The guy was sitting at the end of the bar at Capp’s Corner, a restaurant in San Francisco’s North Beach where they play all Sinatra, all the time, and if you don’t like it you can leave.
The guy wasn’t smiling, despite the fact that the Niners had just won a football game. He turned his head at hearing my accent, as if he’d been slapped.
“You know,” he said, “I don’t really like Boston teams, and I really don’t like Boston fans.”
He took a sip of his beer and then, looking up at the TV, added, “I hope you guys win the World Series.”
The Red Sox as America’s Team?
Maybe just this time.
We don’t like to hear it, but I hear it whenever I leave the cocoon that is New England in general and Massachusetts in particular: This extraordinary run over the past decade, with the Patriots and Red Sox winning multiple championships and the Bruins and Celtics winning one each, has produced a regional complacency and a national envy.
In many parts of the country, people go out of their way to watch Patriots games, with the express desire of watching them lose. There is a feeling in many other cities that the Celtics have won plenty of titles and that maybe, just maybe, some place like Cleveland apres LeBron is more deserving.
But this Red Sox team is different. Perhaps it is because no one who follows baseball, especially no one in Boston, really gave them a chance. I was in Fort Myers during spring training, and even the Red Sox brass were privately saying if this team finished 10 games over .500 it would be considered a roaring success.
But the playoffs?
The World Series?
After the train wreck that was Bobby Valentine, John Farrell has proven that managing talent with honesty and integrity does indeed make a difference. That treating grown men paid millions to play a child’s game like grown men can help them perform as human beings who viscerally appreciate how lucky they are to be paid millions to play a child’s game.
It has become an article of faith that this Sox team has become closer, played looser, and overachieved because of the terrorist attack at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It seems a thesis impossible to prove.
But I would defy anyone to disprove it. Red Sox players were moved by what they saw. The truth is that everyone who lives in and around this town, anyone in America who has had a kid at college in this town, anyone who has visited Boston and appreciates our provincial idiosyncrasies, was deeply affected by the bombs that killed Martin Richard, Lu Lingzi, and Krystle Campbell, by the hate which maimed and wounded so many others.
Beyond the wounded and the dead, including a marvelous police officer named Sean Collier killed three days later, there are hundreds of cops, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs, doctors, nurses, and ordinary people who did extraordinary things, saving the lives of dozens that day.
Jane Richard, Martin’s little sister who lost a leg to the bombs, led the St. Ann’s choir in singing the national anthem at Fenway Park before David Ortiz launched a grand slam that changed the course of the American League Championship Series. She wore the jersey of Dustin Pedroia, whom the Richard kids love and who embodies a toughness that was very much on display as the smoke rose above Boylston Street on April 15.
“When you back us into a wall, you either do two things: cave or fight,” Pedroia once said, explaining the resilience of a team nobody gave a chance. “We’re gonna fight.”
This entire town said that with its actions that terrible week in April. Jane Richard personified it, walking to the microphone on her prosthetic leg.
This Sox team is far more fun to watch because they, like the city emblazoned on their away jerseys, will not lie down.
Big Papi said it all. This is our bleepin’ city.Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.