Happy Thanksgiving. Growing up this was the holiday I spent with my family more than any other, even if sometimes I would have rather not. I didn’t get the significance of it all until I got older. When you’re young the people you see at Thanksgiving are the people you see every day. It’s not special. You see these people all the damn time. You get used to seeing them, count on seeing them, expect to see them sitting there, glass of wine in hand, asking you about school or your first job. But then one day you sit down at the table and they’re gone.
The 2013 Red Sox were that way. If ever there was a team that showed up, seemingly from nowhere, grabbed our hearts in a bearhug, and then melted into the ether, it was them. The beards, Boston Strong, Jonny Gomes, Koji!, John Lackey’s redemption, Three Little Birds, and of course the Big Papi show. It was all so perfect.
I didn’t know it at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight I can see it clearly now. This was the last exclamation of the greatest run in Red Sox history. It started with the hiring of Theo Epstein after the 2002 season, and ran through Theo’s tenure to the passing of the baton to Ben Cherington. 2013 was both Cherington’s first World Series, his crowning achievement, and his swan-song. When Cherington lost his job last season, a seat at the table became empty.
Go back through that roster and you’ll quickly realize that, just two years out, almost the entire team is gone, vanished to Red Sox history. Of the nine regular starters, just two remain. Jacoby Ellsbury is now and will be a Yankee for five more seasons, or until they’re successfully able to dump him on someone else. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a free agent, his time with the Marlins having gone as badly as most people’s time with the Marlins goes. Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli are free agents as well, though they may find someone to give them shots at starting jobs next season. Stephen Drew won’t be so lucky. He might find an to invite to a camp, but his time with the Yankees over the last two seasons went pretty poorly and his career may be coming to a close.
It’s amazing how many of the guys who poured their souls out for the Red Sox just two years ago will be lucky to find major league jobs in 2016.
It’s amazing how many of the guys who poured their souls out for the Red Sox just two years ago will be lucky to find major league jobs in 2016. Will Middlebrooks is still with the Padres, but he spent the second half of the season not hitting in the minor leagues and it looks like he may not be tendered a contract. Daniel Nava may be in the same boat after a tough half season with the Rays, and Jonny Gomes, magic pixie dust though he may have, might find a bench job somewhere. Or maybe not. Mike Carp is already gone. David Ross is collecting dust on the Cubs’ bench. The pitching staff isn’t much cleaner. Jake Peavy has retired. So has Ryan Dempster. Jon Lester took his talents to Chicago despite my urging. Lackey is looking in the National League for maybe his last contract. Felix Doubront’s time as a major league pitcher may have expired. Remember Alfredo Aceves? Andrew Bailey? Alex Wilson? Joel Hanrahan? Daniel Bard threw an inning for the 2013 Red Sox (he walked two and gave up a run).
The 2013 Red Sox materialized out of a last place team and then congealed back into a last place team. They showed up almost out of nowhere, lightning across the sky, brightening everything for a time. It feels that way now, like the team was a happy accident, but really, it was the last time an old friend graced us at Thanksgiving dinner.
My sons are seven. For them, Thanksgiving is an excuse to eat too much pie, to have the rules on how many dinner rolls they can eat loosened, and to watch “It’s Thanksgiving Charlie Brown” one more time. They don’t have to know what I know, that our time is finite, that they won’t be seven forever, that the people who sit next to them asking them about their friends in first grade and helping them put butter on their rolls might not be there next year. People flow through your life like water through a facet. They’re there, they touch you, then they’re gone.
Baseball teaches this because teams are this way. We spend eight months with them, we learn their faults, their strengths, what makes them human, and if we’re really lucky, we get to share in their greatest triumphs. But then the season ends and they are just people, and people move on, sometimes to something better, sometimes not, but either way, they always go.
It’s good that way though. Memories help us appreciate. But the older I get the more I see the people around the table who aren’t there anymore. My grandmother, my grandfather who died seven years ago, just months before he would have been able to meet his great-grandkids. This Thanksgiving I’ll be fortunate to spend it with my wife, my two sons, my brother- and sister-in-law, and a few friends. Next spring we’ll be lucky enough to get a new Red Sox team, one full of hope, promise, and new faces.
When you’re sitting around the table tomorrow, give thanks for new friends, but know that the ghosts of past loves are never too far away.