Kerry Wood of the Chicago Cubs throws the ball in front of the Green Monster during batting practice on May 20, 2011 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
BOSTON -- If you look and listen very carefully at Fenway Park, you can see them and hear them.
Who? The ghosts of 2003. Looking at the field before Friday night's historic interleague matchup between the Red Sox and Cubs, a Cubs fan could be forgiven for having flashbacks when he looked down and saw Eric Karros standing near the visitors' dugout.
Karros, who is in town to broadcast Saturday night's game for Fox with Kenny Albert, was a platoon first baseman for the 2003 Cubs and hit .286/.340/.446 for them that year with 12 home runs. That included a memorable game-winning blast to beat the Yankees at Wrigley Field in June. Although he likely wouldn't have been the starter for what should have been Game 1 of the Cubs/Red Sox World Series at Fenway Park -- Randall Simon played against most right-handed pitchers -- Karros was a key leader of that 2003 Cubs team. When he and catcher Damian Miller were dispatched elsewhere before the 2004 campaign began, the Cubs lost the team leadership they desperately needed. Despite being arguably more talented, the 2004 Cubs blew a wild-card spot they had all but locked up a week before season's end, and had to watch on television as the Red Sox broke their World Series drought that October.
But the year before, the two teams appeared headed for an Oct. 18, 2003 date and a World Series dream matchup between storied franchises in fabled ballparks. Neither one, though, could get the last five outs they needed to get there. The Cubs, cruising behind Mark Prior, were five outs away in Game 6; the crushing eight-run Marlins inning does not need to be relived by any Cubs fan, and they couldn't hold a lead in Game 7, either. The Red Sox were five outs away in Game 7 before Grady Little refused to lift a tiring Pedro Martinez. The Yankees came back, the Red Sox went home for the winter and Little never wore a Red Sox uniform again.
Karros got to play in Fenway the next year as a member of the Athletics; the Cubs never did get to the World Series, although many of the 2003 Red Sox did, the following year.
But for all the Cubs players who came so close and never made it; for 2003 Red Sox players like John Burkett, Brandon Lyon and others who came so close to a ring and never got one, this Cubs fan closed his eyes Friday night at Fenway Park for just a moment and dreamed of the World Series that never was.
The game Friday night didn't live up to the hype; the Red Sox crushed the Cubs 15-5, which was the most runs scored by the Red Sox this year, the most allowed by the Cubs, and the biggest margin of -- pick one, victory or defeat -- for either team. It wasn't quite a game that will sit in any Cub fan's memory, although Red Sox fans may differ. Both teams' fans soaked in the atmosphere Friday, exchanged friendly greetings, and, unlike days when Yankees fans invade Fenway Park, actually seemed to enjoy each others' company.
Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, a Chicago native and diehard Cubs fan, penned the song "All The Way" in 2008, another year where it appeared the Cubs were thisclose to fulfilling the dreams of Cubs fans everywhere. Some of the lyrics are:
Keeping traditions and wishes made new
The place where our grandfathers' fathers they grew
A spiritual feeling if I ever knew
And if you ain't been, I am sorry for you
And when the day comes, when that last winning run
And I'm crying and covered in beer
I'll look to the sky and know I was right
To think someday we'll go all the way
Someday, indeed. Only five players on the current Red Sox and Cubs teams were there for their 2003 meltdowns -- David Ortiz and Tim Wakefield of Boston, Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and Kerry Wood of Chicago. It is the blue-clad Cubs fan arriving at Fenway Park for this series who carries the memories -- and scars -- of 2003. Ortiz and Wakefield got their rings, in 2004 and 2007; the Cubs still await theirs.