Many people might be puzzled about how, in a time of war and recession, something as banal as a baseball game could have such a profound effect on somebody. On the Internet message board Sons of Sam Horn (b21.ezboard.com/bsonsofsamhorn), which is visited by various Red Sox fanatics, a contributor addresses this point:
It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look — I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring — caring deeply and passionately, really caring — which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naïveté — the infantile and ignoble joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball — seems a small price to pay for such a gift.
Nice words. But for some, the ability to believe means more than merely hanging on to childlike naiveté. Dan Cummings, a 23-year-old Hyde Park native with cropped hair and a handsome, boyish face, has been confined to a wheelchair since he was in his late teens. As he explains in the film, he and some friends were on a boat one night "partying" when he dove into shallow water. The injuries he sustained, said his doctors, would leave him paralyzed from the chest down. But Cummings has surprised people, regaining limited movement in his arms and legs. He spends a good deal of Still, We Believe at a physical-therapy center in California. "I’m not going home until I can walk," he says in the film. And then, a few seconds later, "I would do anything for the Red Sox to win the World Series."
This may seem like an odd sort of distraction for someone who’s struggling to reclaim the use of his legs, but you get the sense that these two threads — seeing the Sox win the World Series and learning to walk again — are somehow entwined for Cummings. After all, if the Sox can break their 85-year losing streak, anything is possible, right? In any event, the Sox’ loss in game seven hit Cummings hard. "I was convinced they were going to win," he says via phone from California. "I had my plane ticket, and I had tickets for game one of the World Series. All my brothers were going to go. I had a victory cigar. I was five outs from lighting that cigar and going home."
As soon as Aaron Boone’s bat made contact with the ball, Cummings knew. "It was by far the worst Red Sox moment of my life," he says. "I sat there in shock. I was looking at the TV. My brother called to see if I was all right and — I’m not kidding you, man — I broke down in tears. I was crying my eyes out. I’ll be honest with you, I’m still not over it. I won’t be over it until we knock off the Yankees and win the World Series." Shortly after game seven, Cummings says, he found himself having a private conversation with Babe Ruth. "I was saying, ‘Babe, leave us alone.’ "
Supporting the Red Sox, agrees Paul Doyle, "is an unforgiving cycle." "Every year they say they’re not going to get swept up in it, and every year they do. It’s true this year. Every Sox fan in the world has his chest puffed out." Steve Craven, the firefighter, is one of those fans. "I know this sounds crazy," he says, "but I think they can do it this year." Craven, 39, has been following the Sox since he was a boy, so he’s well aware of the perils associated with such predictions. After all, he, too, is still smarting from game seven. "I felt like a vampire who got a stake through the heart," he says. "It affected my sleep for about three days. The guys in my firehouse put on the board: CRAVEN SUICIDE WATCH."
Craven, one of the optimists in Still, We Believe, goes on to add that 2003 was "a fantastic season." Whether they win or lose this year, he says, he’ll carry on watching every game. It’s likely that he couldn’t stop if he wanted to. Like many Red Sox fans, Craven’s become addicted to the drama. As Jessamy Finet puts it, "This is what we do. It’s all we do. We ask each other, if we didn’t watch baseball, what would we do?"
Because of their devotion to the Sox, neither Finet nor Nanstad has been to a movie in years. "Last one I went to," says Finet, "was The Addams Family," part three of which was released in 1998. "I still haven’t sat in stadium seating," adds Nanstad. And neither of them, as they explain in their she-said/she-said way, has had the time to become romantically involved.
"We’re very single."
"Too single almost."
"When you meet a guy, they always want too much of your time."
"We always say maybe we should go out with a guy who likes sports, but then we’re like ..."
"Maybe we should go out with a guy who doesn’t like sports, ’cause then we’d be, ‘Honey! We’re going to the game! See you later!’ "
Even Costine, for all his griping, admits that he wouldn’t know what to do with himself without the Red Sox. "I love baseball," he says. "It’s a part of me. I can’t stop doing what I’ve been doing all my life. I can’t do that. I enjoy seeing how they take me to the brink. It’s a passion. They’re a Greek tragedy, but it’s great theater. At least they keep us entertained."
It’s a wet, windy Monday night in Boston, but that hasn’t dampened the spirits of the people attending the Still, We Believe premiere — nor even those of the clutch of fans milling around outside the cinema, on the off chance that they’ll be awarded a free pass. "I got into a fight with a Yankee fan," says one hopeful, holding up a piece of cloth. "There’s Yankee blood on my Cowboy Up! towel. I made him bleed!" Not surprisingly, the guy doesn’t get in. More successful is the chubby fan, shirt open to reveal a belly painted to look like a baseball, who is soon strolling up the red carpet, being shot from every angle by the clamoring news crews.
Boston isn’t used to hosting this sort of event, and there is a sense of urgency bordering on panic among those who have been assigned to keep things under control. It’s understandable. Attendees tonight include John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino, Kevin Millar, Wally the Green Monster, Stewart O’Nan (who’s working on a book about the Sox with Stephen King), Luis Tiant, Sam Horn, and Manny Ramirez (although Ramirez, in characteristic style, is here to see another movie: Man on Fire). Then, of course, there are the stars of the film, the eight fans, who seem a little overwhelmed to be here. As Craven puts it, "I’m out of my element."
Perhaps the most nervous person at the theater tonight, however, is director Paul Doyle, who is acutely aware that a crowd of Red Sox fans may not appreciate being dragged through the miseries of 2003 all over again. "It’s scary," he says. "This is a tough jury." Indeed, for all its merits, Still, We Believe can be painful to watch, particularly when it reaches game seven. By the time Grady Little walks up to the mound, there are audible groans from the audience, as if it were happening for the first time. But then Costine utters another of his grim aphorisms and people burst into laughter. As the final credits roll, they break out into enthusiastic applause. Doyle is a happy man.
At the post-premiere party, the eight fans, too, seem more relaxed, sipping beer and eating Fenway Franks, enjoying the attention. At one point, Cummings hauls himself out of his wheelchair and embraces former Sox player Sam Horn. Earlier, we’d seen Cummings sitting there in front of his TV set, a look of horror on his face, but now his expression is rapturous. And Cummings has reason to be happy. The Sox, having just swept New York at Yankee Stadium, are four and a half games ahead of their hated rivals. The pitching staff is kicking butt. Trot and Nomar will be back soon.
"This is going to be the year," Cummings says. "I really do believe."page 2
Issue Date: May 7 - 13, 2004
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