My wife, a New Yorker and an otherwise lovely and intelligent human being, is a Yankees fan. I’ve tried to re-program her on the issue but have come to accept we’ll spend our lives in a two religion marriage. Our 4-year-old daughter, however, recently proclaimed — with absolutely no coaching from the old man — that she was a Boston Red Sox fan. The reason for her transformation is, on the surface, surprising: we don’t live in Boston right now.
But when you move from your homeland, everything about it becomes heightened and more vivid. My daughter, who was moved across the country this summer, has adapted by seeing the place she left the way expatriates often do — as a place of mythic import: mythic snow, mythic house, mythic sports team.
For Game 6, I walked to an Irish bar called Sonny McLean’s on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. Sonny’s is not just any bar; it’s the Boston bar in Southern California. Emblazoned on its exterior is a four leaf clover mural with each leaf representing one of Boston’s four major sports teams. On Wednesday night, the line outside stretched around the gas station next door and the crowd inside was crammed in tighter than five pounds of peanuts in a three-pound bag. The patrons weren’t like Cowboys fans; they didn’t choose the Red Sox because they grew up in Oklahoma or Arkansas and don’t have a team. These were Bostonians, through and through (enough people from Quincy, for some reason, to fill Wollaston Beach on Labor Day). Lots of people called each other “kid,” deemed Lackey’s pitching “kinda pissa,” and threw back Bud Lights.
A guy from West Roxbury told me that being in Sonny’s, so far from home yet surrounded by Red Sox Nation, made him feel more Bostonian than he had in years. I knew what he meant. In March, my family and I made the decision to follow both my work and my wife’s to California for one year. Then two idiots bombed the Marathon, and we seriously considered ditching those plans to stay in Beantown. As Ortiz said so memorably, this was our effing city. But, in the end, we did leave for a year.
As soon as I arrived in Santa Monica, I bought the MLB package and had to continuously remind myself to catch 7 p.m. games at 4 p.m. and 1 p.m. games with breakfast. I watched the whole improbable march to the world championship from afar, my faith growing like Napoli’s beard, bigger and bushier with every passing hour. And my faith was not only forged by my distance from the city, my identity was, too. When Koji Uehara picked off Kolten Wong to end Game 4 and Big Papi posted the kind of hitting numbers normally reserved to designate a jumbo jet, I felt more Bostonian than if I were there. I’ve never believed in the redemptive power of sports — it’s a game — but maybe I was a little hasty in forming that opinion. If such a thing is possible, it happened this year. From the wreckage of an insipid act of extreme violence on Boylston Street, a hairy and irrepressible band of brothers gave the city a sporting event that will make 2013 not just the year of that Marathon but of this World Series.
In the men’s room of Sonny McLean’s, chalkboards hang from the walls above the urinals. You get to scribble your drunken ramblings without permanent damage. That night, 3,000 miles from Fenway, patrons chalked in their old ZIP codes — 02129, 02135, and 02171 (like I said — a lot of Quincy in attendance that night), among others. I haven’t written on a bathroom wall since the Rat still existed. But, with my ears ringing from roars that continued to cascade through the bar 30 minutes after Koji closed it out for the ages, I picked up the chalk and added one more:
Dennis Lehane’s latest novel, “Live by Night,” received the Edgar Award for Best Novel of 2013.