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People often ask how I got to be such a big Red Sox fan. I don’t follow any other sports, and I never played softball or anything else in school, so where did this obsession come from?
Officially, I blame my mother.
My father grew up liking the Braves, and didn’t come to love the Red Sox until he married my mother. To be fair, his older brother had signed with the Braves, and although he never actually played because of an injury, he remained very involved with the Jimmy Fund. So I guess my father can be excused for not following the Sox all along. My mother grew up going to “Family Day” games at Fenway in the late fifties with her parents and brother. She cut class in college in ’64 to see Tony C. homer in his first Fenway at-bat. So with two Red Sox fan parents, I had no choice. Baseball was the only sport worth watching, and the Red Sox were the only team to cheer for.
That’s how I grew up a third-generation diehard Red Sox fan. My earliest Red Sox memories are from the late seventies, watching games on TV with my parents. Luckily I was too young to understand what happened in 1978, so the memories are happy ones. Like any knowledgeable New England five-year-old, I knew how to spell Yastrzemski, and as I learned about the four basic food groups, I nicknamed my favorite player Jimmy “Breadgroup” because rice is a member of the bread group. That’s when the foundations of fandom were laid, and the obsession grew from there.
It was 1986 that got me hooked for good. Since we lived in Maine, we didn’t get to see too many games on TV, but more and more were shown by the end of the summer, and I grew from someone who knew the basics and wanted the team to win, to someone with a deeper understanding of the game. And that October I learned a lot more about what being a Red Sox fan really entails. I should have been more surprised than I was by the Sox’ incredible comeback in the ALCS, when Dave Henderson’s homer lifted them from near-extinction as they rallied from being down 3-games-to-1. Sure, I had heard about the team’s past failures, but these guys were different. They were so good. Why not believe they could come back? Why not think they could win the World Series? I fell asleep in the late innings of the sixth game. My mother woke me up “to see the final out.”
It didn't come that night, or the next night, or in the whole next decade.
But the passion grew. In 1987 my parents took me to my first game at Fenway Park. Once you’ve been to that baseball shrine, there’s no turning back. We began making return trips every year, and the date of that year’s game was something to look forward to all spring. Any games which weren’t on TV we tuned into on the radio. By the time I was in college, I would tell my friends I’d meet them for lunch instead of dinner if there was a pitching matchup I knew I’d want to see that night. While at Providence College, I took advantage of every school-sponsored trip to Fenway that I could find, dragging various different friends along.
After graduating, I lived in Atlanta for a few years, but I still remained true to my Sox. The internet was my lifeline to Red Sox Nation, and it was there that I began authoring this website. Most of my vacation days were used for the Red Sox – I went to the interleague games in Atlanta, returned home for my annual trip to Fenway, and even coordinated vacations in places like Philadelphia and Anaheim to coincide with the Red Sox’ trips to those cities. I was still dragging some of the same friends to games – they’ve come to expect that a vacation with me is going to involve a certain amount of baseball!
Now I’m addicted. It started innocently enough, just watching a few games and wishing them well. But it wasn’t long before I fell in love not just with the players – because they come and go – but with baseball itself. The rhythms and patterns, the stats that attempt to compare present players with those who played a hundred years ago, the timelessness of the game (the absence of a clock as well as the historical connection to the past). It’s a little like following a soap opera, in that the day-to-day drama unfolds a little at a time over the course of the season, and you have to keep tuning in to find out what will happen next, but it’s so much different from TV and movies as a form of entertainment for the very reason that it’s not predictable. If I skip a game, I’m left feeling like I’ve missed out on something important, something that wasn’t scripted and won’t be rerun.
And being a Red Sox fan is more than just watching games; it’s a lifestyle. Red Sox fans share a special bond that crosses geographical and generational lines. I can be wearing my cap anywhere in the counrty, and people will stop me and tell their story of how they grew up in New England and still root for the Sox. All fans can tell you where they were when the ball trickled through Buckner’s legs, describe the first time they ever went to Fenway, and list all the ways the current team could be improved.
I was living in Atlanta in 1999 when the Red Sox made the playoffs, which led to the best game I’ve ever been to at Fenway Park. It seemed that with Pedro Martinez pitching two of the five Division Series games, there was no way we could lose. Living a thousand miles away, I wasn’t able to camp out for tickets, but my brother in New Hampshire managed to get some for Game 4. I was supposed to work that weekend and had used up all my vacation days, but I was able to trade in my Thanksgiving holidays, even though it was only early October. I bought a plane ticket to Boston. I was going to the game! If, that is, the Red Sox didn’t sweep (for surely there was no way they could be swept with Pedro!) But these are the Red Sox. Call it bad luck, or call it a Curse, but Pedro was injured in Game 1. The Sox lost. It was still possible to win the series, but their psychological edge was gone. Suddenly they went from invincible to very beatable. Predictably, the Sox lost Game 2 by a big margin. The morning of Game 3, my flight was scheduled to leave for Boston. If they didn’t win that afternoon, there wouldn’t even be a Game 4, and I would have wasted the money for the plane ticket as well as the chance to have Thanksgiving off. The word that kept going through my head as I boarded the plane was “delusional.” By now I’d been following the Red Sox long enough to know our chances of winning even one game – let alone three straight – were pretty slim. But I got on the plane anyway, figuring that even if the worst happened, I’d still have a truly pathetic Red Sox fan story to someday tell the grandkids. To my surprise, they won Game 3. I did have a chance to go to Game 4! And to my sheer delight, the Red Sox won, 23-7! I got bruises on both my knees from banging them on the seat in front of me every time I jumped up to cheer in that tiny little park. But it was an incredible experience, and the closest I’d ever come to feeling what it’s like to win.
Shortly after the 1999 playoffs, I moved back to Massachusetts. I wanted to purchase a partial season ticket package consisting of all the weekend games. I had seen “Plan W” advertised online for the past few years. But when I called, I was told they weren’t offering the weekend plan to new customers anymore. I could buy all 81 home games, or just the weeknight games, but not the weekend package. But that didn’t stop me. I bought tickets to 24 home games in 2001, and that became the inspiration for this book. It’s not just the stories of my favorite games, or ones that wound up with special significance. It’s the complete story of four seasons – the dramatic wins alongside the painful losses – as seen through the eyes of an incurable diehard. While many books about the Red Sox chronicle the details of historically significant games, this book tells the story of a fan’s journey through the baseball season. I don’t always get to see the most dramatic games, but I believe that every trip to Fenway could be the chance to see something I’ve never seen before. Often the most memorable part of a game isn’t the final score, but a strange play, or a funny line shouted by someone in the stands, or something that happens on the way to or from the ballpark.
Come with me as I spend my afternoons and evenings at the ballpark, from cold, rainy Opening Day games when anything seems possible, through muggy summer afternoons baking in the bleachers, to the cool autumn nights of a pennant race. I enjoy keeping score at games, and like witnessing unusual plays and baseball oddities. I also have my share of pet peeves, like people in the row in front of me who get up and down a hundred times, usually right in the middle of an important play. I now live about 30 miles outside of Boston, and I almost always ride the subway in to games, which often becomes a story in itself. Sit with me in several different areas of Fenway, wait through rain delays, attend a Society for American Baseball Research convention and the Ted Williams celebration, and travel to the Hall of Fame. Follow me on the road as I watch the Red Sox play in Atlanta, Baltimore, New York, Montreal, Chicago, and Toronto. And take a seat – albeit an obstructed one – next to me for a 2003 playoff game.
That’s what I had written before Keith Foulke grabbed a bouncer back to the mound and tossed it to Doug Mientkiewicz under the shadow of a lunar eclipse on the evening of October 27, 2004. At that moment everything changed, and yet nothing is different. The Red Sox’ history-making run in 2004 liberated legions of faithful from a lifetime of heartache. But it didn’t make me content, able to say “Now my life is complete” and move on. It only served to make me more of a fan, if such a thing were possible. I grabbed tickets to as many 2005 games as I could as soon as they went on sale, ready to get back on the rollercoaster and do it all over again.
As the years since then went by, the endings started to get happier. But I'm still the same crazed diehard. It's a lot harder to get tickets now, but I still go to twenty-plus games a year. (I also go to rolling rallies and trophy viewings, which I never could have imagined in the years when this story began.) I still get excited when I walk up the ramp to my seats before a game, and I still look forward to the thrill of a dramatic win, or just seeing some unusual play I've never seen before. Every game is a chance to see something new, and every year could be The Year.
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