attempt to, but the responsible citizen engages in it.

And so these last few weeks I've watched almost every inning, and marveled at Sox play-by-play announcer Don Orsillo, who has sounded like the reassuring captain of a commercial aircraft flying through heavy turbulence, his voice calm and soothing to an audience largely in despair. Every night, the Red Sox found a new way to fail. But they didn't fail to entertain.

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