November 02, 2013

I Watched THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL And Then The Red Sox Won The World Series

"The party's starting now..."
I was a senior in college when the Boston Red Sox won their first world series in 86 years.  The season before we had lost the ALCS to our longtime rivals the New York Yankees in a Game 7 heartbreaker, so when we were able to turn the tables and pull off an unprecedented come-from-behind victory over the dreaded pinstripes after trailing three games to none, suffice it to say the town went ballistic.  Literally.  Victoria Snelgrove, a classmate of mine at Emerson who was there covering the celebration as a student jounalist, was shot and killed after police in riot gear started shooting "non-lethal" rounds into a crowd in Kenmore Square and she took a pepper pellet to the eye.  It was an awful dagger of tragedy that slashed through what should have been a joyous occasion. The Sox would go on to sweep the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals and I've always maintained that the only reason the city of Boston didn't burn to the ground that night in October was because everyone felt so shitty about Victoria and because the clinching game hadn't actually taken place at Fenway Park.

I'll always remember that night.  I actually had a ticket to Game 5 and I was in the car with a bunch of friends heading down to St. Louis.  We'd gotten a late start so we were just passing through Worcester and listening to the game when the eighth inning rolled around and it became clear that Game 5 wasn't going to happen.  Someone in the car knew a guy who lived nearby, so we pulled off the highway and invaded this guy's living room in time to watch the bottom of the ninth.  Sox closer Keith Foulke fielded a ground ball to the mound, tossed it to first, and we promptly went apeshit in the middle of a stranger's home.  We jumped up and down, screaming and hugging for about two minutes before piling back into the car and tearing ass back towards Fenway.  We made record time back to the city and joined the masses in Kenmore Square until the police formed a barricade and forced the crowd down Beacon St. and Comm Ave, in the opposite direction of my apartment.  When people refused to move, tear gas canisters were tossed in to disperse the crowd.  I'm still not entirely sure how it happened, but somehow I ended up outside Gate B by the statue of Ted Williams placing his cap onto the head of a small boy with cancer.  (Williams was a fierce advocate for The Jimmy Fund.)  I just stood there, still blinking away tears (from the gas...) and reveling in a moment that I might never see again, when the hometown heroes and perennial losers overcame unbeatable odds and were crowned champions of the world.

I have a very strong connection to the Red Sox.  Of all the sports teams in Boston, the Sox were my favorite growing up and easily the team I got see play in person most often.  Just a month before that 2004 World Series victory I had worked as a production assistant on the Farrelly Brothers film Fever Pitch, starring Jimmy Fallon as a die hard Sox fan who falls in love with a baseball neophyte played by Drew Barrymore.  It was the first time I'd ever been on a professional film set and it was an absolute dream come true.  Not only did I get the chance to experience Hollywood filmmaking up close and personal, but I got to spend two weeks with an all access pass to Fenway Park.  I even got to watch a game from the owner's seats on the right field roof deck, with Fox picking up the tab for all our food and drinks.  That was a magical season, and a few weeks after it was all over, with my  move to L.A. looming large on the horizon, I went to Harvard Square with a buddy and got my first tattoo: the Red Sox "B" right at the top of my spine.  I'd always wanted a tattoo but had never been able to settle on a design I knew I'd still be happy to have in my twilight years.  Suddenly it seemed like a no-brainer.  Not only was it a symbol of the team and their incredible accomplishment, but of the city I loved and would soon be leaving behind.  I've spoken before about our community of Boston ex-pats in Los Angeles.  It was a huge part of my identity in that place and when the Sox somehow managed to pull off another championship victory in 2007, we were absolutely flabbergasted.  We all wanted to be home celebrating, but we didn't mind being 3000 miles away because we had each other.

I moved back to Boston in 2010 and the Sox continued to be an active part of my life.  Over the course of our friendship and subsequent courtship, Jamie had become a bonafide member of Red Sox Nation, especially since New Orleans doesn't have its own baseball team.  When it came time for me to propose to her, Fenway seemed like the ideal location, although I knew that going to a game and proposing on the jumbotron in frot of 37,000 fans would give her an instant panic attack and might result in her passing out before she got the chance to answer me.  So shortly after the season had ended I talked to a friend who worked for the team and told her my plan.  She got us in under the guise of a private tour and once we got up onto the Green Monster, I took out a cupcake with an engagement ring placed atop the frosting.  Obviously that worked out pretty well for me.  A few months later the same friend hipped me to a job opening in the team's IT department and before I knew it I had quit my job at the Apple Store and had an office overlooking the concourse behind third base.  I only stayed with the team for about half a season, but it was a helluva rollercoaster ride.  The team started the year 2-10, then clawed their way to the best record in baseball by the All-Star break. That's right around the time I was lured away from Fenway by the promise of higher pay and shorter hours at my current place if employment.  I loved working for the Red Sox and I learned a lot in a short time, but once the season kicked into gear I was working about 70 hours a week for a paycheck that would have been fine if I was working half that.  And with my nuptials right around the corner and some intimidating credit card debt hanging over my head, I had to make it all about the money.  It really pained me to leave and I still feel bad about it even today, but I ultimately made the right choice.  This site certainly wouldn't exist if I hadn't left.

Sadly that season ended in misery and scandal, with the team going 7-20 in the month of September and just barely missing the playoffs.  It was the season that drove beloved manager Terry Francona out of Boston after it came out that some players had been drinking and eating Popeye's in the clubhouse during games.  It will forever be known as The Season Of Fried Chicken And Beer.  And the less we say about the following year's trainwreck under Bobby Valentine, the better.  Suffice it to say, when GM Ben Cherrington traded most of our expensive free agents to the Dodgers and hired former pitching coach John Farrell to take over the team, the Fenway Faithful prepared themselves for another "rebuilding year."

Man, we were WAY off.

It's been an unbelievable season, with the Sox grinding out wins all year long.  They were never very flashy about it and at first a lot of us didn't even realize what was happening.  After all, we had the Bruins making a serious bid for their second Stanley Cup in three years, then a special Senate election to fill the seat left by John Kerry when he was named Secretary Of State.  And then there was the Marathon bombing.  The team always plays an early game on Marathon Monday, and for a lot of folks it's a yearly tradition to leave Fenway and head down to Copley to watch the runners cross the finish line.  When those twin explosions rang out on Boylston Street and shook the city down to its foundation, it was the Sox and the Bruins who were there to prop us all up and remind us why Boston is one of the greatest cities in the world.  They helped raise money for the One Fund, the players visited victims in the hospital and the team invited first responders and civilian heroes onto the field to throw out the opening pitch, drop a ceremonial puck onto the ice or kick off an afternoon at the ballpark with a rousing, "Play ball!"  The Sox held a ceremony before the start of the first home game after the attack, where David Ortiz grabbed the mic and thanked the city officials who worked so hard to sort out the aftermath and bring those responsible to justice.  And then he gave Boston a rallying cry:

"This Is Our Fucking City!"  

As time marched on the team's wins increased with the length of the beards until suddenly we were running away with the entire American League.  And after the Bruins had come up short, it seemed like the Sox were destined to win it all once more for the city that loved them so.  They made short work of Tampa Bay in the divisional series and then faced down Justin Verlander and the aces of Detroit with an unrivaled temerity.  It looked dicey there for a minute, but after Big Papi's game-tying grand slam in Game 2 that sent Tori Hunter flipping over the bullpen wall while Officer Steve Horgan raised his arms in triumph, well there was just no turning back.  I was really hoping for a Sox-Dodgers World Series, if only so that all my Boston friends still in L.A. would get the chance to see our boys at Dodger Stadium, but the boys in blue eventually fell to St. Louis in the NLCS.  So just like in 2004, it would be the B's versus the Birds once more.

We all joked that the Sox should just throw two games so that they could clinch the series at Fenway for the first time in 95 years, and after Jim Joyce's obstruction call it was assured that the boys would in fact be coming back to decide their fate on their home turf.  The series will be remembered as a pitching duel, with most games still tied 0-0 or 1-1 heading into the sixth or seventh inning.  Lackey and Lester were virtually unhittable, and Clay Buckholtz turned in one of the gutsiest starts I've ever seen, using precise pitch control to confound batters after a sore shoulder had robbed him of his usually dependable fastball.  And oh yeah, let's not forget about closer Koji Uehara, who was supposed to be a setup guy and morphed into the most dominant closer the team has ever seen.  The man is absolute strike machine, stonewalling one hitter after another and throwing only a single walk since the All-Star break.  While the Sox bats were often slow to get started, each time it was the unlikeliest of heroes that stepped up at a crucial moment.  The largely hitless Johnny Gomes smashed a three run homer to tie the series after coming in as a last minute replacement for Shane Victorino, who would return three days later and knock a bases clearing double in Game 6 after sitting out the last two games with a sore back.  And Big Papi was an absolute BEAST, hitting for a jaw-dropping .770 in the series and coming up with one clutch hit after another.

Jamie and I really wanted to be in the city when we clinched it, so Wednesday I left work and immediately headed toward Fenway to scout out the bar situation.  At 5:15 the place was already a mob scene, with lines around the block for every watering hole in a two block radius of the park.  I walked around a bit, got myself a hot dog on Landsdowne street as well as a souvenir program, a World Series pennant and some rally cards, then hightailed it back to Boylston Street and slipped into McGreevy's before the lines started there too.  Jamie was meeting me there along with Lauren and Bryan, two friends who are regulars at my Tuesday night trivia show, so it was up to me to find us a spot and then hunker down until reinforcements arrived.  I missed getting a booth by about ten seconds to a pair of crafty girls named Liz and Katie, but they took pity on me and let me hang with them until another table opened up.  One guy paid a group $100 to let him take their booth after they left, and at that point everyone was settled in and nobody was leaving until the game was over.  But by then Liz and Katie and I had become fast friends, and when the rest of our respective groups arrived we all shared the table and cheered together between pitchers of Octoberfest and shots of Dr. McGillicuddy's.  When Uehara came in for the ninth, we knew it was all over.  When he struck out the last batter, the place erupted into chaos.  Witness, and enjoy gazing down my screaming throat.

After about ten more minutes of sheer madness, we finished our drinks and exited the bar.  Instead of turning right and fighting our way into the celebrating hordes of Kenmore Square, we turned left and walked down to Copley Square, cheering and high-fiving passing pedestrians.  We reached the Boston Public Library and stopped at the Marathon finish line, where a crowd was already starting to form.  Cars drove through, flashing their lights and honking their horns while the passengers leaned out their windows with big dumb smiles on their faces.  People laid their jerseys down on the pavement and took pictures in front of the blue and yellow concrete.  Jamie and I were no exception.

Six months ago this had been the site of a horrifying tragedy.  Tonight it was bathed in euphoria.

I can't wait for next season.


OH RIGHT!  I almost forgot.  Before the game started I watched the original House On Haunted Hill.  Vincent Price is totally awesome but I was disappointed at the lack of actual ghosts.

The bit with the skeleton is also super fun.  I wish I could have seen it in the original Emergo.

Title: The House On Haunted Hill
Director: William Castle
Starring: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig, Elisha Cook Jr.
Year Of Release: 1959
Viewing Method: Amazon Prime Instant Watch

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