FAITHFUL is Timeless
If I might steal and twist a line from Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller’s The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team (a fantastic book in it’s own right) you’re a Red Sox fan because you’re a Red Sox fan because you’re a Red Sox fan. The book Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season from Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King (yes that Stephen King) recounts the entire, and I mean entire, 2004 Major League season from spring training to the pennant race to the final out of the ’04 World Series. It has fantastic detail on some key wins (and losses) and really shines a light on the Red Sox fans at the time. Both men are huge (huge) Sox fans and it shows in their emails back and forth before and after games. They wrote the book as the season was happening, so it’s all fresh and unfiltered joy or cynicism depending on what game they’re reflecting on and where the Sox are in the AL (American League) East race.
It’s a book about being a Red Sox fan, until death, and what it meant to hang with a team through the wins and the losses. It’s a book that chronicles real, die-hard fans that remember the blown wins of eras past (more often than not 1986 and the year before in 2003) and struggle with cheering for a team that hasn’t won the World Series, at that point, since 1918. Even though we’re now twelve years (and two more championships, 2007 and 2013) removed from the time this book describes, you can feel every heart breaking moment and every uplifting one as well. Even if you didn’t play close attention to baseball in 2004 (or ever) it’s one of those books that brings the game, from a fan’s perspective, to life in a big way.
Stephen King is funny; I mean down right hilarious. I can’t say that I’d ever really realized that before, but more than once he had me cracking up at my desk or some little comment in his section of the journal (for lack of a better term). He’d been watching the Sox a long, long time and had practically seen it all up to that point. He was maybe slightly less optimistic than his counterpart at times but that comes with the territory of a Sox fan that had been let down so damn many times in the past. His sections were certainly a highlight of the book (take nothing away from O’Nan) and definitely played well against more of the play-by-play focused O’Nan sections.
Stewart O’Nan, while maybe more play-by-play than King, felt more like a typical, Red Sox crazed fan. Maybe it’s King’s status in the world as a famous, extremely talented and successful write (again take nothing away from O’Nan) but the two almost seemed like they were drifting to two opposite ends of the spectrum. Where O’Nan would always be early for batting practise to catch fly balls — at one point with a large fishing net, I kid you not — and then attempt to get them signed by players, King felt more reserved. Though, of course, no less die-hard than O’Nan.
The plays described, from both men, are brilliant and even had me youtubing some moments to relive them (like the A-Rod slap of Bronson Arroyo’s arm as he went to tag him out in the ALCS, trying to cheat his way into first, safe. Damned Yankees) Both writers personalities blazed off the pages and both complimented the other. The bond shared between Red Sox fans — dare I say between baseball fans — is eternal. The bond shared over mutual hatred for the then “Evil Empire” (aka New York Yankees, who are still very much evil) was strong as well. Reading, and remembering, the AL East race between these two juggernauts was agonizing, even if everybody knows who wins in the end.
Faithful is a book that was perfectly timed to coincide with the Red Sox win (as was the movie Fever Pitch that had to change it’s ending when the unlikely Sox won the Series) and one wonders how the book would have ended if the Sox had fallen to the Evil Empire in four or five games instead of becoming the first Major League team to crawl back from an 0–3 deficit in the Postseason to win and move on. It’s storybook, it’s fairytail, it’s the stuff of legends but the Red Sox won in 2004 and both O’Nan and King did a remarkable job putting themselves and their sicknesses out there for the world to read, when it comes to their beloved Red Sox. This is a book that will undoubtedly stand the test of time and one that I know, at some point down the line, I will have to revisit.