Being a Red Sox fan entails a life of heartache, hope, and passion. You must have faith through continual failure, endure cyclic disappointment, and have the courage to believe that a group of mere men can come together to achieve acts of heroism.
For those born and raised in New England, the Red Sox are passed on like family heirlooms generation after generation. They are a thread that runs through family history and tradition. As a rite of passage father proudly takes son to Fenway Park for the first time. Grandpa sits on the porch talking with the grandchildren about the Sox of yesteryear. Brothers play baseball in the streets of Boston, pretending to be their favorite player. But even a transplanted Red Sox fan, such as myself, that lives elsewhere and has discovered the team later in life shares the same love for the team that is seen in lifestyle, behavior, and beliefs.
From the first World Series win of 1912, the dream season of ’67, the devastation of ’86, and the angst of the ’99 postseason when the team rallied to defeat the Indians only to be slaughtered by the Yankees in the ALCS, a Sox fan’s mind is steeped in history. The dates of losses, victories, and monumental moments are lodged in your mind. You know that there was never a man who did more for the Red Sox, as a player, coach, and fan than Johnny Pesky. You know the day Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski retired. You are an expert on Babe Ruth’s infamous ‘curse’ and the New England rhetoric to reverse it. And of course, when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, a full 86 years after their last title, you had a single, teary-eyed thought that coincided with the collective conscious of all Sox fans: now I can die happy.
The life of a Red Sox fan is a tough one. Your behavior, sporadic and manic, is dictated by the team’s wins and losses. You are fanatic and neurotic, engaged in a love-hate relationship where the team’s position determines your disposition. After a loss you become withdrawn, staring at the world with suspicious sunken eyes and mumbling to yourself about that crucial catch in the 7th inning that could have changed everything. If it is a post-season loss you may stop eating entirely, call sick into work a few days, and ask everyone to leave you alone. As ESPN shows recaps you cry, consider re-avowing religious beliefs, and drink economy size cocktails. When they win leaps are made over the couch, the air is punched in exhilaration, and your life attains a holistic ecstasy where it seems as if nothing could ever be wrong. Fellow fans call to revel in mutual congratulations, talking of game specifics and yelling catch phrases of how ‘we’ kicked ‘their’ ass. Beers are cracked open, downed, and tossed across the room. (As the saying goes in Boston- win or lose we drink the booze.) You walk around with a lift in your step, boasting of post-season possibilities and chatting with optimism. The win is a testament to your faith, and you believe, beyond anything that has happened in the past and any predictions that are made for the future, that the team can keep winning.
As a Red Sox fan, your skin must be thick. For you will be made fun of, slandered, shit-talked, and shot down. Because the team is known for repeatedly losing critical games, strangers will come up to you and deface Sox history. They will recite famous losses, throwing salt in the wound and degrading your players with play-by-play mistakes. They will pat you on the back and say they feel sorry for you, smirking all the while. But there are those people who share your love for the team that smile instantly when they see your Sox affiliation and talk to you like an old friend. Immediately feeling a sense of camaraderie and close relation with them, these people are part of a nation of Red Sox fans that shares a common bond regardless of roots, race, or gender.
With fans forming a nationwide congregation, the Red Sox are like a religion. As a loyal follower you live by their doctrine. The creed of brotherhood, spirited strength, and integrity that the team lives by governs your conduct. This creed is exemplified in interactions both on and off the field by the front office of the Red Sox, with John Henry as owner, Theo Epstein as general manager, and Terry Francona as head coach, and by the players who have been a staple on the team for several years, Manny Ramirez, Trot Nixon, and Tim Wakefield. Fenway Park, with its cramped seats, cracked pillars, and ramshackle hot dog stands, is regarded as a shrine and a place of worship. It smells of baseball and speaks of history. Seated in its stands are the Fenway faithful, those who have made pilgrimages of hundreds of miles, sold their car or maxed their credit card to get within its sacred gates. Game days are holy. If you have tickets you skip work, cancel dates, and postpone weddings.
Exhibiting affection for the team is also part of being a Red Sox fan. Memorabilia, existing in every aspect of your life, is part of your fanaticism. Your car has a bumper-sticker and/or license plate holder. A framed picture of the team or the ballpark hangs somewhere in your home. A Sox flag adorns either your front door or garage. At work Sox-related news articles hangs in your cubicle and a miniature Wally the Green Monster mascot sits on your desk. A pet, or child, is named after your favorite player. Your closet has the standard gear: hats- at least 5, jerseys, tee-shirts, even underwear.
But above all, above everything else and most important to a Red Sox fan’s existence: you must hate the Yankees. Dating back to 1918, the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry is rooted in the history of each team and subsequently in the culture of the fans. Cutthroat, cocky, and player stealing, the Bronx Bombers have wronged the Red Sox more than fans care to remember. Our retaliation exists in abhorring them like they are the devil in disguise and rejecting all things Yankee related. (That includes friends, family members, and lovers.) Combating their twenty-something World Series titles (who’s really counting) and their payroll of enormous portions that outdoes the Red Sox, you must profess the ‘Yankees Suck’ mantra and talk of them with disgust. You never publicly praise them, no matter how good their players are. And you must always be ready with an argument to prove how and why the Red Sox are better, and recount with fervor all the times when the Sox should have beat them but for the mysterious power of the Evil Yankee Empire. If the Red Sox are your religion, then the Yankees are the anti-Christ which you ward off, and you never, ever, think or speak of them with anything but hatred.
Heart, hope, and passion, that is what comprises a Red Sox fan. You must love them completely, hurt for them heartily. You must be willing to forgive when they break your heart (and if you are a gambler- your bank account) and hold them up when others put them down. A Sox fan is like no other fan. There is no going back, there can be no other team; you are a fan for life. You possess fractions of insanity, finding yourself saying things like: “Only three grand slams and a solo shot to tie!” when the Sox are down in the bottom of the 9th. In February you are filled with dreams of Spring Training, your heart begins to swell with fresh hope and no matter what has happened last fall you fall in love all over again. It is the sweetest thing to love them, they are your desire and demise; your double-edged addiction. They make you weary and wild, impassioned and impoverished of spirit. They leave the lore of their history with you and fill you with the promise of their harvest. You wait and you wonder and you predict all season long, and in the end they deliver– win or lose. They give you baseball: beautiful and pure and classic. They give you themselves.
They are the Red Sox. God Bless.