If you’ve been following along, you know by now that I am borderline obsessed, 100% hopelessly addicted to Boston sports. I daydream of Andrew Benintendi hitting home runs in October and I envision David Pastrnak skating around the Garden’s ice with Lord Stanley’s Cup raised over his head. Where my mind takes me is a world where Tom Brady doesn’t retire while Kyrie Irving stands alone on top of his very own flat Earth. One thing that you definitely know about me is that I possess undeniable love and support for the Boston Red Sox. So why is it, that on maybe the most celebrated day in Red Sox history, my heart is hurting? Let me explain.
The Boston Red Sox broke The Curse of the Bambino 13 years ago today. I, like many of us, can remember exactly where I was, what I was doing, and who I was with the night of World Series Game 4 between the Cardinals and Red Sox. I watched every inning of that post-season, every play, and every pitch. I watched all seven American League Championship Games with my neighbors – some of the kindest and genuinely pure folks I’ve ever known, The Unsworths. They were more than neighbors. They were die-hard New York Yankees fans, but more importantly, they were family.
I grew up in North Providence, RI. It’s a small town sandwiched between Providence and Pawtucket. It’s a town of many churches, bakeries and a couple of elementary schools that give you cancer. It’s also the only town I’ve ever felt apart of, but what North Providence lacks is a sense of community — a town seemingly in perpetual competition with itself. In a town like that, it’s never easy to fit in, especially when you already feel like you don’t belong, but North Providence always felt right to me. A ton of that had to do with the comfortability and homeliness my directly-next-door neighbors were able to provide. My mom did the best she could, don’t get me wrong, but she was a single, full-time working mother, so I found solace next door.
The Unsworths were compiled of Poppy, Grandma, Uncle Greg, Todd, and Kerri. Todd didn’t live locally, so he isn’t part of this story. Kerri had three children of her own, the oldest of which is still my best friend, Brad. I see and talk to him regularly, he’s even been chosen to be the best man at my wedding coming up in July, but he doesn’t know that yet. So make sure you keep that on the down-low. Since infancy, we did everything together. We climbed trees and played Manhunt as children, we skipped school and took the bus all over the state to discover the world together as young teens, and went to music festivals to explore the outer limits of our wildest thoughts together. We even lived together at one point before we both became adults and led adult-like lives. He was very much my best friend so Brad’s family became my family because I didn’t have much of one – that’s the honest truth.
When I had problems at home, I could always walk across the driveway to find an escape. Guiding me with logic and empathy, I could knock on their door and receive positive attention from the Unsworths. When I landed my first job, they would offer me rides so I wouldn’t make the uphill two-mile walk to work. They would always ask me how life was and actually listen when I answered. They’d invite me over for dinner and let me help decorate their Christmas tree in the winter. Grandma would put together these seasonal scenes made up of figurines and buildings. The winter scene was always my favorite, slightly beating out the Halloween set because it included an ice rink. They, truly, were my surrogate family, as it was just my Mom and me for a large portion of my life. There isn’t anything I could ever do, write, or say to show these people how important they are to me.
I can remember one time when I was young, maybe 5 or 6, my older brother was babysitting me. Misbehaving, I eventually found myself banished to my bedroom for what seemed like an eternity. In my room, I remember feeling so angry that my brother “got me in trouble.” So I did what any reasonable young child would do — I opened my window and climbed out. It was about a 5-foot drop from the window to the ground outside. When my feet landed, I was immediately apprehended by Uncle Greg and tried to explain that I had climbed out of the window because “I thought it would be fun,” not because I was grounded. He explained to me how dangerous what I did was, how disappointed my Mom would be with me. Greg also shared with me how scared my brother would be if something bad were to have happened. He schooled me on how inconsiderate my behavior was, that’s how he worded it too, he always spoke to me like an adult. That day was the first time I remember being taught something. I was feeling sad and mad, but I also remember feeling embarrassed. Uncle Greg taught me what it was like to dust yourself off, admit your mistakes and try to do better going forward. (The best part of this story is my brother is cool as hell and NEVER told my Mom) As he walked me around the front of the house and back into my brother’s supervision, I’ll always remember what he said to me. “Next time, use the front door.”
Before we get to October 27th, I’d like to hit the pause button. I know there has been almost no mention of baseball up to this point, but I hope some of what you’ve read so far resonates with you. This is a very personal part of my life that I haven’t shared with anybody before, not even the folks who are at the center of this write-up. Before I met my fiance and had my children, baseball was the most important part of my life, so it’s easy to write about that. This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. In all honesty, I’m hesitant to even send it in for publishing, but having come this far already, I think I’ll continue.
It’s October 16th, 2004. I’m watching Game 3 of the ALCS (yeah, THAT game 3) with the Unsworths, minus my friend’s two younger siblings. They have a beautiful, spacious home, and we watched the game in the living room, set right off the kitchen. Poppy spent the majority of his time in his den, down the hall, where he’d chain smoke Winstons. He separated himself out of love, because who wants their family breathing in secondhand smoke? Kerri and Brad hung out on the same couch while Uncle Greg and I shared the other. I remember discussing the NHL lockout with Uncle Greg, a big-time Montreal fan, and how bummed-out we both were about the season being canceled. Grandma would sit on the couch with us from time-to-time, but enjoyed the view from her kitchen chair a little better.
As you may remember, the Yankees did awful, terrible, illegal-in-several-countries type things to the Red Sox that night, and I sat through every-single-pitch. Uncle Greg was red in the face with joy, Poppy who had always made fun of me for my love for Boston, was as happy as I’d ever seen him (besides coming back from the store with a pack of Winstons) and my homie was INSUFFERABLY annoying. Grandma, who never expressed a ton of emotion, was so thrilled to see her family as ecstatic as they were. They celebrated all 19 runs New York scored — each and every single one of them — like each member of the family had, individually, won the lottery. It didn’t even matter the Sox scored 8 times that night, you’d never have known being in that environment. The finger-pointing. The laughing. The embarrassment. I didn’t know it then, but it was one of the best nights of my life.
That night, I went home and looked at the Red Sox clings I had on the windows in my bedroom, those same windows I had climbed out of 10 years earlier. Looking through, I was in the perfect point-of-view location to see the Unsworths side-door to their home. I knew inside there was a family celebrating — lovingly embracing their team’s victory and each other. Realizing I was in a quiet house, without a single person to vent to about baseball, or anything really, I felt incredibly alone. I pulled the curtains over the windows because I was going to get emotional and being 16, I wasn’t fully comfortable with my emotions. It wasn’t so much the Red Sox loss, which was very upsetting, it was how desolate I felt. The only other thing I remember that night was that closing the curtains didn’t help.
The next night, I was invited over (OK let’s be real, I was ALWAYS invited over) for Game 4. I’m fairly certain the world record for a number of times the word “sweep” spoken in a 24-hour period was broken that day. Without reliving the past too much, let’s just say I went CRAZY, after 5 hours of anxiety and defending the Red Sox, when Boston finally won in the 12th inning. The entire landscape of humanity changed that night for Red Sox fans. I watched Games 5 and 6 with the Unsworths, too. I could sense it; I could feel it. I knew the Red Sox were coming back to win the series. My confidence was as high as Snoop Dogg, I tell you no lies. So you can imagine how much shit-talking I did leading up to Game 7. I was reminded several times that what the Red Sox were trying to do was “impossible” and “never going to happen,” but my belief in Boston was unwavering.
Game 7 of the ALCS couldn’t have gone any better for me. I had dug such a hole with my words that if the Sox were to lose to the Yankees again, considering what Aaron Boone did in 2003, I would’ve had to stay inside my house forever to avoid infinite teasing. BUT THE RED SOX DIDN’T LOSE, DID THEY? David Ortiz hit a 2-run homer in the first inning and Johnny Damon hit a 2nd inning grand slam to give the Sox a 6-0 lead. The game was never close, and Boston won 10-3. The Unsworths were ever so gracious in defeat. Never without a shot at the Sox though, NONE of the family gave Boston a chance in the World Series. They brushed off the loss, as you’d expect the fans of a perennial playoff team would, but they were extremely happy for me. I finally had a chance to watch my favorite team play for a World Championship.
Which leads us to why I’m sharing this with you, the importance of today’s date goes way beyond my love for baseball or fandom. I can imagine many of you were at parties or hosted them yourselves. Maybe some of you were young and were cuddled up on the sofa with your Mom and Dad, watching history unfold before your very eyes. It’s possible you worked the graveyard shift and listened in on the radio. Maybe you were serving in the military and you had a loved one hold the phone up to the television, but you shared the best moment in Red Sox history with someone. One of my deeply longed-for wishes is that night could’ve gone differently for me.
On October 27th, 2004, I watched Edgar Renteria hit a groundball back to Keith Foulke (I have goosebumps right now), Foulke flip the ball to Doug Mientkiewicz at first base, and the Red Sox break the 86-year-curse. I WAS A WRECK. It was the most magical moment of my life up until that point. I honestly thought I may never see the Red Sox win the World Series — I was reminded of that regularly by the Unsworths. Unfortunately, that evening, I wasn’t able to enjoy the victory with anyone. Nobody. My cat, Willie and I watched the game together. (If I weren’t 16 that would have been a pretty embarrassing part of this story, but the fact I was 16 makes it okay, right? RIGHT!?) The Unsworths were busy that night; their team wasn’t playing in the World Series. My best friend was at work, plus the Yankees were vacationing, so he wasn’t going to watch the World Series. I was experiencing euphoria one second, but my environment would bring me back down the next. It was a bittersweet moment for me.
Here I was, barely any friends and hardly any family, completely alone, celebrating the greatest thing that ever happened in my life. There was nothing I wanted more than to hug someone or share a high-five. But as I looked around my Mom’s basement and realized I had to enjoy this moment alone, I wasn’t hit with the notion that I had already had my moment with my family, with my friends. My moment lasted 7 games during the ALCS and I never really knew that until now.
Now that we’re celebrating the 13th anniversary of the 2004 World Series, I keep going back to Game 3 of the ALCS. That was the night I remember most that post-season, because I was with family, doing what families do. We talked trash and laughed. I got mad a lot and they laughed even harder. I remember eating Red-bag Doritos and American cheese slices with my friend, putting back pints of coffee milk, from the dairy Poppy worked at, until our stomachs hurt. I remember sneaking out in the 5th inning, fitting in a little toke session with my boy in the backyard, then trying not to look at the adults in the face the rest of the night. I remember what it was like to be with them wishing and hoping, “I can’t wait to rub it in their faces when the Red Sox win it all in 2005.” I don’t remember thinking it would be the last sports series I ever watched with them, but it was.
I woke up this morning remembering the heroics of David Ortiz, Dave Roberts, Johnny Damon, Pedro Martinez and, the immortal Mark Bellhorn. I remember Orlando Cabrera’s infectious smile and Alan Embree’s stupid mustache. I’ll never forget Derek Lowe becoming the first pitcher to win the clinching game of each of his team’s playoff series in MLB history. I can visualize the big wad of chew in Mike Timlin’s cheek, and I’ll always think of Curt Schilling when I’m folding socks. And, of course, you could always count on Manny being Manny. The 2004 Boston Red Sox is, was, and forever will be my favorite Boston sports team.
But I also woke up remembering Poppy, Grandma, and Uncle Greg Unsworth. Since that 2004 postseason, each one of them has lost their battle with cancer. Fuck cancer. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Poppy fought it hard, but was the first to pass away. That man labored his way into a good life and left a better one for the younger generations in his family. I remember how strong the Unsworths were, how closely they stuck together — it was so inspiring and beautiful. Uncle Greg’s passing was the most shocking. 46-year-old fire chiefs shouldn’t get cancer, but they do, and that’s really sad. After a short 4-month battle, Uncle Greg lost his life. Grandma, who was always the strongest Unsworth, spent her days after their passing caring for her great-grandchildren. She was an awesome woman, a woman I would often refer to as my own grandmother, something I know the Unsworths wouldn’t take an issue with. She passed away the day after my birthday in 2015.
It’s not always appropriate to write about those who have passed, but today, I just couldn’t shake them from my mind. I plan on going to visit them today, those who I can, and tell them how I happy I was to share that night in October of ‘04 with them. How important they were, how much I think about them, and why I wrote this piece. I want them to know that I’ll always think of them when I hear about the 2004 Red Sox and I’ll always think of the 2004 Red Sox when I hear about them. That I don’t take for granted how much they did for me, without even knowing they were doing it. It’s mind-numbingly cliche, but please, tell those who you love, who matter to you, how much they mean to you. Tell them every day. Tell them you love them until the point in which you annoy them. Show affection when necessary and please, for the love of everything positive, be good to the people who are good to you. The Unsworths were some of the best folks on the planet and I never told them that.
They were trusting — gave me the keys to their home to oversee their pets when they went away for vacations.
They were generous — they would offer money for helping them with carrying groceries, shoveling snow, raking leaves — things teenage Andrew would have gladly done for free.
They were my family when I had none, some of the best advice-givers you’d ever meet and they cared deeply for each other, showing me what kind-hearts were capable of.
They were New York Yankees fans, and I loved them.
*Photo Credit – Stephen Dunn/Getty Images