My Last Prayer

I kind of subscribe to my own sort of religion.

(*Sally, this story is okay for you to read if you don’t mind the fact that I admit fully that I am not a religious person anymore. If you mind I would recommend skipping down three paragraphs and stopping three or so early*)

I am not a religious person. Anyone who has read many of my stories already knows this. I describe myself agnostic, or “the poor man’s atheist.” What many people don’t know is I was  not always this way. In fact, I was an exceptionally religious person for along period of my life. I   was very involved in church groups, the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes, or as my buddy Fink has called it since high school, “The Federation”.) and Young Life. I was even a puppeteer who performed plays about God at different Vacation Bible Schools or in front of churches. We even won a couple of awards at national competitions (in Hershey, PA. Which I always looked forward to because the chocolate factory was basically my crack den when I was 14). I was one  of those kids that would stand around the flag pole that one day of the school  year to support prayer in schools. I was dedicated to the cause. I definitely was not the same person I am today. All of who I was, lead me to who I am, but it is hard to believe I was who I was back then, especially knowing me now.

The transition wasn’t a very quick process either. It took time. Years in fact. I didn’t wake up one day and think, “hmmm, I really wonder if everything I was taught as a child was all crap, and now I know there is something out there but I don’t think this book that is held so highly by so many and is just basic parables to teach us how to live good lives, even though a lot of it doesn’t make any sense, and in fact contradicts itself, is in fact the word of God.” It just didn’t happen that way. It was years of questions and searching for answers. In this time I was finding things I accepted as truth and realizing which other things I just couldn’t wrap my mind around anymore. There are leaps of faith in any religion, but Noah’s Ark? Come on.

This is not a story about my religion (or lack thereof) though. This is a story about one event which happened that restored my faith for a while longer. This all happened in the year 2004.

Anybody who knows me knows there is one thing in the world I care about more than myself. Year in, year out, there is one thing I look forward to no matter what. This one thing is the Boston Red Sox.

Everybody knows the story, anybody who loves baseball anyway. But what people don’t know is how I single handedly saved the Red Sox and allowed them to win the World Series that year.

As a quick recap for anyone who is reading this and doesn’t remember, or know the story, the Red Sox had lost to the Yankees in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS when Aaron “Fucking”Boone hit a solo home run off of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in the bottom of the 11th inning (Just went to see the movie Knuckleball where I got to relive that horror in excruciating detail, but the movie was excellent).

I was watching that game with my friend Casey. He and I were sitting in my apartment staring intently at the television. Every iota of our concentration was centered on that game. Someone could have come in and stolen everything from the house as long as they left the television and the chairs we were sitting in and we probably would not have noticed. Needless to say, we were in vested in what we were watching.

In the middle of the sixth inning my girlfriend had finally gotten off of a long day at work and had come home. She really felt that she had something exceptionally important to tell me, and positioned herself directly in between the television and myself. I don’t remember what she wanted to tell me, but I do remember that I didn’t care, so I said to her, “Baby, I love you, but right now I only care about this game.”

This was true; if my mother had called to tell me about a family member being in the hospital I would have asked if they would still be alive after the game. I had everything wrapped up in this game.

She did not like my response, and in her sexy, little, hotheaded way she retorted with, “Like this game even matters, they’re going to fucking lose anyway.” Then she walked into the bedroom and stayed there for the rest of the game.

So in the 11th when Aaron “Fucking” Boone hit that homerun, I sat therein silence. Angry at the Yankees, angry at Aaron Boone, and exceptionally pissed off that when I went to bed that night I would see her smug little smile knowing that the thing that I cared about the most in the world had crumbled right in front of my eyes. Then I would have to listen to whatever stupid story she wanted to tell me.

2004 rolled around and here we were, right back in the same situation. The Yankees and Red Sox were facing off in the ALCS, again, and it was going to be a brutal series. They had an epic bench-clearing brawl earlier in the year that started with Jason Varitek and Alex Rodriguez going at it after A-Rod got hit by a pitch by Bronson Arroyo. Everyone in the baseball world could feel the tension.This was the World Series in everyone’s mind; nobody cared about the next series (except maybe Cardinals fans). It was an epic battle of good versus evil. It was the quintessential battle between David and Goliath. We all had seen this story line played out before and the ending always had disappointed (unless you rooted for Darth Vader, the members of Cobra Kai, and Drago from Rocky IV).

86 years. 86 years of disappointments. 86 years of close calls, broken hearts, and living by the mantra, “there’s always next year.” I had been living with it since the early 80’s and I had grown sick of it, so I could only imagine how some of the older members of Red Sox Nation were dealing with the constant heartbreak. I didn’t want to deal with it anymore.

My friends and I sat there at the bar where we worked, watching intently when in game one the Red Sox lose 10-7. Then game two we watched at a different bar,for luck, as the Sox get downed 3-1. Went to a friend’s house for game three,and I shook my head as the Sox get demolished at home 19-8.

Three games down. No team had ever come back from that to win a seven game series.

I remember house sitting for my parents at the time. I went back to their house and while I lay there in my old bedroom, the one I grew up a believer in, I literally felt like I was going to cry. At least this year I didn’t have a girlfriend that would be rubbing in my heartbreak when it happened. I stared up at the dark, wondering why I had the amazing luck to have become a fan of the lovable losers. The team that could always get so close, but then somehow fail.How was this the team I had fallen in love with? It was the perfect parallel for my life. I always got so close to getting what I wanted, but would always fall short, just like the Red Sox.

Now I had already started losing my faith in God, but sometimes you just have to try everything. I was tired of losing. I was tired of coming so close and never succeeding. I was tired of the Red Sox showing me that history never changes,and they, just like me, would always be losers.

I closed my eyes and started to pray, “God, I know that you and I aren’t really seeing eye-to-eye on everything right now. We haven’t been speaking as much as we used to, and that’s on me. I get that. But please if you have any say in who wins in sports, and I’m assuming that you don’t since New York wins a lot, but in case you do, I promise that I will quit smoking if the Red Sox could comeback and win this series.” I paused and thought about how much I really did enjoy smoking, “and for them to go on and win the World Series also. I promise I will quit. I will stop smoking. Please just let them win. Just let them win once. Please, God, let them win.”

Red Sox Nation, you are welcome for my addiction to cigarettes. We should probably also thank Phillip Morris for making a wonderfully addicting product.

The next night we were sitting at a bar watching the game. Basically, we didn’t want to get swept. We had avoided that in 1999 and it would be great to at least get that, since no team ever had come back from the hole that we had dug ourselves.

It was the 9th inning. Mariano Rivera was on the mound and the Sox were down by 1. It was over. I shook my head as some asshole Yankees fan pulled a broom out of the back and was running around the bar with it, yelling “sweep”at the top of his drunken lungs.

But then something strange happened. Mariano allowed an uncharacteristic lead off walk to Kevin Millar. Terry Francona pinch ran Dave Roberts who had a lot more speed than Kevin, and after a few failed pick off attempts toward first, Dave was able to steal second. There was life in all of us at this moment. Then a single by Bill Mueller and Roberts scored tying the game.

I pulled out a cigarette and lit it, remembering the prayer I had made the night before.

We sat there staring at the televisions that plastered the walls of the bar and when David Ortiz hit the two-run homerun shot in the 12th inning we all cheered. They had avoided the sweep, and that was something that couldn’t be taken from the fans. There would always be that fact. The Yankees could not sweep us in the playoffs.

The next night was another round of an epic battle. The game lasted almost six hours, 14 innings, and a great portion of my sanity when David Ortiz came up in the clutch for the entire fan base again.

Gamesix back in New York the next night, in what seemed like only 3 hours after the previous nights game had ended. We believed the Sox could win now. It was only3-2 in the series. They just needed 2 more wins. A large group had gotten together to watch the game at a friend’s house, and when Mark Bellhorn hit the homerun in the 4th making the game 4-0 we erupted.

I had started savoring every cigarette that I smoked. I didn’t want to take any of them for granted. Each one was slowly getting closer to being my last (Last of the Marlboro’s starring Daniel Day Lewis is probably not that great of a movie idea).

Game seven is of no accord. The Yankees had zero momentum at this point and the Red Sox were flying high. When the final out was recorded in the 10-3 shellacking that the Yankees received, I was on the phone with my Dad, in tears jumping up and down in a huge group of people cheering for the fact that the Sox were heading to the World Series for the first time since 1986. It was a magical night.

The World Series was four games. It was done. I watched game four with my dad and a few of my friends. We erupted when game 4 ended and it had finally happened. It was one of the greatest moments that I have ever been a part of. I never thought I was going to experience the moment that I was currently living.

My phone started ringing like crazy. I received more phone calls that night than I did on my birthday. Friends from all over the country called me. They all knew how important this was in my life.

We joked about how many people in the Boston area could finally die now, and I made up a stat that more people passed away that night now that they had finally seen the Sox win a World Series than any other night in the history of Boston (Look it up, it’s probably not true).

I pulled one last cigarette out of my pack, and gave the rest of my pack to my friend, Amanda (she may be a story for another day). I lit the last cigarette I would ever have, and savored the shit out of it. I had made a promise here.

I couldn’t believe that after all the prayers I had made as a kid that I never got an answer to, the one that I do get validation on had to do with a sporting event.

I probably made it three weeks without a cigarette. I did eventually quit. Then I started again. Then I quit again. Then I started again. Then I quit again.Then…you get the idea. Oddly enough though, I didn’t smoke for all of 2007 and the Red Sox won that year as well.

So yes, I have found the key to getting the Red Sox to win the World Series.Apparently, much as how I believe that the world is in fact centered on me, I have discovered that the Red Sox success is also centered on my actions.

Red Sox Nation, this is a call to all of you. If you in fact want to see the Red Sox win again, I need to quit smoking again. This will not happen as long as Bobby V is the manager being the fact that I don’t want him to manage the team that I love more than I love myself, but it will happen again. If we want to once again feel the amazing unadulterated joy of watching our team storm the field, jumping in pure euphoria, embracing each others as only grown men who have just proven to the world they are in fact the best in the world can,we need to get rid of the manager that I just don’t want to see succeed in Boston. Let’s get him fired, and then I will quit smoking again. Together, we can make this happen (apparently, John Henry and Ben Cherington read this story).

As far as this being my last prayer, I can’t say how accurate of a statement that is. I don’t remember one that I made after that, but then again, this could just be last one that came true (I think they like to call it ‘answered’). I probably have thrown one or two out there since then, just hoping that maybe something is out there willing to help out.

A lot of this world seems way too perfect to say that nothing is out there aiding the evolution of everything in the world. It seems way too out there to say that all of everything that is around, all the beauty that is in this world,the fact that the Red Sox can come back from 3 down to win the American League,then go on to win the World Series, the fact that Grant Hill can throw the perfect pass to Laettner with no time left to beat Kentucky, the reason that Joe Montana can connect with Dwight Clark for “The Catch”, that the impossible can happen day in and day out is all due to happy accidents from an explosion in space 14 billion years ago.

I’m not sure who or what linked my smoking choices with the Red Sox successes but to whoever or whatever that was, I thank you.

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