Just wait till next year!

Plenty has changed over the course of a month. Life as we knew it has stopped. After a brief pause to regroup, some monumental restrictions have been enacted that will prolong our return to normal.

Megan Ellis photo

But we will return to normal. That’s the good news. The bad news is: Sports of all kinds are on season-ending hold, and that means baseball, too.

America’s pastime has been interrupted. For many of us living in Maine, that means Red Sox Nation is silent. Fenway Park will remain shuttered, the stands empty and clean — no empty popcorn boxes, beer cups, hot dog wrappers or peanut bags — no trash of any kind to be picked up.

The song “Sweet Caroline” for the moment will only reside in our minds, “Oh-Oh-Oh” and scorecards will remain unblemished of pencil and erasure marks. The oldest ballpark in the nation is closed; its ghosts will sit and wait till next season.

Growing up in Pennsylvania I was — by family constraints — conditioned to be a Phillies fan. I played Little League for a time as a catcher. I attended a few Phillies games when I was a kid and had an autographed Johnny Callison bat.

I also remember traveling to the Bronx to see a double-header between the Yankees and the Washington Senators. I will never forget seeing Mickey Mantle standing at the top of the dugout smiling, bat on shoulder, cap tilted back on his head—a god in the eyes of any eight-year-old, no matter where you were from.

I became a Red Sox fan when I was 12 years old because of Barry Shuey. He was the son of my mom’s best friend, Mary, and he could talk baseball like no one could when he and his mom would visit from New York. Yes, New York!

His smile and gregarious ways were a delight, and about every other word he spouted was about the Red Sox. Over the years, our chats would revolve around players, stats, games and plenty of heartache. It was because of Barry and his constant Red Sox rhetoric that I became a disciple of it all. I would sop it up as much as he could spew it out, plus the team’s logo, “red socks,” I thought was much cooler than that of the Phillies.

Barry passed away much too soon, but I think of him every time I step into Fenway Park or watch a Sox game on TV. His uplifting persona and one-of-a-kind laugh are hugging heaven’s corners, and undoubtedly he continues to convert a multitude of angels into Red Sox fans.

People are what make sports special. If people cannot be together to enjoy it, then sports must take a seat and wait it out. Barry’s absence cannot be filled, but baseball will return, when we do.

For any average fan of the game, whether they love or hate the Red Sox, they know about the history of the Red Sox. The “curse”, the almost moments, crazy wins, excruciating losses; the Buckner bobble, Yaz and The Splendid Splinter himself, Ted Williams; and, of course, that historic mind-willing wave by Carlton Fisk pleading for a fair ball; the Red Sox are legendary.

And they know, too, that the best baseball to watch is played between the Sox and Yankees. There is no substitute, win or lose, no better baseball played but between those two teams. It is a rivalry for the ages as has oft been quoted by many who have played the game or been involved in some way with America’s pastime.

My very first Red Sox game, which I attended at Fenway, was in 1991. They played the Yankees. I sat 10 rows back behind the Red Sox dugout and watched Roger Clemons pitch a 2-0 win against Sanderson. It was then that this team’s lore melted into my bones, along with the park’s sights, sounds and smells, and well before that raucous sing-a-long with Neil Diamond in the eighth inning became a game staple.

My wife and I have since been to many games at Fenway and have always sat in a different area of the ballpark. There is no bad seat in Fenway, I would always tell others, just as long as you are there with the other 30,000 fans, perhaps with the exception of that seat way back behind Pesky’s Pole, squished under a TV monitor with a girder directly in front of us. But it was OK. Heck, it was game two of the 2007 World Series and Curt Schilling was on the mound.

So for the time being I will continue to make do by watching games from the past. Reruns of momentous comebacks, gut-wrenching losses and, of course, the entire — now historic — 2004 ALCS against the Yankees. The challenge we face as a nation today cannot stop memories of baseball from seeping in to provide a soothing balm for the moment. It cannot stop wins and losses and it certainly cannot stop Dave Roberts from, again, stealing second in game four. We will persevere.

We, together, will ultimately win out; yet it will take time. And that’s OK. As a Red Sox Nation, we have been here before and have said it countless times: “Just wait till next year.”

RJ Heller

About RJ Heller

Having arrived here from Pennsylvania over four years ago, there has been plenty to learn and even more to observe. This place is different, but I mean that in a good way. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, I am a college graduate with a teaching degree, a business founder and seller, and a father of two children with my wife Stephanie; life has been full and somewhat adventurous, but finding Maine remains a high watermark in my life.