Game 6, a Bar Mitzvah and 25 years gone by
Twenty-five years ago today, I became a man.
There was my Bar Mitzvah in the morning . . . but that was just for starters.
It was what came later that day where I learned what my rabbi, the lessons in my Torah portion and a few months of learning to read Hebrew letters without the vowels couldn’t teach me.
Growing up in suburban Boston, I was (and, sorry, still am primarily a Red Sox fan). You’re never a bigger fan than when you’re 13 — unless there’s something wrong with you.
On Oct. 25, 1986, though, everyone in Boston was 13.
You know the ending. Bill Buckner let the ball through his legs. Some other things I’d still rather not mention happened. And the Red Sox, who’d been one strike away from winning their first World Series since 1918, would have to play a Game Seven.
That they would go on to lose Game 7 was pretty much a foregone conclusion. These were the Red Sox, and, until the story was rewritten in 2004, the impossible didn’t happen — unless it was, well, Buckner letting that ball through his legs. Or Bucky Dent hitting that home run in 1978. Or . . .
Anyhow, my Bar Mitzvah party was in the evening. I’d had a joint Bar Mitzvah with a friend, and his party had been in the afternoon. That meant my party would be going up against Game 6.
Rather than lose the ratings battle among friends and family, we combined the two. Family and friends came to our house, we ordered Chinese food (I don't think there was pork) and, with the Red Sox up 3 games to 2, settled in for an historic night. We Jews are a lucky people, I thought!
One of my relatives, who’d been by Fenway Park earlier in the day, brought me a pennant they were already selling that declared: "Red Sox: 1986 World Champions."
As the game progressed, it became clear that my Bar Mitzvah was fading into the background. Between innings, some tired guests would quickly congratulate me, thank my parents and then bolt out the door to make it home in time to catch the rest of the game.
But most people stayed. Including our friends from New York who were Mets fans. One was my age, and, I’m sorry to say that as the Red Sox started to unravel, so did I. We got into a little fight. OK, I pushed him.
The game ended. The party ended. Now, the congratulations weren’t just rushed; they were perfunctory. A few people who hadn't seen me push my New York friend uttered the line I’ve repeated here (and many other times): “Well, tonight, you’re really a man.”
I guess I'll state that obvious here: that whether your team wins or loses is minor in the scheme of things and in the scheme of "being a man." That said, and maybe I shouldn’t admit this, my first son appeared in the world nine months after the Red Sox won Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees.
Twenty-five years is a long time, at least when you're 37. Everyone's moved on. Another 13-year-old in 1986 took over the team and won two championships. Buckner was on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." And I think it was Adam Carolla who said that as you get older the "team" you root for becomes you and your family and your career. I like that. Still, when it's the Red Sox in 1986, or the Cubs now, I think it's fair to say sports pain becomes real pain. Or at least real 13-year-old pain.
The architect of the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox, Theo Epstein, is in Chicago now. He’s got his press conference. And hopefully Chicago will soon have some happier Bar Mitzvahs.
(EVENT: I'll be moderating a discussion between two great writers this Thursday: Meghan O’Rourke and Rachel DeWoskin. It's at Maxim's, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and is part of a series put on by Chicago Publishes. It's free — but RSVPing is recommended. Info here.)