2007 World Series preview

October 24, 2007

(This post was originally published on www.baseballgb.co.uk.  Please visit BaseballGB for further coverage of the World Series)

Mere hours before the first pitch of the 2007 World Series, every baseball fan cannot help but feel giddy with excitement. Memories of previous contests come flooding back, not just of in-game incidents, but the obligatory pre-game rituals. The ceremonial first pitch. The starting players jogging onto the field one-by-one, with cheers ringing out for the home town heroes and jeers filling the air for the opposing players. The National Anthem, brought to a climax by the perfectly-timed U.S. Air Force flyover. And for British fans, that wonderful moment when the opening credits fade away and the camera zooms in on Johnny and Josh, resplendent in tuxedoes. It can only mean one thing: the World Series is upon us again.

Throw two teams of scrubs out there and we would still all be counting down the minutes. As it is, our excitement is fully merited. This is a series between two teams playing great baseball. It’s also a series between two very different organizations.

The History – The Boston Red Sox are one of the most storied franchises in North American sports. Formed in 1901 as the Boston Americans, they became the Red Sox in 1908 and have made it to the Fall Classic ten times prior to this year’s success (winning on six occasions). The Colorado Rockies are mere pups in comparison, an expansion team from 1993 who have only made the post-season once before (a short stay in 1995 when they lost 3-1 in the divisional series to the eventual World Series winning Braves).

The Brand – While the Boston “B” may not be quite as ubiquitous as the interlocking NY, millions of non-baseball fans around the world have heard of the Boston Red Sox. Mention their name and your average Brit will a) tell you that they are a baseball team and b) make a smart arse comment about the Yanks not being able to spell “socks” properly. The Colorado Rockies? Few outside the States would know they are a sports team. Most would probably think it’s the name of a National Park , like the Grand Canyon or Jellystone Park.

The Media – From the Boston Globe to ESPN, the Red Sox are media darlings. Whether it’s devastating losses, breathtaking victories, blockbuster signings or the age-old rivalry with the Bronx Bombers, everyone will be writing or talking about it. The Rockies barely register on the media radar outside their home state.

The Fans – When Fever Pitch was “Americanized” on the Silver Screen, it was the Red Sox who replaced Arsenal as the subject of the main character’s obsession, such is the reputation of the Red Sox Nation. Many famous names proudly display their allegiance to the Red Sox, from writer Stephen King to British comedian Phil Jupitus. The allure of the Rockies is less wide-reaching. They don’t have a fancy collective name to grace T-shirts and bumper stickers and as for a list of famous fans, answers on a postcard please.

The Ballparks – The two sets of supporters make a regular pilgrimage to two very different ballparks. Fenway Park is a living monument to baseball history. Intimate and awe-inspiring, it has hosted the greats of the game since 1912, with the thirty-seven feet high Green Monster casting an imposing shadow in left field. Coors Field is a spacious ballpark in a picturesque setting and has the unique quality of being based a mile above sea level. However, at just twelve years old, it (so far) lacks the memories that make a stadium special. Still, it gets a bonus point for being named after a beer company.

The players – Many of the players who call Fenway their home are the superstars of their era. From Big Papi to Manny, Curt “bloody sock” Schilling to Dice-K, the team is full of instantly recognisable characters earning millions of dollars. The Rockies’ roster could walk down most high streets without turning any heads never mind causing a commotion. That’s not to say they don’t have players with star-level talent, just that their efforts go relatively unnoticed because Colorado is not a “big media market”.

It sounds like David versus Goliath, but then again all of this is just window-dressing. History, fans, star names: they count for nothing when the umpire shouts “Play ball”. And when it comes to the action on the diamond, the Rockies may just have the advantage. No team has ever entered the World Series in such stunning form: the Rockies have won 21 of their last 22 games. The only worry is that the red-hot Rockies might have cooled down during their eight-day period of inactivity. Will the battle-hardened Red Sox have an advantage? Recent history is inconclusive on how the manner of reaching the World Series effects performance once you get there:

2005: The White Sox defeated the Angels 4-1 in the ALCS while the Astros beat the Cardinals in six games to win the NLCS. Chicago took the World Series 4-0

2006: The Tigers swept the A’s in the ALCS while the Cardinals edged the Mets in a seven game thriller. St Louis took the World Series 4-1.

Throw form out of the window then and what are you left with? The Red Sox are where they believe they belong; the Rockies are where they’ve never been before. The Red Sox Nation expects to win; Rockies fans are worried that they might wake up and find out it’s all been a dream. It is a fascinating contrast, a compelling mix which has proved to be a winning formula in the recent past.

After the initial burst of anticipation, the last three World Series have all been somewhat of an anti-climax for everyone but the winners. The last time we had a great contest was 2003 when the all-conquering New York Yankees lost 2-4 to the minnows of the Florida Marlins. A powerhouse from the AL East against a recent expansion team who made the post-season via the NL wild card; those ingredients produced a feast last time and we can only hope that history repeats itself. Red Sox fans won’t relish playing the role of the Yankees, but the Rockies will gladly benefit from some of that Marlins magic.

Most, if not all, predictions have the Red Sox walking home with the trophy in five games or less. They certainly deserve to be favourites, but the Rockies are more than capable of causing an upset. If 2003 is a reliable indicator, it’s going to be well worth watching.