The secret to any successful marriage is learning to overcome challenges. For couples entwined in deep ideological disagreement, the need to resist holding grudges and bringing up the past (and sometimes ugly present) is of utmost importance.
Through the brutal dog days of “The Curse of the Bambino” to the glorious peak of World Series redemption, this 46-year old Norwich, Conn., housewife has spent the last 22 years focusing her marriage squarely on the positive.
“I married an imperfect person – and so did he,” she says of husband Rob, son of a New York Yankee fan, a lifelong fan himself and father of their two children. “We’ve had our ups and downs,” Joanna admits.
While they’ve dealt with the setbacks and pain of difficult seasons before, this year has been particularly stressful with the Red Sox never in contention and the Yankees continuing a seemingly annual quest for a spot in the playoffs.
“It’s been frustrating and I never seem to hear the end of it,” she says, “but this year was worse than usual” — pointing to a last place American League East finish by the Red Sox, despite Major League Baseball’s third-highest payroll.
“You have to put a smile on the negative, sweep snide comments aside and overlook the mockery and ribbing because it’s usually done in fun,” she said. “The span of a 162-game schedule dictates that a bad day not interfere with the next, that’s always been key — as a fan and with our relationship.”
Through the storied history of these two iconic franchises, the Sheffield union remained strong. “Until one day in late August, Rob came down the hall — iPhone in hand — laughing hysterically,” Joanna recalls. “I asked him what was so funny, he told me the Red Sox were just traded to the Dodgers.” [referring to the nine-player deal which sent four-time All-Star Adrian Gonzalez, pitcher Josh Beckett, outfielder Carl Crawford and utilityman Nick Punto to Los Angeles in exchange for first baseman James Loney and four prospects — shedding the Red Sox franchise of approximately $260 million in payroll obligations over the remainder of the decade but leaving designated hitter David Ortiz as the lone remaining representative of both the 2004 and 2007 World Series teams].
“The team is virtually unrecognizable now. Melancon, Ciriaco, Nava, Lavarnway, Valencia, Lin, Iglesias — are you kidding me? I don’t know who these people are,” she says. “I have a hard enough time enjoying a game knowing Kevin Youkilis is in a White Sox uniform — that’s just wrong — the last thing I need is to be reminded of where we are in the standings. I know where we are in the standings and I try to forget.”
Husband Rob countered by seeking custody of the children and the family’s black lab, aptly named “Fenway.” Lawyers for the couple say divorce proceedings have been heated and, at times, volatile.
Joanna’s attorney paints an unflattering portrait, as Rob became unrelenting in what is described as a “reckless desire to kick Ms. Sheffield while she was down.” Stats and embellishments touting New York Yankees success, carelessly flung through various rooms of the house and serving as a wedge in what was once a satisfying marriage.
So brutal was the verbal abuse, the divorce deposition cites a Labor Day weekend incident when Joanna was folding laundry and Rob dropped the name “Bucky Dent” into a conversation for no reason whatsoever.
Rob tells a different story, saying that after the Red Sox won the second of two World Series titles in 2007, it was Joanna and Boston fans who became obnoxious.
Sports psychologist B.J. Murphy explains a fundamental difference between the two fan bases lies in a difference in expectations.
Joanna agrees. “Try waiting 80-plus years between titles and thinking that maybe — maybe — this might be the year. Then when you finally win, it means something — 2004 was everything. The kids were too young to understand but I wanted them in front of the TV when it happened, mainly because my father and grandfather never got to see it. I never thought I would.”
Memories of Bill Buckner, Aaron Boone and, yes, Bucky Dent, erased in an instant. Viewed as the greatest post-season collapse in sports history, the balance of American League power shifted from the Bronx to Yawkey Way and inside divided homes, such as the Sheffield’s, a geological fault had broken new ground. The events of the 2012 season seemingly restored the Bronx Bombers as the “Evil Empire” and the fiercest rivalry in sports is renewed, as strong as ever.
“I’m not mad about the Babe Ruth trade, what’s wrong with him? He said that?” Joanna countered. “That was, like, a hundred years ago. I sometimes don’t understand why I ever married that guy. I’m sorry, but that’s borderline psychotic.
“Great, you’ve won 27 world championships. Congratulations, you’ve made the easiest choice a person can make as a sports fan in America,” she added. “Being a Yankee fan is hardly a character-building decision and I want more for my children. Four titles in five years during the late 90’s? I don’t want my kids raised like that, thinking success is automatic because you’ve been outspending your opponents since the dawn of free agency.”
Proving the difficulty the couple faces at the outset of this arduous journey, Joanna shows a text sent to her by Rob on September 28, shortly after the separation became permanent. The brief message notes simply that it was the one-year anniversary of Boston’s elimination from the 2011 postseason, having blown a nine-game lead in September, the worst collapse in baseball history.
To which Joanna texted back, “Yes, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
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