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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Israelis of Baseball

I actually didn't realize that Hilary Leila Kreiger is a former Bostonian, but now that I think about it, if I'm not mistaken, her husband or brother may have been the head sports counselor at the camp I attended in New Hampshire forty years ago. If so (and memories are fuzzy here because there was another counselor involved), he may have been partly responsible for my spot on the camp softball team (as a pitcher!) and my one and only appearance that summer (two thirds of an inning - a single, a long fly ball and a ground out) in a game we won about 11-0. Of course, she's now writing from Washington....
On their way to a masterful four-game World Series sweep which culminated in a 4-3 besting of the Colorado Rockies Sunday night, one thing about the Boston Red Sox became clear: they have become the Israelis of baseball.

Their long years (86 to be exact) in World Series exile - decades filled with yearning, struggling, anxiety and, most importantly, keeping the faith - had established the underdog Red Sox as the Jews of baseball.

Their perseverance in the face of adversity, both as a team and throughout the wide-flung diaspora of Red Sox Nation, was then rewarded in their miraculous comeback three years ago. After the aching post-season losses of 1948, 1967, 1975 and 1986 when victory seemed so close, in October 2004 they clawed their way out of a three-game deficit against their arch-rival New York Yankees with four straight wins to take the American League Championship Series. It was a hole from which no other team had ever managed to climb out, and it presaged their sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals for their first world series since 1918.

Finally, the Red Sox had made it to the Promised Land.


Everywhere I looked, the signs were clear. The Red Sox were described as the dominant team, were favored to win in Vegas by 2-1 odds, and - horror of horrors - were being compared to the Yankees.

And that's when it became apparent. The Red Sox had gone from being Israelites to being Israelis. Though the Jews had been homeless, oppressed and persecuted for two millennia, Israel had only to be in existence for a few decades before it was considered the dominant regional power - the turning point coming in 1967, the year of the Red Sox Impossible Dream team that made a heart-breaking come-from-behind run for the World Series.

International opinion generally depicts the Jewish state as having one of the world's best militaries, as well as the upper hand in its struggles with the Palestinians and other Arab states. Perhaps the most common criticism of Israel in the war with Lebanon last summer was its use of "disproportionate force" with its air and infantry attacks in spite of the hundreds of rockets raining down in the north; that conception assumes that Israel is the more powerful actor.

Despite the insecurities that lurk in the psychological make-up of the populace, Israelis also see themselves as strong and undefeated. Sometimes Israelis evince frustration in being perceived as the card-holder when they are exponentially outnumbered by surrounding Arab and Muslim countries. But they also take pride in that circumstance for good reason.

And so the Red Sox, both grudgingly and gladly, came to wear the same mantle this fall. I have to admit it: In the days leading up to the playoffs, I expected to win. Never once before in 20-plus years of ardent baseball fandom had I expected the Red Sox to win the World Series - hoped, yes, prayed, when necessary - but never expected.

I wasn't alone. Hall-of-fame bound pitcher Curt Schilling said that even when the Red Sox were one game away from elimination by the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS, he knew they would make it to the World Series. In contrast to 2004, he said, "This year, down 3-1, I don't ever remember for a day thinking we weren't going to be here. I don't know if that's right or wrong, fair or foul. But I don't think anybody in that clubhouse thought our season was going to end before we got here."


Schilling acknowledged as much. "It's a different organization now" than it was in 2004. "It's different. Nobody feels sorry for us anymore. And they shouldn't. We're not the little guy on the block anymore. We're not David to Goliath." Maybe not. Maybe Israel isn't either. And maybe it's better that way.
Read the whole thing. And rejoice in the victory!

And hang in there fellow Red Sox nation in exile: I hope to have pictures of the victory parade on this site tonight.


At 11:37 AM, Blogger Witch-king of Angmar said...

Congratulations. It seems that the "curse" is now officially out of the window and that the Sox are have become a team like any other.

And here's a cartoon that fits well with your blog: ;-)


At 3:52 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Now if only the Mets could put their money to equally good use...

At 7:21 PM, Blogger Daniel434 said...

Put a cap on this sport and maybe I'll start watching my Baltimore Orioles again, otherwise I'll stick with college and pro football. Even my Ravens are sucking this year. =/


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