A True Believer

We Red Sox fans pretend that we know something about suffering, about keeping the faith , or of believing in things "not yet seen" as the Apostle Paul (or Jeff Sharlet) might put it.

The last time the team won the World Series was in 1918. Since then, generations of Red Sox fans have come and gone; have given their hearts and souls to the Sox, and watch them time and again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. 1946, 1967, 1975, 1978, and 1986--the team lost in the 7th game of the World Series.

I have been a Red Sox fan all my life. I sat on my grandfather's lap and watched them play, listened for hours and hours to the "The Impossible Dream" album which recounted the 1967 Sox's brush with glory till the Carl Yastremzi theme song, --"Carl Yastremski, Carl Yastremski, the man they call Yaz; Carl Yastremski, Carl Yastremski, what power he has" was burned in my memory. It remains there, nearly as familiar as the words of the Lord's Prayer or the Hail Mary, the prayers my grandfather taught me.

Once, I sat on the couch in my living room, watching Ken's Burn's film on Baseball, sure than the 1986 Sox would win the 1986 World Series this time. They were one strike away. The champagne was in the locker room. Owner Jean Yawkey, whose husband Tom had gone to his grave awaiting a Red Sox championship, was waiting there as well. Bob Costas, who covered the 1986 Series, told Burns that he had begun rehearsing his proclamation of the Red Sox victory--something never before broadcast, as there was no radio coverage back in 1918.

Then Bob Stanley threw a wild pitch, allowing the tying run to score. Mookie Wilson hit a grounder to Bill Buckner, the ball went through his legs, Mookie Wilson dashed home, and the dream was over.

It was a great and terrible moment.

But it was only a game, as Gordon Edes shows in the poignant feature on John McNamara, manager of the 1986 team, and a man well acquainted with sorrows.

Not from baseball--McNamara has fond memories of his time in Boston.

Let me clarify this: My time in Boston was very good. The fans were good to me. Hell, I still get letters from people up there, `Why don't you come back?'''

His sorrow is something deeper. McNamara, a devout Catholic who attented daily mass until his health declined in recent years, lost his father when he was only 12. Then, a few years, ago, lost his two grandson, young boys who were murdered by their father.

Edes, a sports writer with a sensitivity to matters of faith (he is, after all, a Covenanter by birth)-- captures both the sorrow McNamara carries with him and the faith that carries him along.

Here's how the article closes:

The Sox went home after that Game 6 loss. "Demoralized?'' he said. "No, we weren't demoralized. That ball club was a very tough baseball team, physically and mentally. In that game, they just beat us. When you get beat, the other ball club is better than you and on that given day when you lose, you contribute to getting beat.''

It may be how he is remembered in Boston, but it is not a loss that defines John McNamara's life. This is a man who lost his father when he was 12, one of five children.

"I saw my mother go through that,'' he said, and his voice breaks, tears unmistakable on the other end of the phone. "She told us that God doesn't give you a cross that he doesn't think you can carry.''

There was another October day, eight years ago. John McNamara was on a baseball diamond in Arizona, working with the Angels' kids in instructional league, when he heard words no man should ever hear. The troubled husband of his daughter, Ellen, had turned a gun on the couple's two sons, 6-year-old Tony, and 4-year-old Tyler, shot them to death, then turned the gun on himself and took his own life.

"She is fine,'' McNamara is saying now of his daughter. "You know, she gets better every year. We keep in close contact. She has a very good job. She is a court stenographer.

She's coping with this thing. Have you ever known death first-hand? It's tough to cope with. You've got to go on, but you never forget. It's still devastating, but God bless her, she has picked up her pieces and goes on.''


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