Single page view By Bill Simmons
Page 2

When my friend Sully came up with two extra tickets for Opening Day, I called my father to break the good news. We were headed to Fenway.

Red Sox
The 1918 World Champions banner on the green balcony finally has some more company.

"It's April 11th," I told him. "Take the day o–"

"I know," he interrupted. "I already took it off."

"You did? You didn't even know if we had tickets yet."

"I was going to watch it at home. I mean, they're handing out World Series rings at Fenway. It's not exactly something that happens every year."

No, the moment wasn't nearly as inspiring as the chef's speech about Pele before Louden Swain's final match in "Vision Quest" ... but the fact remains, my father doesn't take days off unless he's battling Montezuma's Revenge or something. He's one of those guys who leaves 15 to 20 vacation days unused every year. On Monday, April 11, 2005, he would be skipping work. Happily. And all for a baseball team.

You can't overstate how much the 2004 Red Sox affected everyone in New England as well as Boston fans across the country and the world. Now we had a chance to thank them. Leading up to Opening Day, this was a hotter ticket than either of the World Series games. Everyone wanted to pay their respects. Everyone wanted to be there for the impossible.

Before last October, I can remember attending games at Fenway and glancing at the championship flags on the first-base side, which went 1918 - 1916 - 1915 - 1912 - 1903 on the green balcony (going from left to right). There was an empty space to the left of the 1918 banner, with more than enough room for another flag. Fat chance. I can remember thinking, "I hope I'm not staring at that space 50 years from now."

That's what it was like to be a Red Sox fan.

I know, I know, it's all been written. For much of the country, the Sox were transformed from "lovable and tragic" to "oversaturated and annoying" in a scant six months, culminating in a morass of lame documentaries, gratuitous TV appearances, exploitative books and the indefensible "Fever Pitch" (which played to every outsider's stereotype of Sox fans and even invented a few new ones).

Red Sox
Needless to say, the Sox probably didn't go to Kinkos for this banner.

By the end of March, even I was tired of hearing about the Sox. OK, that's a lie. But it was pretty bad. For the most part, the owners and players were eating up the attention, failing the "act like you've been there before" test about as badly as it's ever been failed. On Sunday afternoon, my father and I were watching a feature where UPN's "Red Sox Report" followed C-list celebrity and author Johnny Damon around for the day. As Johnny traded barbs with Regis and Kelly, my dad suddenly piped, "Oh, God, we don't have a chance this season."

But did it matter? For instance, the front office made the incredible decision to tinker with a championship team, revamping the starting rotation, changing shortstops, overhauling the bench and threatening last year's unique chemistry. Like many Sox fans, I swallowed hard after some of the more questionable moves, reminding myself that they could go 0-162 for the next 10 years and it wouldn't change what happened last October.

At the same time, I loved last year's team. I wanted to see those same players (as many as possible) defending their title. Isn't that part of being a champion? During the first six games of the season – all on the road, with a whopping 10 newcomers on the Opening Day roster – you couldn't help but feel a wee bit detached. These weren't The Champs. These were Most Of The Champs. There's a difference.

On Monday afternoon, we finally had the chance to pay our respects to last year's team. Walking around the city that morning, there was a giddy vibe in the air, like a crowd of people getting ready for a fireworks show (only for blocks on end). The number of Red Sox shirts and caps was simply staggering. And it wasn't limited to the fans.

When I met some friends at a bar called Dillon's on Boylston Street, both bartenders were wearing Red Sox gear and the waitress was sporting an "I BELIEVE" shirt. These are the things that happen when your team wins the World Series. We headed to the park at 1:30, found our seats by 2 – my father was already there – and watched the Yankees finish batting practice. Once they cleared the field, members of the Boston Pops took their places behind second base, and then one of the announcers said a sentence that finished with the words, " ... your defending world champion Boston Red Sox!" as everyone went bonkers.


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