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Among the faithful 

Two Boston Red Sox fans talk about rooting for the underdogs

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Winners in games where luck remains a factor -- like stocks or sports -- often attribute their victories to chance. When it comes to rooting for the Boston Red Sox, however, one must leapfrog the merely providential and reach for the downright religious. Stephen King made a stab at this when the Sox were down 3-1 to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Writing in Faithful, the book he recently co-published with Stewart O'Nan about the Red Sox's magical 2004 season, he says:

"Yet still we are faithful. ...Tonight, we'll once again fill the old green church of baseball on Lansdowne Street, in some part because it's the only church of baseball we have; in large part because -- even on mornings like this, when the clean-shaven Yankee Corporate Creed seems to rule the baseball universe -- it's still the only church of baseball we really love. No baseball team has ever come back from a three-games-to-none deficit to win a postseason series ... and we tell ourselves it has to happen sooner or later for a baseball team, it just has to."

Indeed it did, and for most of the year, O'Nan and King were there to see it happen -- watching from King's third-baseline seats or over the television. Faithful is their record of that journey, from the June swoon to the October surprise. I recently caught up with the still-giddy authors in New York where they had already begun worrying about next year.

JF: So what do you look for next season now that you won?

O'Nan: Well, the first thing I have to worry about is tickets. These fans, the guys who got on the bandwagon this year, they're going to be with us for 10, 15, 20 years. I grew up in Pittsburgh and watched this happen with the Steelers. And the fans got spoiled. They wanted to win all the time.

King: Now I would never tell a gentleman of the fourth estate what to ask, but ask me what I could have e-Bayed my postseason tickets for?

JF: How much?

King: Quarter of a million dollars.

O'Nan: My [butt] was sitting in a $125,000 seat.

JF: Why did that matter? Couldn't you have scored press passes and written this from the inside?

click to enlarge Stephen King
  • Stephen King

O'Nan: Well, anybody who is a baseball beat writer could have done that better than us. For the Sox, I think it's much more interesting to write it from the fan perspective: how it feels and what it means to be a Red Sox fan.

JF: You guys seem to have different perspectives as fans. Steve, you're convinced everything is going to hell and Stewart, you're the optimist marshalling more stats than most announcers.

King: The difference between Stewart and I is that I was born and grew up in New England. I was born to this thing. Red Sox are in my blood. I have that sense of doom when things are going to [expletive]. Where I come from, if you have a lump anywhere on your body it's cancer, it's malignant, and you're going to die in six months. That's the way we look at the Red Sox. Stewart comes from a different exegesis.

O'Nan: The Pirates. Magical team. The team that could pull it out. That team was down three games to one against the Orioles, who had four twenty-game winners, and pulled it out -- on the road. In '79, they were down 3-1 and they pulled it out, on the road. And now, the Red Sox have this idea that we're just another team. No, now we're a magical team.

JF: Do you think that's why the losses are that much harder for you, Stewart? Because you're the optimist while Steve here is so used to things heading south?

O'Nan: Yeah, well, I had high expectations for this club. In the regular season they lost a lot of games they shoulda won. And that still bugs me.

King: We lost a lot of games by one run. The thing is, if we won more of those one-run games, we would have won the American League East and then beat the Angels in five games. That's a different thing.

JF: Did either of you guys want to be sports writers growing up?

King: I was. It was my first gig. I wrote sports for the Lisbon Enterprise. I got in trouble in high school writing a satiric newspaper about the teachers. My choice was either get suspended, or put my work to some constructive use. So they sent me down to this weekly newspaper and the guy there said, "Well, I need a sportswriter. My guy just had a heart attack."

JF: Was it fun?

King: I learned a lot about writing. The guy showed me a lot of things. The first two or three times I took in copy, he looked at it and took out all the adjectives. I covered high school basketball, bowling leagues. God, I learned a lot about people drinking and puking in bowling leagues.

click to enlarge Stewart O'Nan
  • Stewart O'Nan

JF: What about you, Stewart?

O'Nan: I always wanted to be the play-by-play guy. In Pittsburgh, we had Bob Prince -- and Nelly King. ... I used to listen to them constantly.

JF: You could see that. Stewart you're kind of the play by play, and Steve you're definitely the color guy.

King: That's true. Stewart likes to get inside the game.

O'Nan: These guys might seem like idiot savants, but they're thinking every single minute. It's terribly intricate for them.

King: Stewart has this tendency to ascribe powers of -- I don't even know how to say this word -- ratiocination -- he gives the players the credit for too much thinking ability.

O'Nan: Well, some of it. ... I can give you that. But with Bill James on your staff and Curt Schilling charting every goddamn pitch in his life, there's definitely some of that there.

King: One of my favorite images of the season is Curt Schilling charting something, writing it down, and over there in the background there's Manny Ramirez over his shoulder just sitting there, a little roll of fat in his stomach, just looking at the floor.

JF: Speaking of images, this cover photograph shows Varitek shoving his mitt into A-Rod's face. Do you think that was the turning moment of the season?

King: I do. We actually fought very hard for that cover.

O'Nan: It's the moment that everyone remembers. Even if we hadn't won the season, Sox fans would look at that and say, "That was a great moment."

-- John Freeman

book info

Faithful by Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan (New York: Scribner) $26/hardcover

  • Two Boston Red Sox fans talk about rooting for the underdogs

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