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Monday, October 20, 2003
Updated: May 31, 2:19 PM ET
Letters from the Nation

By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

Note: I'm reserving my thoughts on the Antoine Walker trade for a later date, only because this space has been far too Boston-centric lately. Until the next mailbag.

Anyway, as promised Monday, here's a sampling of the 2200-plus e-mails that drifted into my ESPN mailbox over the past few days, along with two longer e-mails at the end (like deleted scenes on a DVD). Thanks to everyone who took the time to send something, and thanks to everyone who said something nice about Friday's column. I wish I had the time to respond to everyone. Hope you understand.

On to the e-mails, which are running in chronological order from "Sent immediately after the game" to "Sent Monday afternoon."

* * * * *

Red Sox fans
These are the saddest of all possible words ... Red Sox blow it again.

Why????
-- John C., Dudley. Mass.

It hurts so bad. It's honestly worse than when my (ex-)girlfriend broke up with me out of the blue. It's that same loser feeling: you're gonna sleep on it, wake up, hope that it never really happened, but it did. Except this is far worse.
-- Chris Tatro, San Diego

I just laid in bed for an hour and a half staring up at the ceiling. I'm too weak to cry, get drunk, or break something. I don't know why I'm getting some solace from e-mailing you; maybe it's just that you know how all of us are feeling right now. I don't know what else to say.
-- Mike, San Diego

www.firegradylittle.com is an available domain name.
-- Robert Form, Cambridge, Mass.

If the Chicago Sun-Times can go off and print That Guy's name, place of business, and Little League team, don't we deserve to know Grady Little's home address after what just happened?
-- Ryan Anderson, Atlanta

Am I too young to have historical perspective, or is Grady Little the worst manager in the history of postseason baseball???
-- Marin, Cambridge, Mass.

At least the Grady Little era is over.
-- Frank Maher, Pittsfield, Mass.

Please tell me why Pedro stayed in for the eighth. You needed the executioner from "Scarface" to take care of Little before the eighth inning. Can't you just see him walking up behind his back? Maybe next year.
-- Tim Cape, Middletown, Ohio

I guess Grady was saving his bullpen for Game 8.
-- Steve Matuszek, Baltimore

What was a worse managerial decision: Duke and Rocky letting Apollo face Drago in the 2nd round, or Grady letting Pedro face the Yankees in the eighth?
-- Jon C., Singapore

Red Sox
Wakefield throws ... there's a long drive ... that's gonna be, I believe ... the Yankees won the pennant! The Yankees won the pennant! The Yankees won the pennant!
I know you probably don't need any help writing your column on the Yanks-Sox series, but I thought I would add the following (fair warning: I'm a Yanks fan)

As I sat watching this series, and Grady Little in particular, I was often reminded of one of my favorite sports quotes. Bobby Knight (who hated Dale Brown) said after Indiana came back after being down 12 points with 12 minutes left, "I was worried about losing until I looked down the floor and saw Dale Brown. Then I knew we had a chance."

That's pretty much what I felt on every shot of Grady Little in the Sox dugout.
-- Jim Daly, Richmond, Va.

I'm sorry. I'm a Cubs fan; we're tied together in misery. I was at Wrigley for Game 6. I can't make any coherent points. I'm numb, and I'm sure you are too. It's like we're bad alcoholics. Red Sox and Cub fans are ... you know you'll never improve your life by it, and you still can't stop. You keep finding ways to justify it, and it bites you every time. Hang in there.
-- Jack McDonald, Illinois

All I can say is that it was like watching "The Godfather." Every time I see that movie, I get all bull about Carmine beating on Connie, and you can't wait for Sonny to pull up in that car and kick him all over the street. And then the phone rings later, and you know what's going to happen. You hope to God that he doesn't storm off to his car. You hope to God that he doesn't stop at that toll booth. And right before the bullets start flying, something in the back of your mind says, "Hey, wait. Maybe Sonny doesn't die this time. Maybe the script has changed."

And then the toll collector drops the quarter. He ducks down. The glass breaks. And Sonny gets caught in a hail of bullets. It's one of the most gruesome deaths ever. Just like last night's game. Bill, our time will come.
-- Timothy M. O'Neill, Boston

My boss grew up in Houston but his parents are from Massachusetts so he became a Sox fan. His 13-year-old son has joined the Nation. My boss didn't know what to say to his son after the loss in Game 7. I said, "Tell him, 'Welcome to the Brotherhood.' "
--Joe Holland, Arlington, Texas

Red Sox fans
I don't believe ... what I just saw ...

I just finished reading your "Paradise Lost, Again" column. It actually brought tears to my eyes. I'm not kidding. I was laughing uncontrollably and nearly crying at the same time. I finally broke down. I am a blubbering shell of humanity. That is what this playoff run has reduced me to.

I haven't slept for more than five solid hours in two weeks. I can't remember my own telephone number. My eyes are so red I'm certain people think I've been toking like Marley in his halcyon years. When I got home last night, my wife (who could bear no more and left the bar after the 10th) was wimpering like a scared puppy, completely unequipped to deal with her first Red Sox cannonball to the gut ... she is bitter at me for subjecting her to this life and keeps muttering, "I don't know what to do ... I don't know what to do ... I can't handle this ... you did this to me!!" And ... (in the too-much-information category) I haven't had a solid bowel movement in six days. This is my life.
--Lance D., Somerville, Mass.

My buddies and I TiVo'd Game 7 last night, including the shows right after which overlapped with the game. So, guess what show the segment for the end of the game is listed in our TiVo under? "Just Shoot Me."
--John McGarry, Lawrenceville, N.J.

Last night I shut off the TV, then threw my Sox cap to the floor and kicked it into the corner. I was almost to the point of tears. But this morning I did something that just last night I didn't think I would ever be able to do again. I picked it up, shook it off, put it on and walked out the door with my head up high. Unexplainably, after everything, I'm still damn proud to be a Red Sox fan.
--Charles Keyes, Mass.

Think about "Braveheart." Think about how amazing it would be to fight for your freedom and win. That's probably the best feeling imaginable. Well, barring a takeover by Al Qaeda, that's not going to happen in our lifetime. So sports is the next best thing. To me, the opportunity to achieve that feeling of solidarity with my fellow fans, the chance to celebrate wildly, totally, and unabashedly, to feel an intimate connection, a shared sense of accomplishment with millions of strangers IS important.

These Yankee fans don't, and can't, understand our pain. It (ticks) me off, but really, it's not their fault. As angry as I am right now, I'd still rather be a Sox fan than a Yankee fan. Because if we ever do win, our celebration will make any of theirs look like a day at the DMV. Even if we don't, at least I have something to believe in. Last night, and even this morning, I felt like I never wanted to watch sports again. I've changed my mind. 'Tis better to have rooted and lost than never to have rooted at all.
-- David Spack, Brooklyn

My God. I can't believe I had to go to work after that game last night. Today is like the day after your girlfriend breaks up with you. Everyone keeps coming over and patting my on the shoulder or hugging me and saying things like, "Are you OK?" and "How are you feeling," and I keep saying, "I'm OK," and "I'll be fine," and "It's not my fault, it's not theirs, we just weren't meant to be." This sucks.
-- Mark Herman, Sacramento

Red Sox
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; The band is playing somewhere; and somewhere hearts are light; And somewhere men are laughing; and little children shout; But there is no joy in Red Sox Nation, the Sox have struck out.

Seriously, why do I feel like Gary from last scene in "The Last American Virgin" ... sitting in my car, crying after having my heart ripped out and listening to Quincy Jones and James Ingram sing "Just Once?"
-- Jon-Luc Dupuy, Boston

With a buddy in from Boston last night. Walking up to grab a slice after dismantling of the shrine of pics of Larry Bird, Ted Williams, Patriots, Yaz signed bat. Taking off my Red Sox shirt and the hidden Larry Bird shirt trying to figure out why we are so deeply affected by a baseball game we have no control over. Why two 30-something men are jumping up and down as millionaires play a game. Why the same guys are now silent and sooo depressed because of it. Awake at 3 a.m. trying to figure it all out.

It's just a baseball game right?
-- Mark Henderson, San Francisco

Three moments are etched in my brain forever:

1. Pedro comes off the field after the seventh pointing to the sky thanking his God for a strong performance ... he's done

2. Nomar's hug in the dugout after the seventh, thanking Pedro for his work and letting him know they'd take it home from here.

3. Jaw hitting the floor as Pedro climbs the stairs to come out in the eighth.

Everything after the tie was just white noise. Like a tough night of drinking, I'm not sure when, how I got to my bed last night or for that matter how I got to work today. I will never utter HIS name (GL) again. Like Fredo, he's dead to me now.
-- Mark Foss, Hamilton, Mass.

Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for the house in blackjack.
-- Adam Morrow, Los Angeles

My son, like you, has learned from his father. But not completely. His loyalty to the Red Sox, not yet completely tarnished by years of "what ifs," compelled him to go to the game at Yankee Stadium so he could possibly enjoy the "taste of victory." Father stayed home to await the "agony of defeat."
-- Murray, Potash, N.Y.

I am a lifelong Yankee fan due to a long familial history in New York. Now I am back in New England living with a man who, if he had to choose between his parents and the Red Sox, would have a hard time doing the right thing. A man who believes that you and Hench are his friends. A man whose veins pump with a rich red blood not because of science but because of the Red Sox. Because I love baseball and because I love him, I have watched the Red Sox all season long. And so here it is -- the morning after the series that offered me an ulcer the size of Zimmer's bowling ball-sized head. My team won.

Am I overjoyed? Am I ecstatic? Not by a long shot. I am going to tell you something that I haven't told anyone: I was rooting for the Sox.

How could you not? When it was all over and Boone crossed the plate, I saw the tears in the eyes of the man who was sitting on the couch next to me and I wished they had been mine. More than anyone (except Cubs fans), Sox fans deserved that victory. The Yankees might have a $160 million team, but like the Mastercard commercials, what the Sox have is priceless. They have heart.

Am I becoming a Sox fan? A turncoat? A bandwagon fan? Possibly. Can I think about it first? Only true love can break your heart, and I know that most people wearing Sox jerseys these days are busy taping their hearts back together. It's something to see, that's all I can say. It's incredible to know, and quite frankly, the passion makes a tad bit jealous. You might not have as many World Series rings as those who wear pinstripes, but you might just have something there in Beantown that the Yankees will never have. It can't be bought with George's stacks of green, and it cant be won over with a Frank Sinatra song ... it's just in you. And I am beginning to wish it were in me, too.
-- Steph G., Manchester, N.H.

Curse of the Zimbino
Baseball is 90-percent mental, the other half is the Red Sox screwing up.

Does it make me a bad person if I was cheered up by the local postgame newscast when they showed despondent high school and junior high kids in the street saying, "No joke, this is the worst day of my life. I'm not even kidding, this sucks"? I was pretty bummed too until I saw that, then I started laughing at the TV, shouting, "Welcome to Red Sox Nation, boys!" I think I saw myself as I was 17 years ago in them. It's the circle of life, man; a beautiful thing.
-- Bill Kiszka, Dracut, Mass.

There was only one analogy I could come up with to describe your latest column. For me, your article seems to be reminiscent of a eulogy at a friend's funeral. It is beautiful, but you never want to hear it.
--Ethan Bean, Durham, N.H.

While watching the NFL, my wife once asked me, "Which guy is the quarterback?" She literally knows nothing about sports. Yet last night after the Bernie Williams hit in the eighth, she kept asking, "How come that guy is still pitching?"
-- Al Hill, Los Angeles

I saw my 8-year-old nephew, just like me in '78, refuse to get out of bed this morning after watching his favorite team rip his heart out for the first time in his life. I feel guilty for giving him a lifetime of heartache. Please tell me I'm still a good person.
-- Steve E. Rochester, N.Y.

Just had to share my Sox experience (along with the rest of New England, I'm sure). Morbidly depressed all day Friday. Had to put up with co-workers who just didn't get it. Had to put up with Yankee fans who apologized and looked like they'd gotten away with something but knew better than to rub it in for fear that I would remove their head from their body and kick it around for a little while. Didn't go to church on Sunday because my pastor is a Yankee fan, and I knew I would end up going to hell if I ran to the front of the congregation and beat him senseless when he made some snide remark.

Then, a long bomb fell into the hands of Troy Brown, and I clapped out loud. Deep down, somewhere inside, a feeling stirred, one that had been dormant since Ortiz took Boomer deep. Later on Sunday night, Sergei Samsonov received a nice feed and scored the game-winning goal in OT and I clapped out loud once again and exclaimed a joyful sort of noise that hadn't been heard since Nomar and Manny took it to Contreras on back-to-back pitches.

The healing begins.
-- Jon Stebbins, Burlington, Vt.

As a die-hard Sox fan transplanted in NYC, I expected to receive a constant barrage of ridicule and downright humiliation from my Yankee fan friends after Game 7 on Thursday night. But on Friday morning I unexpectedly received friendly phone calls from them and emails titled things like: "Thinking of You" and "Are You Alive?"

Yes ... this loss was so painful that they chose to care for my health and well-being over ragging me. I couldn't help but feel like Corey Haim at the end of "Lucas" when everyone was clapping in unison and cheering for him while he put on that ridiculously large jacket. Their good-natured concern for me, however, has not brightened the dark, vengeful contempt I have deep down in my soul for each and every one of them.
-- Doug C., New York

Ever feel like Red Sox fans are the sports equivalent of Sissy Spacek's character in "Carrie"? Just as you are handed everything you want, success, popularity, accolades ... all your dreams are coming true, and WHAM! You are splashed with blood and mocked by the choir. The humiliation, the pointing! The cackling! "They're alllll gonna laugh at you ...!"
-- Jenny, Boston

My girlfriend and I have been going out for a little less than a year. She was never a sports fan, much less a baseball fan. When I took her to Fenway for the first time, on the drive to Boston she asked me who the Green Monster was. I almost crashed into the wooden guard rail on the Merritt Parkway. Now I understand that she hasn't followed baseball, but I almost lost it. After putting her in the middle of the Sox-Yanks rivalry for a weekend, she became a full-blown Yankee hater. Which is a very good thing for the prosperity of our relationship.

Anyway, on Thursday night she is watching the game with me and before I can even get the words out, even though I am screaming them in my head, she says "Why are they not taking Pedro out?"

This from a girl who seven weeks ago thought the Green Monster was actually a person. Now she even sees that Pedro needs to be pulled. Is this unbelievable or what?
-- Greg E., Philadelphia

Yankee fans
Grady ... Grady ... say it ain't so, Grady.

So I'm pulling out of my parking garage in downtown Boston on Friday. The Ethiopian guy who collects the money looks awful. Like he hasn't slept in days. I ask him if he's doing OK. He says, "I have never felt so awful. Not even when my own father died ... my own father. I have only been in this city for a few years, so I'm new to this. I don't know how you people do this. In my neighborhood are lots of college kids from New York, and they were cheering after the game ended. I am a peaceful man ... a PEACEFUL man I tell you ... but I swear to you I went outside looking to fight some Yankee fans ... just awful."
-- Paul LoGuidice, Swampscott, Mass.

www.firegradylittle.com is now taken.
-- Robert Form, Cambridge, Mass.

* * * * *

(And two longer e-mails, just in case you have the time ... )

E-mail No. 1: I'm a Sox fan in New York City and have been so for the last five years. Living in Manhattan and liking "The Sawx" is like being a Catholic in Northern Ireland or even Forrest Gump at a Black Panther party. On a daily basis, I am ensconced in obnoxious New York Post covers, casual reminders of the lopsided nature of the rivalry and curious mentionings of the year 1918. Did something important happen in that year?

Watching the Red Sox play any game in a New York bar is like taking the principal's daughter to the prom (which I've done by the way). You're constantly under surveillance, treated with suspicion, and can't even really enjoy the good times, like when a slow song comes on. 2003 was different however, as I found a Sox haven in the city of the Evil Empire: A cozy little nook in the West Village became home to every oppressed New York Sox fan. A sanctuary where we could wear our gear (hidden and covered up on the subway down there, of course), chant like we were in the bleachers at Fenway and pound on the bar, walls and ceiling when Tek, Trawt, or Walkah played hero once more.

As I strolled up to this wonderful establishment last night, two hours prior to game time, there was a line around the corner. Chills. The Nation was out in force. One guy even donned eye black (wonderful) and I was told another had driven down from Boston (idiot). I bribed the bouncer, got right in -- to the dismay of many others who had to go to the Sox overflow bar across the street. (Never thought I'd say that last sentence while living here.) It was packed, fever pitched and we were confident. They took Game 6, trouncing Contreras in pleasingly ironic fashion. The Yanks were on their heels, this was destiny's team, and I thought it once again: THIS IS THE YEAR. Hell, I even saw Springsteen's "rock 'n' roll exorcism" in the flesh at Fenway this summer. The stars were aligned.

I'm buying two Sam Adams at a time, talking nervously but confidently to fellow members of the fraternity, and then they start to clobber Roger. The "Roggggggerrrrr" chants are deafening. 4-0. No they're not, this can't be happening, it's in our grasp. Yankees fans are calling ME with capitulations, surrenders and congratulations ... in the fourth inning. So many championships yet so quick to panic.

I get a tap on my shoulder, it's a guy named Reality dressed in a black cloak and he slaps me across my face. Posada, Matsui, Jeter, Williams ... it was over. You said it in your column and it's true. Once the game was tied it was, in effect, over except for the stabbing sensation in my brain watching the Yanks dance around the plate. Boone was just the salt in the wounds. I walk calmly out and sit on the curb. As the bar was spitting out emotionally void and bewildered fans, it happened.

Ambush.

Yankees fans, en masse began showing up. At first I thought it was coincidence, then I realized it was not. These bastards were showing up in cabs, running from every direction, all for the express purpose of descending upon us and letting us know, once again, that the Sox suck and the Yankees rule. Shouldn't it be old to them by now?

At that moment, I realized why I really hate the Yankees: some of their fans are detestable, ignorant and sickeningly obnoxious. Fights broke out, slurs were being lobbed like grenades and amidst it all I just sat there and watched the madness. For anyone who truly lets himself or herself (now that we're in the politically correct era) fall in love with this franchise, the obsession consumes their lives and controls emotions like Gepetto. I'm drunk at 1 a.m. on a worknight, three miles from home, and nearly in tears because a team consisting of men I will never meet just lost, again, as close as you can get to THE show.

Questioning the great plan, I threw on my Sox scully and walked the whole way home. I wanted someone to say something, but no one did until I was almost home and was verbally assaulted by those spilling out of a gay and lesbian bar. That was just kind of funny. My last thought before I went to bed (read: passed out) was that I would commit a homicide if I read even one mention of the curse by Shaughnessy, or something by a hack sports writer saying the loss was a good thing because Boston fans secretly cherish their self-loathing.

Anyway, to paraphrase one of the great authors, marathoners, crash-dieters and talk-show hosts of all time: your columns about the Sox have been "chicken soup for my soul."
-- Matthew Rosetti, New York

E-mail No. 2:

In this time of pure emptiness after the LCS, there's nothing I can do to feel better, so I'm going to write an e-mail to you. I doubt I'll even send it. It's just therapy. The blank page is my couch.

I've been a Cubs fan my whole life. Really, I have been. People tell me they are lifelong Cubs fans, and I tend to roll my eyes or want to quiz them because how could this many people really love, live and die with the Cubs like I do. There should be support groups for us. My days as one of the millions of tortured souls began long before I was old enough to sleep in a bed without bars. My parents loved telling stories of how I'd walk around my crib saying, "Mommy, daddy and Jennifer go to Wrigley." Or squeal and clap when my favorite player back in the mid-to-late '70s, Steve Swisher -- or as I called him in my toddler voice Squisher, would come up to bat.

I was born in 1974 and in that time the Cubs have disappointed me almost every year. But disappointment I can live with. It's total heartbreak I have trouble with. No man has broken my heart as many times as those 25 men in pinstripes. In 1984, I was 10 and can remember in slow motion that play when the ball rolled between Leon Durham's legs. I can still recall the faces of my family members who gathered at my uncle's house for the game -- it was a look of utter shock and horror. Then it was 1989, I was a little older and far more jaded. I revelled in the battle between Gracie and Will Clark and cried like the teenager I was when it ended. Almost a decade later I was more than ready to see the Cubs take a piece of the pie. It seemed it was fate. The season after Harry Caray passed away, the Cubs beat the Giants in a one-game playoff only to get swept by the Braves, whose fans didn't think enough of the Cubs to even show up for the games.

Since that time, I've sat and thought over and over at the end of each season if I'd ever see the Cubs make it to a World Series. Mind you, I didn't say win one. I truly think I'd get some satisfaction in just seeing them play in one. I usually conclude it's just not in the stars and I let it go, until January when I go to the annual Cubs Convention. There's nothing like 10,000 lunatics all saying, "This is next year," to make me want to drink the Kool-Aid.

For some reason, this year I was running the Kool-Aid stand. From the very beginning of the season, it just had a special feel. Not even when the Cubs hit a small rough patch toward the end did I flinch. This really was "Next Year."

Or was it?

Since very late Wednesday night, I've been trying to understand it all and maybe the easiest answer is there is none. It's not the curse of the goat. But it's wonderful to blame the goat. We need an object to hold in our hearts as a reason for something that makes no sense. The goat was my grandparents' object. For my parents, it was the 1969 Mets. There was no way they'd ever be able to have any contempt for a team that fielded Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Fergie Jenkins. Instead, they loathed the Mets so strongly that I firmly believe anyone born after 1969 to parents who are Cubs fans have altered chromosomes that makes it genetically impossible for us to appreciate anything that comes from New York.

For my generation, it will be Steve Bartman. My rational mind says it's not truly his fault. I won't seek him out to taunt him or physically harm him. Heck, if he walked up to me and said, "Hi, I'm Steve Bartman," I'd probably try to console him. But he's our goat. We need him. When I'm telling my unborn children years from now how the Cubs were five outs away from making the World Series for the first time since the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Japan, I will tell of the fateful play when Steve Bartman tried to catch a foul ball that would have been out No. 2 and changed the whole face of Game 6 and the Cubs never recovered. I will embellish on the truth, and I probably add in a tear or two to demonstrate my exact look at the time of the play.

It seems a sad existence to live this life of gloom and doom, knowing the one thing I want more than anything as a sports fan I will never get. But there is a bright side. I come from a sports-oriented family. I can say for certain I've never had conversation with anyone in my family that at some point sports did not come up. At family gatherings, even Christmas, sports are on TV. It makes us whole, bridges generations and helps form bonds stronger than the blood that runs through our veins. Several members of my family are teachers, and we all spend our summers sitting around waiting for 1:20 to roll around to watch the Cubs 82 times a year. It might sound pathetic, but it's comforting knowing I can call my dad at anytime in the summer, and we can talk through a few innings and the conversation never has a lull. Maybe if bonding over a losing team was a part of more families, there would be far more kids talking with their parents.

When the Cubs dealt us the inevitable blow to our dream season, I still had hope that at least one team I liked would not let me down. I harnessed what positive energy I could generate and turned it toward pulling for the Red Sox. I feel a kindred spirit to Red Sox fans. After spending my freshman year of college in Boston, living only blocks from Fenway on the corner of Beacon and Charlesgate East, I met many Red Sox fans who have grown up just like me -- always waiting for that elusive "next year." I try to play the martyr with the reason that at least most Red Sox fans have gotten to see their team in a World Series or two. But the fact of the matter is both of these cities, ripe with wonderful old stadiums, dedicated fans and a troubled history deserve to know the thrill of victory, instead of always the agony of defeat.

Geesh, there I go again -- getting my hopes up. Will I never learn?

I highly doubt you even started reading my ramblings, and I'm sure if you did I lost you about eight paragraphs ago, but it felt good to vent. I can't say I feel better, and I'm not sure if this fog of apathy will lift anytime soon. But one thing I can say for certain -- after all this writing for the first time since Wednesday night, I think I'm actually tired enough to have a sound sleep.

-- Jenn N., Chicago

PS: Thanks again to everyone who sent along their thoughts!

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, as well as one of the writers for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on ABC