What An Opportunity

The disillusionment of a young fan

In Sports on April 13, 2012 at 1:10 am

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My Red Sox have been in the news a lot lately. As I watch the coverage, my recurring thought is, “Who IS this team?” To understand my emotions, we have to go back to 2001, when I was a young, impressionable fan seeking a team. As a Buffalo, NY native, I have no natural major league baseball affiliation. Cleveland is 3 hours away, but also 2 states away. Toronto is 2 hours away, but it’s in Canada. The Yankees are also in New York, but my dad taught me to drink Yankee Haterade from day one. So, as a 12 year old free agent fan, I watched a Yankees-Red Sox game on Fox. The announcers harped on the 83-year old “Curse of the Bambino” the entire game, and my attachment was, oddly enough, born out of that game. I was going to be a Red Sox fan. It was a natural fit; between my disdain for the Yankees and my natural propensity toward affection for the underdog, the Red Sox were the perfect choice. So off I went, recklessly throwing myself into the raucously devoted, self-loathing, beaten down mob that was Red Sox Nation at that time. I was still young in my fanhood when the Sox reached the playoffs in 2003, and the clutch game 5 win in the Division Series in Oakland was glorious. It was my greatest baseball moment to that point, and it meant only one thing; an ALCS showdown with the hated Yankees.

Sports fans have a tendency to apply a kind of spiritual, universal context to their team’s contests, and think about them in terms of life and death, good versus evil, etc. With the Yankees, it was all too easy to do so. With George Steinbrenner at the helm, throwing money around as fast as he could print it in the mint beneath Yankee Stadium (it exists… I promise), the Evil Empire was an oppressive force hanging over the Red Sox. They had won 26 World Championships since the Red Sox had last won one, a mere 85 seasons before. And there is nothing that I hate in sports more than a perennial power. My least favorite teams are the New England Patriots, USC Trojans, Los Angeles Lakers, and New York Yankees (it’s a rough life, always rooting impassionedly against the best teams). Needless to say, in the 2003 ALCS, I was engaged to the point of near obsession. The moment Aaron Boone’s series-winning homer left his bat, I was completely demoralized. I didn’t recover for days. But this depth of emotional trauma and despair set the stage for an other-worldly experience the following season.

2004 was an ALCS rematch, and as game 4 neared its end, the apparent outcome threatened to send me even further into a funk. The Sox were down to their last inning, losing 4-3 in the game, and 3-0 in the series. It was just a formality at that point. Their best chance at the Yankees had come and gone in ‘03, when they were up 5-2 and five outs away from the World Series before being Grady Littled. In 2004, in the 9th inning of game 4, with the greatest closer in history ready to slam the door, the fat lady was all but belting out her sayonara. But that was the exact moment when the spunk, looseness, and all-out gusto of that band of balls-to-the-wall Idiots saved the season, and made history. Those crazy Sox came back from that impossible hole to become the only team to EVER win a series after being down 3-0. They kept on rolling, and swept the Cardinals to win their first World Series in 86 years. As they piled up on the field, I was in a state of shocked amazement, disbelief, and utter joy. My team, the underdog that had been kicked all its life, had most unexpectedly completed the greatest comeback in sports history, and FINALLY ridded itself of the ghosts that had haunted the franchise for 86 years. It was a magical run, in so many ways.

In the days since, that same franchise, a cast of lovable losers just 8 years ago, has suddenly become one of the fat cats that I hate so much. They overspend on free agents, eat fried chicken and drink beer during games, and backbite each other in the media. Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek, two of the lovable elder statesmen of the ’04 Sox, retired last season, leaving no members of the 2004 World Series winners on the current roster. The team I loved so much has ceased to exist. In many ways, I don’t even recognize this version of the Red Sox. They have new road uniforms, new personnel, new coaches… and a new aura. And I don’t like it one bit. The sports fan in me hasn’t changed at all, and 12 year old me hated teams like today’s version of the Red Sox.

So what should I do? I can’t just pick a new team to root for, and I love baseball too much to just stop watching. But a little part of me dies when I hear “Red Sox” and “173 million dollar payroll” in the same sentence. In 2002, the cursed Red Sox were so beaten down… I felt like they needed me. Now I feel like they couldn’t care less. There’s no worse feeling for a fan to have. I think 12 year old me just died.

 

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  1. I think their moves in the offseason weren’t very smart, and they really don’t resemble the title teams of the mid-2000s anymore.

    • I agree. They’ve become a shell of themselves. Those teams had clutch performers, guys who put the team first, guys who were cogs in the middle of the lineup, and they were a real team. Now I just see dysfunction. It’s sad.

  2. I had to smile reading your post – thanks!

  3. This is why I adore being a fan of a small school in a mid-major basketball league. We have intelligent student athletes, a gorgeous campus, several players on the Dean’s List, and men I’d be proud to introduce to my daughter (if I ever had one, in many, many years). It’s so difficult to love pro sports because of the huge pocketbooks… kinda takes the underdog out of the equation.

  4. This is well done!

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