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Six vexing seasons. Ha. Try 95

Published October 2, 2003

We are, one might suggest, a bunch of wimps.

Thinking we know what it means to suffer. Claiming to understand disappointment. We watch the Devil Rays stumble through six seasons and, just like that, figure we have a handle on misery.

What we should have realized is we have not yet begun to suffer. And we barely are acquainted with disappointment. Watching six seasons of losing baseball should not even get us through the psychiatrist's door.

In other words, we're not Cubs fans.

Furthermore, we're not even Red Sox fans.

There is a difference, you know. When we are annoyed, they are outraged. When we feel let down, they feel heartbroken. When we are watching Will & Grace, they are at the ballpark.

This is October's lesson. So watch, listen and let it sink in. Pay attention to the uneasy hope in Chicago. Look for the rare trust in Boston.

Then you might recognize the face of passion and the look of longing.

My, this is great theater. The team cursed by a billy goat and the franchise haunted by a fat man. The National League contender in a 95-year slump and the American League hopeful in an 85-year dry spell.

There are grandparents in Chicago who have never seen the Cubs in the World Series. And they should count themselves lucky. The older folk in New England have seen their Red Sox reach the World Series four times in the past 60 or so years and, each time, lose Game 7.

This is devotion without cause. This is love minus hugs. These are fans who can wish with the best and live with the worst.

Say you're still angry the Rays let Bobby Abreu get away for a mediocre shortstop who lasted no more than a couple of seasons? Try trading Lou Brock, as the Cubs did, for a pitcher who would go 7-19 and never be seen again.

Say you're angry Rays ownership was too cheap to draft Mark Teixeira and took Dewon Brazelton instead? How about an owner in Boston selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees because he was low on cash.

Say you have invested six full seasons in the Rays with little to show for it? Since winning the World Series in 1908, the Cubs have played 14,614 regular season games. And they have yet to win another Series.

What's the point, you ask?

Simply this:

Baseball fans, particularly those in Boston and Chicago, understand the game's lure. It is victories and championships, yes, but it also is loyalty and commitment. It is not, like the NFL, a week-to-week relationship. It is day to day and year to year. It spans lifetimes and it spans generations.

It is first shared, then handed down from parent to child. And it never goes out of style.

This is what we have yet to grasp in Tampa Bay, though it may not be our fault. The Rays have no history to draw from and have been clumsy in their efforts to create good will.

You might also argue the Rays have yet to offer much hope. That not only do our seasons end in darkness, but they usually begin in shadows.

Okay. Fair enough. But eventually, you may see, these early seasons are not dismal memories but the prologue to an epic adventure.

There is passion in Boston, not because the Red Sox have won championships, but because they have not. Those fans value the postseason because they know how rarely the opportunity comes along.

That is why this postseason can be so special. Since the Red Sox and Cubs met in the 1918 World Series - Boston won in six games - neither has been called World Champion. In the 85 years that have passed, this is only the second time both have played in the same postseason.

And each, supposedly, has been doomed in otherworldly ways.

For Boston, it is the curse of the Bambino. A hex that has reportedly haunted the franchise since the 25-year-old Ruth was sold to the Yankees after the 1919 season. At the time, Boston was a five-time World Series champion and the Yankees never had won. Since then, New York has won the World Series 26 times and the Red Sox have yet to prevail.

In Chicago, it is the billy goat curse that lives on. The Cubs were in the 1945 World Series when a local tavern owner was refused admittance to Wrigley Field because he brought his goat along. He allegedly vowed the Cubs would never again return to the World Series. So far, they have not.

Silly? Of course. Apocryphal? Absolutely.

But they are also a part of a shared history. A legacy that bonds a team and its fans. An explanation for the inexplicable odds that have kept Boston and Chicago from enjoying the ultimate success.

Maybe, for one franchise, this is the year it ends. Maybe the Red Sox finally win a Game 7. Maybe the Cubs are lovable losers no more.

And maybe, if we're lucky, we'll learn to suffer, too.

[Last modified October 2, 2003, 02:49:35]

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