I get obsessions. Really, they make perfect sense to me.
I’m not one of those people who hide their obsessions away; check out my title. Or one of my many columns delighting in the pleasures of appointment television. It’s in my DNA to do this, to care frantically about something that, in most cases, cares nothing about me.
So in my life there’s the general sports obsession -– the reason I met my husband eight years ago, this stretch of common ground between us where we each get the other’s obsession. Neither of us could survive being with someone who didn’t understand priorities that include the NFL Draft or the All-Star Game, the need for a bookshelf to hold 179 signed baseballs, or the necessity of flying to Boston when the Patriots are in the Super Bowl.
Then there’s the more specific baseball obsession -– the one that took us up to Philadelphia last week for the first game in Nationals history. As a semi-resident of Washington, D.C. since 1992, I’ve been sucked into this city’s baseball hopes, focusing first on the Houston Astros, then the Expos, as rumors swirled around the sport returning to the nation’s capital. We even took a scouting trip up to Montreal three years ago to see the team we hoped we’d get. During my association with this city, there have been two egregious absences kept from the residents of DC: Congressional representation, and a baseball team. We’ve finally got one of those things.
Philadelphia, a mere two hours drive from suburban Maryland, has a one-year-old ballpark which is absolutely stunning in its beauty. I loved the low wide pavilions, the graceful walkways, the amazing, expansive view from our $15 seats so much, I felt like I was cheating on Fenway Park. We arrived at the ballpark a mere three hours before game time, during which I acquired my first sunburn of the baseball season while bent over John Edgar Wideman’s The Cattle Killing (Joe may have taken a day off work, but graduate students don’t have that luxury.)
I’d been prepared for the stereotypical rough and ready Philly fans, the kind that threw snowballs at Santa Claus and were paraded in and out of the legendary courthouse below the old Vet stadium. The ones who still call their basketball complex the “FU Center,” even though First Union no longer owns the naming rights to it. A Dallas fan we know travels to Eagles games once a year, and he always brings three changes of clothing: at half-time, he replaces his beer-and-mustard stained Cowboys tee-shirt, and does it again before driving home.
Maybe baseball is a different breed, but Phillies fans were nice. Even to Joe, decked out in full Nationals regalia, and just a little vocal about the team he was cheering for. In Montreal, the thirty-six fans in Olympic Stadium were nice, but they really had no stake in the team, its chances, or the game…hardened by talk of moving, by being the training ground for superstars who’d jump ship immediately after putting up lofty numbers, and general apathy, they didn’t mind who won the game.
Not in Philadelphia -– the fans care deeply about their team, and the two women behind us knew every starter’s batting average for last year, not to mention a handful of the reserves. While a sizeable chunk of the Nationals brand new fan base made the short trip up for their first game in history, roughly 99 percent of the rest of the people in the ballpark were wearing their Philadelphia gear –- Thome jerseys, Phanatic hats on the children, Mike Schmidt throwbacks, even a Rolen jersey with Rolen’s name crossed out in masking tape, reflecting his defection to the Cardinals.
The other one percent? Red Sox gear. As I don’t enter a ballpark advertising any team but my hometown boys even for a match-up that has no effect on them whatsoever, I had on my favorite (pink) Sox tee-shirt, and got dozens of comments in Philadelphia, all of them positive. Which brings me to the final layer of my obsession -– Red Sox obsession.
You’ve read my columns, you’ve heard my rants on Aaron Boone, Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, Dan Duquette and the way my team turned Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens into this century’s Babe Ruth. For my whole life, I never quite believed in the curse, never bought the fact that the Sox wouldn’t be as beloved, as much of an obsession if they ever won anything, and for the past six months, I’ve basked in the knowledge that I was right all along.
The 2004 season, particularly the post-season, particularly the last four games of the Yankees series, were nothing short of magical –- no, miraculous –- for those who had, up until then, the misfortune of being die-hard Boston baseball fans. I can’t think of Dave Roberts stealing second in game four without tears welling up in my eyes. In fact, there’s little about the Sox first World Series win in eight and a half decades that doesn’t make me cry. But for once, my tears come from the pure joy this team has brought me, and not abject disappointment.
Truth is, I’d still love the Sox even if they didn’t win. But, oh, baby, now that they did? Obsession, measured in the off-season acquisition of two new tee-shirts, an authentic Varitek jersey, three DVDs, five commemorative magazines, and a hat, all proclaiming the Sox World Series champions. And apparently, my spending has been on the conservative side, as Major League Baseball has reported a 100 percent increase in memorabilia sales between October 2004 and now, thanks entirely to my rabid compatriots, all eager to display their affiliation.
That’s why to have had a movie coincidentally filmed about Red Sox obsession at the same time the team had its most amazing post-season of all time just makes it all nothing short of miraculous. Fever Pitch is a love story, and it’s the kind of love story I can get –- about people who are passionate about things, who then have to learn to share these things with the people they love.
The film opens with a lonely kid with little else to love being introduced to the magic of Fenway Park, and his life is changed forever. I know that story; I’ve lived that story, the sharing of the Red Sox obsession with family, with my high school friends. The big thing we all had in common was this love of a baseball team. And the movie soars through a season of games, the absolute joy of last year is captured on every character’s face, reflecting the action behind them, which can’t help but carry the movie.
Jimmy Fallon’s character says things about the Red Sox that my husband has said, exactly, word for word, about his die-hard team, the Washington Redskins. Drew Barrymore’s friends are exactly like my friends, women who are smart and successful and a little bit neurotic, women who agonize about their men over glasses of wine. The Farrelly brothers, of Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber fame, pull off something I’d never believed them capable of: putting together a smart, sweet, heartfelt romantic comedy that pitches the perfect balance between those two words. Add the 2004 Boston Red Sox to the mix –- with additional cameos by Johnny Damon, Trot Nixon, and even Jason Varitek –- and you’ve got the perfect movie.
There’s been a lot of things about baseball, particularly in the last year, that haven’t made me feel too proud about my obsession (some examples: steroids, disgustingly explosive player salaries, shameless corporate sponsorship, the continued dominance of the New York Yankees). So it’s nice, particularly now, at the cusp of this brand-new season where everyone has hope, to have a movie that reminds me of all the reasons why I am a fan.
Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
4.15.05 @ 10:08a
See... there's two magical words that explain why I don't want to see this movie: Jimmy Fallon.
I really can't stand him. I'd rather watch Will Ferrell, and that's saying something.
Can I see the movie with someone else playing the lead character?
4.15.05 @ 11:01a
Sure! Colin Firth.
4.15.05 @ 12:17p
Go Yankees. Money doesn't buy love or championships in baseball. Good coaching and team chemistry win, and we all know in the post season the deepest bullpen takes the cake. Boston proved that last year. (finally and they had to win 4 games straight)
I live in New York so I can't help being a Yankees fan, but I did spend a couple years in Beantown. I used to live in the Fens within walking distance of the ballpark. So I felt a few mixed emotions last year, but after that fan popped Gary Sheffield in the face last night it's war!!
4.15.05 @ 1:13p
The Cattle Killing is a beast of a book to try to read at a baseball game.
Michelle, your description of the movie makes me almost willing to see it. Except that I, too, hate Jimmy Fallon. Maybe I'll make a compromise and wait until I can rent it.
4.15.05 @ 1:59p
sigh Your constant referrels to ex-Indians torment me. A Thome jersey is Phillies gear! Dave Roberts and Manny. Very well, I'll see it, but only so can I prove my point that Major League is the greatest baseball movie of all time!
Oh yeah, I'm sure you realize that Aaron Boone is a Tribesman? Be seein' ya later this season, foxy Soxy!
4.19.05 @ 5:14p
My God, this is a fabulous column.
Says I, nonfanatical about any sports team. You make -me- want to see the damn thing.
4.20.05 @ 3:55p
SportsGuy's review of Fever Pitch, followed by his wife's review. I think this column pretty fairly sums up the disparity between a girl who loves the movie, even if she is a diehard Sox fan like Michelle, and a guy who objects to it.
Here it is.