I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a baseball season that made me so passionately excited about football as this 2012 Red Sox season. I’ve been a baseball fan since 1995 – a respectable time now. I started as a Mariners fan and – without dropping my hope for the Ms to do well while bowing to the realities of being 3 time zones away – I’ve become an ardent Red Sox fan.
I’m definitely not alone in having come to Red Sox fandom in the last decade. I attended my first game at Fenway in 2000. 2001, for reasons that will be instantly understandable to those of you who live in the Northwest of follow baseball closely, I lived tied to the MLB broadcasts on my computer – up until late at night. After that, though, I started following the Sox. I lived through the devastating heartache of 2003 (there is a great group of guys with whom I can never watch another game after Pedro got lifted…). I actually missed the first three games of the ALCS in 2004 (I was in Vienna and thinking, as I caught the box scores, “Well, at least I’m not missing a *good* post-season.”), but lived through the incredibly late nights and unbelievable comebacks of Game 4 and beyond. I rode the wave of seeming-inevitable excellence through 2007. And like so much of Red Sox nation, I find myself facing down a September where we are – to put it plainly – totally out of it.
Dire days like these, my friends, are when I need to draw on my Mariners roots. There are 29 teams in baseball. This year roughly a third of them will make it to post-season play. Only two of them will stand on the frost-hard field in the chilly air of late October. But all of these teams have fans – not just that ultimate pair or penultimate quad.
Your team does not have to be winning – or even good – to have fun being a fan.
As the 2012 season turned from bad to worse, I opined to a friend that it was years like this that allowed purer motivations to shine. Everyone wants to be part of a winning effort, but disdain and disinterest have followed the Red Sox this year as they have struggled to win as many games as they’ve lost. As fast as people jumped on that bandwagon, so fast are they saying that the Red Sox do not deserve their fandom. Well, I’m not jumping.
There are great compensations in losing, my friends. For example, the next time the Red Sox are great (which with Cherington’s moves may be as early as 2014), we will get to be the “We were there when” folks with the 13 year old lucky shirt. Sox fans can actually see the games now. This isn’t a problem in most towns, but there have been years where it was impossible to procure even bad tickets to exciting games in Boston. They still cost an arm and a leg, but at least now if you WANT to get to Fenway, you can go. We are getting to watch some young players come up who will be next year’s super-stars. I remember listening to Kevin Youklis’ very first major league at bat. Some of the kids we’ll see next year will be the next Youklis… and some will be the next Jose Cruz Jr. (My Mariners peeps remember how big he was billed!). We may have the chance to watch a team win against the odds, instead of having the “Best Team Ever” collapse into ignominy. In small market towns, some of the compensation is watching your gifted young players “Make it big” in the big towns. In a town like Boston, it’s getting to poach those self-same players. Regardless, the Red Sox are almost guaranteed to have a shot at the playoffs within a decade.
That isn’t true everywhere. Take, oh, Seattle for instance. There was much ado about the 84 years since the last time the Sox brought home the championship. But Seattle’s team, founded in the 1977 expansion has not only NEVER won a World Series… it’s never BEEN to a World Series. The furthest we’ve ever gotten is the ALCS in 1995. That record-breaking 2001 season ended up flaring out in October. And although the Mariners keep valiantly trying, there is no sense of entitlement in the Emerald City that we’ll ever win it. But still, the fans flock to Safeco and turn on KOMO.
Because it’s fun to watch and listen to baseball. That’s the point. Your team may lose four games out of five, but man that fifth game King Felix is pitching. Or you have an outfielder like Jay Buhner who just loves to play, and it shows. Or you have an Edgar Martinez, who would still be DH-ing if they’d let him run the bases for his doubles using a wheelchair. Or, in a particular appalling year, you still cheer for your team to win (against all odds), but the fun of watching is seeing all the stars of the game come to your home town to trounce your teams… a little like having the Harlem Globetrotters come. Just because your team is under .500 doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.
So, bring on September. Would I rather we were in the thick of the chase? Of course. Am I looking very much forward to the Pats kickoff in just over a week? HECK YES. But until then, I’ll listen to Joe and Dave, follow the kids called up in September, hear the amazing feats of the opposition and hope that we at least play well in tonight’s loss.