Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lessons Learned

For those of you poor souls who inexplicably are *not* baseball fans ;-P, the Red Sox lost Game 3 of the World Series last night on a call - obstruction of a base runner - that had never ended a World Series game in its 109-year history.

One of the Boston sportswriters summed up the consensus here: the rule as written makes no sense, but it *is* the rule and it *was* applied correctly. (BTW, in spite of the well-earned reputation of Red Sox fans as insufferable whiners, I have yet to hear a single person argue otherwise.) 

Sports fans here in New England are drawing comparisons to another play in another sport (football - American football, for non-North Americans) that also involved a Boston team. In that case it was the New England Patriots. They wound up getting a second chance to win a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders in the 2002 AFC wild card game because the referees correctly applied what is known as the "tuck" rule. 

The details of the rule, and when it was applied, aren't really relevant for this post. What is relevant is that the rule, as written, defied common sense once you looked at it closely - but it *was* the rule. And the referees called it correctly as the rule stood then. (I think it was eliminated as a result of that game, but I could be wrong. I'm not really a football fan.)

I guess the point is, you play within the rules; sometimes, as they did for the Red Sox, they do you in. Other times, as they did for the Patriots, they give you a second life.

Before 2004, when the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 - yes, 86 - years, I would have been certain that this single call in last night's game foretold certain doom for them.

Their previous trip to the World Series, in 1986, illustrates why. 

In hindsight, it also reveals quite a bit about the person I was then.

And my belief that it means nothing more than one loss reveals a great deal about the person I am now - in part because of lessons I learned from that 1986 Red Sox team.

That 1986 Red Sox team was literally one strike away from winning the World Series, four games to two.

But they lost.

Just as they had lost in every similar instance since 1918, the last time they had won a World Series to that point. And they would seemingly always lose in the most horrific, wrenching manner possible.

I watched Game 6 with my family. And I distinctly remember turning to all of them when the Red Sox called in hard-luck reliever Bob Stanley - a New England native (of course) - in the bottom of ninth inning in Game 6 and declaring, matter-of-factly, "the Red Sox just lost the World Series." 

Game 6 wasn't even over yet, the Red Sox still had the lead, and they still had a Game 7 even if they did...

But I just KNEW.

And I was right.

Poor Stanley threw a pitch that got past catcher Rich Gedman - another New England native (of course) - and let in the tying run.

And shortly after that was the infamous ground ball past poor Bill Buckner. (No need to relive that horror.)

What strikes me now in looking back is that utter certainty I had that they would lose. And that there was nothing to be done about it, that larger forces were at play that simply could not be overcome.

I can see now why I felt that way at the time.

I could not face who I was. 

I could do nothing about it.

I was utterly certain that my life story was going to resemble that history of the Red Sox up to that point: suffering, pain, and the occasional glimmer of false hope - hope that was then dashed, in the cruelest way possible.

Heartache and pain were the only certainties.

At the time, and for most of my life afterwards, those seemed to be the lessons I learned from that 1986 Red Sox team.

But there are sometimes other, truer, lessons that we learn, even if we are not aware that we are doing so at the time.


You discover a great deal about a person's character, and who they really are, in the way that they conduct themselves after what is likely one of the most painful moments of their life.

In addition to the memories of what took place on the field, I also have distinct memories of what took place *after* the game, as the players faced the media.

Both pitcher Stanley and catcher Gedman were interviewed, separately.

Each insisted - vehemently - that *they* and they alone were at fault when Stanley's pitch eluded Gedman.

Stanley stated flatly that it was a wild pitch - that is, a bad pitch thrown by the pitcher (him) that the catcher (Gedman) had no chance to catch.

For his part, Gedman stated flatly that is was a passed ball - that is, a good pitch from the pitcher (Stanley) that the catcher (him) failed to handle properly.

Even more remarkable: they became even *more* insistent when told by reporters that the other player was trying to absolve them of responsibility.

Each took responsibility for their actions, and insisted on protecting their teammate.

*Those* are the lessons I now see most truly resonate with me.

When faced with a challenge, no matter how difficult, you work as hard as you can possibly can to overcome it. Sometimes you cannot, or you can only overcome what you are capable of overcoming.

By accepting responsibility for what you can overcome, and recognizing what you cannot, you can move forward knowing you did the best you could. And you can face future, perhaps greater challenges, knowing you have done so in the past and can do so again.

I only have to look to a later Red Sox team in a similar situation to see what can happen when you do so.


The 2003 Red Sox lost a heart-breaking American League Championship Series to their hated rivals, the New York Yankees.

They lost in extra innings in the seventh and final game after surrendering a large late-game lead, when pitcher Tim Wakefield gave up the series-winning homer.

Wakefield had been picked up, almost literally as an afterthought, by the Red Sox nearly a decade before, and quickly endeared himself to  Red Sox fans for his willingness to put aside his personal goals and do what is best for the team. 

He did some time after time over the course of his career, agreeing to work as a reliever when needed, starting games on short rest to help when the team was short of pitchers, and many more instances.

My sister C worked at Children's Hospital in Boston at the time. She often talks about the countless hours he (and many other players, I should add) spent, and still spend, at the hospital, visiting sick children, often calling from the road to ask after particular favorites. And he, like nearly all of the players, only ask in return that they do NOT get any publicity for doing so.

His actions in the final game of that series make sense in that context. Even though he was a starting pitcher, he offered to come into the game at that late point because the team was running out of pitchers, and he knew he was needed.

It seemed cruel that he was the pitcher who gave up that home run.

He said later that he was certain he would never be able to show his face again in Boston, a city he had come to love and embrace, marrying a Boston native and making his year-round home here.

But the opposite happened.

He said he was overwhelmed that entire off-season by the number of fans who would approach him, unbidden, to  thank him, offer consolation, and express their respect for him. 

He won the award given to the player recognizing them for their charitable activities that off-season. When he came to the podium to accept it at the awards dinner in Boston, he was greeted with a spontaneous, prolonged standing ovation that left him overcome at the podium.

It is not surprising then, that he would play a key role in the remarkable story of the 2004 Red Sox team - or that he would do so by being true to his quiet, unassuming character.


That 2004 team changed everything. 

They pulled off an historic comeback against near impossible odds. 

They were down three games to none in a best-of-seven series against, yet again, the New York Yankees. 

They had been defeated - humiliated, really - 9-8, in Game 3, at home.

They were trailing again, 4-3, going into the bottom of the ninth inning.

They were down to their final at-bats

They were facing the best relief pitcher in history, Mariano Rivera. 

And... they came back.

The Red Sox leadoff hitter, Kevin Millar, drew a walk to start the inning. 

The Red Sox then made the pivotal move.

They replaced Millar with Dave Roberts, who came into the game as a pinch-runner.

Roberts - a player acquired mid-season specifically for an instance when the Red Sox absolutely HAD to steal a base - was called up to do just that. 

When EVERYONE - on both teams, in the park, and watching on TV - *knew* he going to try to do just that.

And... he did it.

He then scored the tying run when he singled home by Bill Mueller.

The Red Sox then won the game in the 12th inning, when David Ortiz hit a towering home run to send everyone home after five exhausting hours.

How does Tim Wakefield figure into this narrative, you wonder?

He was scheduled to start Game 4 for the Red Sox.

But the previous night, during the 19-8 pounding, he volunteered, unbidden, to enter the game when the Red Sox already trailed 11-6. By doing so, he gave up his Game 4 start to prevent the Red Sox from having to use their relief pitchers in a lost cause. 

That selfless act proved to be crucial.

The Red Sox then won another thriller less than 24 hours later - this one lasting nearly SIX hours - again on a winning base hit by David Ortiz.

They then defeated the Yankees in New York to win the pennant and advance to the World Series, which they won. (Wakefield won Game 5, incidentally.)

By doing so, they exorcised the ghosts of their past, and those of an entire region.

I truly thought I would NEVER see the Red Sox defeat the Yankees in the playoffs *or* win a World Series in my lifetime. 

But I did.

And a seemingly inconsequential act by a pitcher who was willing to do what was best for the team wound up playing a large, albeit unheralded, part of that story of redemption.

Every action, no matter how seemingly small at the time, can resonate. Especially one done because you choose to act out of hope, even when you may almost be convinced all hope is lost.

Yet again, another a valuable life lesson.


As the Red Sox prepare for Game 4 tonight, I have no doubt they are thinking of the events of last night.

I also have no doubt that they are thinking of their innumerable, seemingly impossible comebacks this year.

I have mentioned before that this is a particularly likable Red Sox team. One reason is the joy with which they play, and another is their unflappable belief in themselves - and in each other.

They know they don't have to do it all by themselves; they have many other people looking for their opportunity to pick everyone up, in their own way. 

Even if it is a seemingly meaningless, inconsequential one at the time.

If any team is capable of using that ninth inning for their own purposes, it's this particular Red Sox team. 

It would not surprise me one bit if they use it as an "us-against-the-world" moment and storm back. 

No matter if they do or don't, they will give their all to make it happen. 

They will know they are not alone.

All they will have to do is look around.

And remember.


No matter what happens, this Red Sox team and this season has been a joy from Day 1. Nothing that happens in the final week of the season will ever change that, good or bad.

Bring on Game 4! 

And go Sox!!!


I did not plan this, but here is a perfect song from one of my favorite R.E.M. albums, Lifes Rich Pageant (sic) - released in, you guessed it, 1986. This is a ferocious live version, with a memorable poem to kick things off:

Trust in your calling, make sure your calling's true
Think of others, the others think of you
Silly rule golden words make, practice, practice makes perfect,
Perfect is a fault, and fault lines change

I believe my humor's wearing thin
And change is what I believe in
I believe my shirt is wearing thin
And change is what I believe in
And change is what I believe in

(Love the pun about needing to change his shirt - although I confess it took more than a few listens to get it. lol)


  1. I think that the best teams, whether its in sport or any other area, look out for each other and does what is best for the team so that they can achieve what they set out to do.
    The last team I worked on did just that.
    We had a very important deadline coming up and after both our management and the customers had agreed the amount of work that needed to be done, their chief engineer told them it wasn't good enough and so we ended up having to do a lot more.
    All of our team pulled together for the next 3 months, working a shift pattern, taking on work in unfamiliar areas to help out each other. In the end we finished about a week ahead of the planned date.
    Both our own managers and the customers were astonished because afterwards they freely admitted that they didn't think that we'd achieve the deadline.
    The thing was the team got on really well and were willing to do what was required to achieve what we were asked.

    I've always felt when I'm heading up a team that its my responsibility to look out for my team members. If things go right then they get the praise they deserve. If things don't go right then I take the flack, not them. I know that the people I work with will defend themselves when there are problems but I have this tendency to get protective of them and wont have them blamed for things when events aren't within their control.

  2. Cassidy, this is one of the most wonderfully uplifting blog posts I have ever read. I have tears in my eyes. Tears of pride for my seamhead friend who knows in her heart that there come a time when goals will NOT be denied.

    Every action, no matter how seemingly small at the time, can resonate. Especially one done because you to act out of hope, even when you may almost be convinced all hope is lost.

  3. @ Halle: Thank you so much. :#) As you no doubt realized, our email exchange triggered it, so thank *you*!!!

    I feel as if I can't take credit for it, quite honestly. This was one of those posts that simply demanded to be written, then and there. All I did was get out of the way. And not trip over anything as I did so. ;-p

    Thank you again, hon. And Go Sox!!!

    @ Jenna: I completely agree. I have worked on several small teams that accomplished far more than was expected because we pulled together. Like yours, those teams all helped out wherever they could, even if it was outside their area of expertise. I learned a great deal from those experiences - mostly that I would starve if I had to write code for a living (I can see Stace nodding her head in satisfaction as she reads this! lol).

    Thank you again, ladies!!!