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Jennifer Yu
Up to Yu

Credit: Amanda Suarez

In one of my clearest memories, I am 8 years old. It is 6:30 a.m., and I should most certainly still be asleep. Instead, I am sitting on my parents’ bed, holding my breath and trying not to be furious with my father for making me go to bed before finding out who won the previous night’s baseball game. I stare religiously at the television while a reporter for the local news drones on in the background, talking about taxes or property or something else I am far too young to care about.

Then, the moment I have been waiting for: A copy of the Daily News flashes across the screen. The back cover is emblazoned with the words “HELL FREEZES OVER” in large, apocalyptic letters.

The Red Sox have just won four straight playoff games, fighting back from an 0-3 series deficit — an unprecedented feat — en route to an American League championship. I do not yet know that they will go on to sweep the World Series, winning for the first time in 86 years, but for the moment, this temporary, unforeseeable victory is enough to fill me with a sort of childish glee — a feeling sports fans quickly learn to cherish but never to count on.

It is the epitome of cliche for a Bostonian sports fan to begin a narrative with 2004. It is perhaps especially condemnable for me to reference it, seeing as I grew up in what could modestly be described as the golden age for sports fans from Boston. I have never had to live through the constant, life-shortening frustration of watching your team fail over, and over, and over again, succeeding only in brief flashes long enough to raise hope but fleeting enough to dash it ruthlessly.

I reference 2004 because it encapsulates everything I love about watching sports: the endless speculation leading up to an important game or series, the agony of defeat and a few moments of brilliance — or, as the case often is, a few moments of sheer, dumb luck — that make it impossible not to come back to the heartbreak next year.

I think I love sports so much because there’s so much of life embedded into it. At the crux of all great sports teams is the ability to work together — to complement each other’s strengths and to mitigate each other’s weaknesses. The success or failure of a sports team in the postseason depends largely on its ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, just as the success or failure of an individual or business or even a country does. Individual players can break down under pressure, or thrive under it just as any of us can.

The lifelike drama of it all is only amplified by its unpredictability. Success — which, in Boston, translates to championship seasons — are few and far in between, and even “dynastic” teams are not guaranteed to remain relevant for very long. Trades, the high physical toll of professional sports and the alternately hailed and condemned “intangibles” all conspire to make professional sporting success extraordinarily unpredictable. And, of course, there’s always the unforeseen, debilitating injury to make things interesting — just ask Chicago Bulls fans about Derrick Rose’s torn ACL.

Under the influence of melodramatically scored highlight reels and pundits declaring each moment to be larger than the last, series become more than just a set of games — they take on grand storylines, featuring a landscape of conflicts and climaxes and heroes and villains to rival any fairy tale. It’s drama that is fundamentally human on one of the largest of stages.

Perhaps it is that humanity that weaves a sports team and its city together so beautifully. Come playoffs season, legions of fans with no previous knowledge of each other suddenly become best friends in random sports bars across the nation. Recently, in the wake of the Oklahoma City tornado, Kevin Durant donated $1 million to disaster relief efforts. That donation was later matched by his basketball team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, a few words from David Ortiz were enough to raise the crowd — and the entire city — back to its feet. The Chicago Tribune’s sports page the day after the marathon proclaimed, “We are Chicago Red Sox, Chicago Celtics, Chicago Bruins, Chicago Patriots, Chicago Revolution.” Sports can be more than a narrative with an ever-changing cast — they genuinely have the ability to inspire and unite.

“We are like you,” the page continues, and it’s true — not only for residents of a particular city or even fans of one particular sport, but as fans in general. In the ninth inning of a one-run baseball game at Fenway, in the last, potential game-winning possession of a playoff game at the Staples Center, with two minutes left of ice time and the goalie pulled at Madison Square Garden, we’re all sort of the same.

For a moment, we’re all 8 years old again, staring at the screen and waiting for a verdict we can only hope to be on the right side of.

Jennifer Yu is a rising College sophomore from Shrewsbury, Mass. She can be reached at “Up to Yu” runs biweekly during the summer.

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