As far as the Red Sox go, I’ve been a ludicrously lucky fan. When I first arrived in Boston the team had gone so long without winning the World Series the wait had long since been blamed on a curse. ‘The Curse of the Bambino:’ otherwise known as compelling proof that selling Babe Ruth to arch-rival Yankees was a bad bit of business. In 86 intervening years, New York notched up 26 titles to Boston’s zero. Me, I had to wait about five weeks before having cause to celebrate. Then another three years until the Red Sox won the World Series again.
For the victorious 2007 season, I even got to live roughly three Big Papi long-balls from Fenway Park. When good things were happening, I could hear it through the window; when a jet plane flyover ushered in Opening Day, my floorboards shook before I saw it on the tele… The Red Sox were my team, alright, and I knew they always would be.
But how to pick a single favorite player from such an embarrassment of riches?
At the peak of my consumption (2007: borderline addicted), it probably would have been closer Jonathan Papelbon. Time after time after time catcher Varitek would call for the high rising fastball and time after time after time Paps would deliver: Swing and a miss, strike three! A pitch to make even the best hitters hapless, and, following the theatrical stare of its deliverer, exactly as effective as it always needed to be – with the game on the line and everyone expecting it.
At other times, David Ortiz has been more likeable still. A fearsome slugger, noted for his ‘bigness,’ whose mood and form uncannily seem to echo the team’s as a whole. The man responsible, too, for my favorite Red Sox moment: a thunderous Superman-style dive into 3rd base with the ball still well out of harm’s way in the outfield. Impossible to recall without smiling.
Or how about scrappy second baseman Dustin Pedroia (a priori scrappy, such that you can’t describe him otherwise)? Or an even younger Jacoby Ellsbury, a baserunner with such unnerving speed he was already dubbed the ‘human spark plug’ about four games into his major league career. Once upon a while, it could even have been Manny Ramirez – back when his swing made the highlight reel more often that ‘Manny being Manny’ made the news.
So many great players, and such an easy team to like. Paps is not quite the force he used to be, though, and nor, all things considered, is Big Papi either. Manny’s taken his arch craziness elsewhere and Ellsbury has been slowed by one sick note too many… Which leaves Pedroia and that other hustler I haven’t managed to mention yet, Kevin Youkilis.
It has to be the Youk. For treating each and every at-bat like the most precious commodity on earth. For being endlessly useful and underrated, when other players on other teams settle for the opposite. For playing a mean 1st base and never grumbling when he’s moved across to 3rd. For playing a mean 3rd base, even though he only ever plays there to cover injuries. For getting games won no matter how big a slog the season can be or how ace the opposition pitcher is. For incredible consistency and a laughable attachment to stupid facial hair.
Or, more simply put, for being the best player on a team full of heavyweights.