First day of fall: Reflections as the Red Sox close up shop


Baseball subsists in a bubble of nostalgia.

Look no further than the tools of the fandom: a radio and a scorecard. In stark contrast to the fleeting stimuli of the digital age, an afternoon spent listening to the faraway description of a ballgame or marking the passage of innings with a pencil takes patience, a virtue developed in a time when we didn’t download things – we held them in our hands.

Like trading cards.

And the intangibles weren’t visuals of the Green Monster emblazoned on an Instagram feed, they were memories we held in our heads.

Patience forges endurance. Baseball fans endure their season more than anything; the six-month daily grind rates an unfavorable comparison with the easily digestible 16-game season of football, where the fantasy roster is updated once a week and not in need of a daily babysitter. Much like our favorite team, we twist in the undulating rhythms of the season: temporarily buoyed by a walk-off, sunk when shut out; head above water for a gasp, then holding our breaths below (sometimes for longer than we would prefer, like during a 10-game losing streak).

September of 2014 is considerably different from the last. Sure, the city looks as it usually does this time of year. Both sharp-dressed and frumpy trudge over sidewalks and across intersections, eyes and ears glued to iPhones. The occasional passerby engages in loud conversation with himself.

New shocks of color appear in the trees around the Common. The days get shorter. But the magnetic center of the Hub is far from Fenway Park, as it had been last fall, when you couldn’t go more than a block without seeing some sign of support for the Olde Towne Team. The Pru saying “Go Sox” in lights. The buzz in the air, no matter where you were.

This September, with the Sox 25 games out of first, the city is largely apathetic toward a baseball team everyone had latched onto just 11 months ago.

The familiar tinge in the air isn’t just a product of my seasonal allergies, it’s the a strange comfort in other Septembers when the games didn’t matter as much, when I knew the summer had a hard and fast end date, while fans in longer sleeves in other cities chased dreams past the autumnal equinox and into the early-arriving October nights.

I remember 2006 and David Ortiz carrying a MASH unit to comeback victory after comeback victory, blasting a team record 54 home runs in the process. I remember 2012, when there wasn’t much to celebrate other than the fact that baseball was still an option, feebly stiff-arming the encroaching football season and chill weather as the radio signal went in and out at my South End apartment.

I reflect on the quiet and the noise. The whimper of the schedule and the chance of something of meaning in these last days, whether for a hopeful with his best days still ahead, or a lame duck veteran.

I look back while looking forward. I think of Tom Gordon‘s first steps as a dominant closer in ’97. Of Derek Lowe‘s three promising turns down the stretch in ’01, a harbinger of a 21-win campaign the next year. I think of Mike Greenwell‘s nine RBI game at the Kingdome in ’96, the capacity crowd that saluted Yaz the year I was born and the smattering of Fenway fans who really did see Ted Williams homer in his last at-bat.

This autumn, the breezes will gradually cool as in preceding years. But baseball won’t be there to stave off another Boston winter. Yawkey Way and Landsdowne Street will be quiet, save for the concert goers and tour groups. The 2014 season will crawl to a conclusion Sunday when the Derek Jeter Re2pect Captain Calm Eyes Intanglibles The Right Way Spectacular Extravaganza comes to its own merciful conclusion. I expect little more than red seats and lineups full of hopefuls and nobodies for the preceding series against the former Devil Rays.

And yet, I will hold onto these last vestiges of summer before I am resigned to five calendar flips and a refrain of “wait ’til next year,” until things start back up again in the spring.