A week in the life of a baseball fan

Some weeks are momentous. Like when the Red Sox won the World Series after an 86-year drought. Some weeks are memorable. Like when Clay Buchholz threw the no-hitter in his second major league start. And some weeks are just absurd. Like when Kevin Youkilis raced around the basepaths to beat out an inside-the-park homer.

This was not one of those weeks. This is a random, average, forgettable week in the life of a random, average, forgettable fan.

My name is Roel Torres. Welcome to my life.

Day One
Friday, July 18, 2008
Boston (57-40) at Anaheim (57-38)

I get home from work, and I feel like an addict waiting to feed his habit. Tonight marks the end of the All-Star break for Boston, the longest stretch of days without a regular season Sox game in almost four months, since March 30. And it’s a little pathetic how much I missed it. Not just the games, but also the post-games, the highlights, the write-ups, and the reports—all the accompanying ways I can fill up my time with baseball when the sport is in season. The All-Star break was like the Sahara, vast and barren without any means of sustenance. All rooting momentum dies during the All-Star break. I don’t know why everyone can’t see that.

Tonight’s scheduled game is a good one. It’s a battle of the two best teams in the American League. Their combined record at the All-Star break is 114-78, for a cumulative .594 winning percentage. It’s a good tilt. Both teams are in first place in their respective divisions, and the Sox can thank a Tampa Bay seven-game losing streak right before the break for their half-game lead.

But the Angels drain a lot of the suspense out of the match-up. The game is largely over by the fifth. Starting for Boston, Buchholz gets roughed up, giving up eight runs in four and two-thirds. He’s looked bad all year. Buchholz is young and there’s hope for him, but it’s been a disappointing season. Garret Anderson in particular looks unstoppable, going four-for-four. Talk about an underappreciated player. According to Baseball-reference.com, Anderson has an 889 similarity score with Tony Perez, and has an 882 comp score with Kirby Puckett, but do you think of him in the same way? I sure don’t.

The Angels score seven runs between the fifth and sixth innings. The Sox hurlers surrender 14 hits. That’s plenty. Coupled with Tampa Bay’s victory, the Sox slide into second. At least baseball’s back.

Final score: Angels 11, Red Sox 3

Day Two
Saturday July 19, 2008
Boston (57-41) at Anaheim (58-38)

For the last month, ever since I’ve started writing for Bill James Online, my weekends have been spent watching baseball, reading about baseball, and writing about baseball. And if you feel like that’s a one-dimensional life, I won’t put up an argument.

Josh Beckett takes the mound for the Sox tonight, which is always good news. The man carried the team on his back last year in the march to the World Series. He’s young and fearless and he radiates confidence on the mound. He’s an ace, and he knows it.

Youk slams a two-run homer in the second to give Boston the lead. Beckett is in fine form and keeps the Angels scoreless on four hits through six. He’s dealing tonight.

But the Angels don’t care. The wheels fall off for the Sox in the seventh. Vlad leads the inning off with a homer. He seriously looks half-crippled out there. But clearly he can still mash. Erick Aybar follows up by touching Beckett with a one-out, bases-clearing triple. That’s all the offense Los Angeles needs. Aybar is one of those pesky, athletic middle infielders that the Angels seem to mass manufacture down in some unmarked Southern California baseball factory. If you need one, just ask. They’ve got spares.

Jose Arredondo picks up the win for the Angels. And it occurs to me that I have no idea who the hell he is. How did that happen?

You know, I’ve never liked the way the Angels are built. Too many singles hitters, too dependent on batting average, not enough power in the middle of the order. But looking at this team, I’m starting to suspect they’re a notch above previous incarnations. Their staff can pitch, one through five in the rotation. And it helps to have K-Rod at the end. That dude is money.

Final score: Angels 4, Red Sox 2

Day Three
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Boston (57-42) at Anaheim (59-38)

The Sox send Tim Wakefield to the mound to try to avoid the sweep, opposed on the hill by Jon Garland. This is what the back end of the rotation looks like for good teams. Guys who can still give you innings, guys who can still get you wins.

In the second inning, it looks like it might be a long night for Boston as the first two batters of the inning, Vlad and Torii Hunter, go deep on consecutive pitches. Ouch. But as is often the case with Wakefield, it’s just a quick anomaly and he goes back to retiring the side with regularity.

In the seventh, Vlad misplays a routine fly ball for his first error of the year and Coco Crisp scores on the play. That’s the break the Sox needed. They take the lead into the eighth, 3-2. Boston looks like it’s going to pull this one out. The Sox have made a habit of winning games like this under Terry Francona’s watch.

But Boston’s problematic bullpen can’t hold. It’s been a sore spot all year, unable to replicate the dominance that made the Sox World Champs in 2007. Manny Delcarmen gives up the decisive shot, a deep double to Casey Kotchman that plates Howie Kendrick and Chone Figgins. It’s 5-3 Angels. Goodbye, Boston lead. Hello, Francisco Rodriguez.

K-Rod picks up his second save in two nights, and his 40th of the season (out of 43 chances). He does it in style, striking out the side in the ninth. Apparently, he’s the fastest to 40 saves in the game’s history. Faster even than Stan Belinda? I know. It’s hard to imagine.

The Angels have come out of the break like a house on fire. They are straight ballin’. Uh, strike that. I should never use a term like straight ballin’. I’m not even sure what it means. I’m not very urban.

In contrast, the Sox look a little rough. Three games, three losses. Swept. Thanks to the All-Star break, the Sox haven’t won a game in a week. And it doesn’t escape me that the reason I am sitting around watching the Sox lose their third straight lifeless game is that I don’t have anything else to do. I think back to when Nicole and I would do crossword puzzles together at night, or Kristen and I would hang out reading together, but all that seems like a long time ago. I’m old. And I’m lonely. But I have baseball. I just wish the Sox would win one at some point.

(Huh. I think about the things I’m writing, and I wonder whether it’s all such a good idea. Once you publish something—once you post it on the Internet and release it to the world—there are no more closely guarded secrets, no hidden, private pieces of information. It all becomes public knowledge, with your name attached to it. Sometimes, it’s better to stay quiet. Some thoughts are really meant to stay trapped in your head.)

Final score: Angels 5, Red Sox 3

Day Four
Monday, July 21, 2008
Boston (57-43) at Seattle (38-60)

I meet with Bill James for the first time this afternoon. He asks me, “How many games have you been to this year?” I tell him, “Zero. None. I haven’t been to a game.” I am forced to admit this while sitting in his office in Fenway Park. I feel naked, exposed. It’s hard to establish any credibility as a knowledgeable baseball fan (with Bill James, for cripes sake!) when you don’t actually, you know, go to any ballgames. Great. Just great.

But later that night, I turn on the TV. It’s not a flat-screen TV. It’s not a hi-def TV. It’s a stupid little tube TV that cost about $400 five years ago. And that’s fine. This is how I catch my games. This is how I watch baseball. Not with a crowd, and hot dog vendors, and outdoors in the open air. No. I sit home, alone, on my couch, watching the game on a low-rent screen all by myself. That’s my life. And I almost feel like I should apologize for it. But I’m not really sure who would take my apology.

This is a good game for the Sox, a chance to build some momentum. The Mariners represent the other end of the spectrum from the Angels. While Los Angeles has the best record in the league, Seattle has the worst. The Mariners sit at 38-60 coming into the game and it’s just a terrible trainwreck of a season, hard to comprehend on almost every level. Their offense is bad. Their pitching is bad. Their front office and management are bad. And their farm system is pathetic. It’s a sad situation for the good folks of Seattle, but it’s a perfect recipe for the Sox.

Jon Lester pitches seven and a third shutout innings and runs his record to 8-3. It’s a homecoming game for him, and it’s a lovely performance. He’s getting better as the year goes on, finding new strength every day that he’s a step further away from the cancer. Jason Varitekpops a two-run homer that holds up. Tonight, against a far less imposing lineup, the bullpen holds up its end of the bargain. The punchless Mariners get shut out, and The Sox re-visit the W column.

Final score: Red Sox 4, Mariners 0

Day Five
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Boston (58-43) at Seattle (38-61)

I get home after a long day at work. Tuesdays are always rough because I need to straighten out our departmental payroll. Trying to fix everyone’s paychecks is far and away the most stressful part of my job. And it never goes smoothly. Never. Every week, there is some new and disturbing problem. People being underpaid. People being overpaid. People not being paid at all. I’ve quit my job in the past because of all the payroll stress. It’s really that bad.

But when I catch the game, a lot of that stress melts away. I don’t worry about overtime premium payments or vacation accruals. I get caught up in wondering how R.A. Dickey is going to fare against the Sox lineup, or how Dice-K is going to pitch Ichiro (which means I have something in common with the majority of the island nation of Japan).

Dice-K pitches a beauty, but we might have to discount it because the Seattle starting lineup is littered with names like Vidro, Reed, Clement, Betancourt and LaHair. Once again, I have no idea who Bryan LaHair is. After some cursory research, I am pleased to discover that he comes from my hometown of Worcester, Mass. Sweet. Represent! LaHair picks up a single in three at-bats and raises his career average in the majors to .111.

Hits are scarce for the Mariners all night, as Dice-K holds them to two hits in the first seven innings. Over the last two nights, the Mariners hitters have made Lester and Matsuzaka look like the second coming of Spahn and Sain. Or Koufax and Drysdale. Something like that. I don’t know. I’m not good with historical comps. The point is, Lester and Dice-K are good, but they’re not that good.

As a matter of fact, Dice-K kinda drives me nuts. After tonight, he’s 11-1 with a 2.63 ERA. I know that statistically it sure looks like he’s having an amazing, dominant season. But he isn’t. Trust me on this, he’s not. All season long, he’s pitched tentatively, had serious control issues, walked batters with maddening frequency, and can’t seem to put hitters away. Of course, against an impatient lineup like Seattle’s, those factors never come into play. So it’s all good, I guess.

So that’s day five. We’re almost done with my week, and I wonder if I should start coming up with something more exciting to report. Something good. I could make up a story about my life to impress you. I could do that, you know. I’m in control. I’m the one writing this thing. I can say whatever I want, I can portray myself any way I like. I could tell you that some cute girl was coming over to hang out with me. Or I could say that I made a lot of money playing a big hand of online poker. Sure, poker. That’s pretty plausible. I’ve done that before. Just not recently. Not now. Not while writing this thing.

The thing is, I don’t even know you. Any of you. And even if you folks were impressed with me, it wouldn’t make my life any better. I don’t see how it could. Instead, I would be aware that I was making up lies and trying to make myself look better. And I think I’m too old and too tired to do that. I don’t have the energy for that kind of game anymore. It’s a miracle that I ever did.

Final score: Red Sox 4, Mariners 2

Day Six
Wednesday, July 23
Boston (59-43) at Seattle (38-62)

Day six of this journal. Game six of Boston’s roadtrip. I’m exhausted. Exhausted because I work at Harvard all day. Exhausted because I write for Bill James Online all night. Exhausted because I’ve spent the last couple of nights watching baseball past one in the morning. That’s vicious. I don’t understand these West Coast swings. How are we supposed to watch these games? I could do this back when I was 16. Pull all-nighters then laugh it off the next day. But I’m not 16 anymore. So I’m exhausted. There’s no laughing now.

King Felix is starting for the Mariners. He is a flat-out stud. You could build a team around this guy. You really could. But apparently, Seattle has no intention of doing so. I was at Fenway last year (that’s right, Bill James, I was at the park! For a game!) when Felix and Dice-K matched up early in the season. It was the first Fenway start in Dice-K’s career, and anticipation was running high to see the $51 million dollar import. But King Felix stole the show. He carried a no-hitter into the eighth, before finishing up with a one-hit complete game. The kid was nasty, and he lived up to all his prolific advance hype. Which makes me wonder—why isn’t Felix Hernandez a more consistent winner? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because he just turned 22? Seems reasonable.

The starting matchup is Felix v. Buchholz. There’s a chance these guys could be pitching in the league for the next 15 years. (For the record, that would put them in the middle the 2023 regular season. Just to put things into perspective.)

Both young starters pitch decently, each giving up three runs before getting the hook. Neither figures in the decision, and the score is knotted 3-3 after regulation, so we go into extra innings. The key play of the game comes in the 12th inning when Youkilis hits a line drive to Willie Bloomquist, who was moved to center field for defensive purposes back in the ninth. Bloomquist has the ball bounce off the palm of his glove, and the Sox end up loading the bases due to the miscue. A couple of clutch base hits from Mike Lowell and Sean Casey bring home three more Boston runs. Craig Hansen gets the call in the bottom of the 12th and holds the Mariners scoreless to secure the victory.

The Sox end their road trip by sweeping the Mariners. Oh, and it’s my birthday. I turn 36. According to Wikipedia, I share the birthday of Pee Wee Reese, Don Imus, Woody Harrelson, Slash, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Gary Payton, Stephanie Seymour, Marlon Wayans, Nomar Garciaparra, Omar Epps, Monica Lewinsky, Terry Glenn, Maurice Greene, Judit Polgar, Brandon Roy and Daniel Radcliffe. (Plus the pro wrestlers Al Perez, Sonny Siaki, and the leader of Los Perros del Mal, Perro Aguayo Jr.)

No cake, no gathering, no party. But the Sox won. So that’s good.

Final score: Red Sox 6, Mariners 3

Day Seven
Thursday, July 24

Off day, no game for the Red Sox.

That’s day seven. A full week. Let’s take a look at the final tally. Three-game winning streak. Three-game losing streak. And a birthday. The Sox lost the games against the good team. And they won the ones against the bad one. Pretty straightforward. We really should wrap it up. Hell, I’m not sure how you managed to make it this far. But thanks, I guess.

Okay. So you’ve been reading this, and I’m trying to think of what I should tell you, trying to figure what I should say. What have we learned here, what did we gain from this exercise? A week of baseball games. A rambling collection of my thoughts. I guess I’ll try to summarize, for whatever it’s worth. Here we go:

Our lives carry on without us. We have weeks that are momentous. Like the birth of your first child. We have weeks are memorable. Like when you graduated high school. And we have some weeks that are just absurd. Like when you locked your keys in the car in the middle of winter and had to call Triple-A to let you in. Those weeks are rare. They are highlights and lowlights and defining moments. This is not one of those weeks.

Most weeks are random, average, and forgettable. You pass your days, killing time. Nothing special happens, nothing tragic. And that’s how we build our lives. Not with the magical and the wondrous, but with the typical and the mundane. They are our building blocks, our foundation, our glue. These weeks are not disposable. No. They are necessary. Necessary. And how we choose to fill those spaces determines the course of our lives. Are you grateful this week? Ecstatic? Bitter? Lonely? I don’t know. I don’t know you. I’m not going to tell you how you should feel.

But if you decide to fill those weeks with baseball, maybe your life will be a little richer, a little more joyous. The crack of the bat. The hard-breaking curve. The rookie who might grow up to be a star someday. That’s the nature of baseball. Every week. It’s always there. It’s always there for you. When you fill your week with baseball, baseball will always find a way to give something back. It will. I promise.

Yeah. That’s it. So. I don’t know if you thought this essay was okay. I hope that you didn’t mind reading it too much. I did the best I could.

That’s all I’ve got. Farewell, Godspeed.

And good luck on your next week.

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