On the night of October 16, 2003, despite warnings from my father to just go to bed when the game went into extra innings (what, and miss reversing the Curse?!?!), I stayed up to watch the Boston Red Sox lose to the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS.
That night, I was up until 4 AM listening to the aftermath and crying myself to sleep. I slept in my Red Sox hat, and wandered around school like a zombie the next day (luckily, I had a lot of company).
That game had a lot of meaning for me.
I had always really liked baseball, or at least, I'd liked it since I was 11 and I fell in love with watching Pedro Martinez pitch. (Regardless of how much of an egomaniac he is, he's still my favorite athlete ever and I doubt anything will ever change that. I don't think we ever can be as enamored as we are with the sports heroes of our early youth.) But 2003 brought it to another dimension with the coming of the North Shore Spirit. I experienced baseball on a truly personal level, and that summer of 2003, baseball became my world.
So, in addition to carrying the hopes and dreams of Red Sox Nation (a term that had not yet become part of the regional vernacular), the Sox also were my way of keeping alive the emotional and magical summer of 2003. It was my link to the Spirit and my last hope before the long, dark winter.
When it all came crashing down that night, and I heard Joe Castiglione read that famous poem by Bart Giamatti about how baseball is 'designed to break your heart,' all ties were lost to the summer. The dawn of MLB spring training would be my first connection to the Spirit... but that was still months away. It was a crappy feeling, to be sure.
Of course, that wasn't the only reason why it was devastating. I also loved that group of Red Sox - Todd Walker, Nomar, Papi, (of course) Pedro, Millar, Mueller. They had the most dramatic season ever, which only furthered my baseball addiction in the summer of 2003.
The 2003 MLB playoffs were also my first experience with the raw excitement that comes with the communal aspect of sports. It seemed like EVERYONE IN THE WORLD was watching the Sox playoff games, living and dying with them. The weekend when the Sox stormed back from an 0-2 deficit was simply electric. I naively believed that there was no way those Red Sox could lose to the damn Yankees.
Importantly, 2003 was also my generation's official membership ticket into the fellowship of broken-hearted Red Sox fans. Without 2003, our generation could not have fully appreciated 2004. So in retrospect, I'm thankful that it was so painful. Even though I'd only been around for 16 years when the Sox won the World Series in 2004, because of how awful '03 was, I felt justified in feeling like the World Series victory was relief from a long period of misery.
A few days before the 2004 playoffs started, I was in the car with my Dad when I said "oh my god, I just realized that we are days or weeks away from something huge." We were inevitably about to face yet another brutal, heart-breaking disappointment - or, elation like never before seen in Boston sports.
Since that time, it's how I've always viewed the start of the playoffs/tournament/whatever.
Now, it's time for the 2007 playoffs - keeping alive the final summer of Spirit baseball. And while my interest for baseball certainly won't fade without the Spirit being around next summer, it will certainly feel a lot less personal. So this is a pretty big deal to me.
As fans, we've sealed our own fate: we are unavoidably emotionally tied to the results of these games, for better or for worse. And in the next few weeks, we will either face heartbreak or absolute unreal elation. There really is no in-between.
And we wouldn't have it any other way.