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Does the world really need another Red Sox book? If that book is Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season (Scribner), Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King’s fan’s-eye view of the Sox’ run for the ages, the answer is yes. From the first fungo of spring training to the simple underhand toss from Keith Foulke to Doug Mientkiewicz that sealed the most jaw-dropping comeback in team-sports history, O’Nan and King were there. Faithful collects their discussions, arguments, and e-mailed colloquies over those eight months, as they banter back and forth about everything from Pokey Reese’s two-homer game to the epochal Nomar trade to Curt Schilling’s blood-red sock.
"This wasn’t from a journalist’s perspective, this was from a fan’s perspective," says O’Nan, from his home in Connecticut. "Yeah, we’ve seen professional writers who are fans, who then get the ‘in’ to go behind the scenes. But this is not a tell-all book — it’s just two fans going through the season, grumpin’ about the things fans grump about."
O’Nan, who’s been "obsessed with the damn team" since he arrived at Boston University, in 1979, has been pals with King for some time, and they’ve been going to games together for a few years. He says this "double diary" works not just because of the in-the-moment nature of the commentary, but because the two writers’ world-views are so opposed. "Steve has been a lifelong Red Sox fan. He’s the downer guy. He’s the oh-shit-bad-things-are-gonna-happen guy. Me, being a newer guy, I was like, ‘We just gotta hang in and see what happens. Good things can happen!’ "
Happily — astonishingly — O’Nan’s optimism won out. And if you’re like us, you’re still not quite over the shock of what happened barely a month ago; it still hasn’t set in that, uh, THE BOSTON RED SOX ARE WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS. It’s perhaps more remarkable that this book is already on the shelves. Indeed, from the moment the last splash of champagne dried on Trot Nixon’s battered hat, Faithful came together in just nine days. That’s less time than it took the team to go from near-elimination in ALCS game four to the top of the baseball world.
It’s serendipitous too that this, the most significant and eventful season in Red Sox history, was the one King and O’Nan happened to chronicle. It had more tortuous (often torturous) story lines and plot points than either novelist could hope to devise — from the team’s promising start to its maddening mid-season mediocrity to its overpowering win streak that annihilated the wild-card competition to its monumental post-season comeback. And, of course, there’s The Fight. That infamous photograph of Jason Varitek slamming his mitt into Alex Rodriguez’s pretty face gives Faithful the best cover we’ve seen in a good long while. "That’s the iconic image we’ll all carry forever," says O’Nan. "It’s a defining moment in our history, where one of our dirt dogs stands up to the highest-paid prima donna in the major leagues and says, ‘Fuck you! You’re not gonna yell at my $300,000 pitcher!’ That was the spirit of the team."
O’Nan says that even with a seven-run lead in the late innings of ALCS game seven, doom-and-gloom King was girding for catastrophe right up until the last out. But he also implies that King might have called on a bit of his own brand of necromancy to turn the ship around. Before game four of the ALCS took place at Fenway, O’Nan was shagging fly balls by the left-field wall, and he noticed a straggler on the grass — not far from Reggie Jackson. With a shout of "Hey, Reggie, hit the mitt!", O’Nan induced the legendary Yankee slugger to toss it to him. "So I show Steve the ball, and then run off to do something else," O’Nan says. "I come back, and Steve has written on the ball THE CURSE IS OFF, and signed ‘Babe Ruth’ on the sweet spot. And from that moment, we did not lose."
Stewart O’Nan discusses Faithful on Monday, November 29, at 7 p.m., at Porter Square Books, 25 White Street, in Cambridge, (617) 491-2220; and Tuesday, November 30, at 7 p.m., at Brookline Booksmith, 279 Harvard Street, in Brookline, (617) 566-6660.
Issue Date: November 26 - December 2, 2004
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