I have to share with you all this: I am a Red Sox fan.
It was 1999, and my brother took me to Boston to visit the city and attend a Red Sox game. At the time the Sox were a playoff team, but losers in ’98 and would-be losers in ’99. There was no “Sweet Caroline.” No pink shirts or hats. No gobs of fans. No waiting for tickets. No Big Papi.
I fell in love with Fenway Park that day. It was the first time I’d seen it. My dad owned a Fenway Park shirt. The place looked exactly as it did on the shirt. A beautiful, blank green wall. Red seats and benches. The glorious Citgo sign illuminating the outfield from its perch atop the Boston University bookstore. There were no John Hancock signatures, no Budweiser porch seats, no ads upon ads, no Monster seats.
From that day I rooted for the Red Sox. In many ways they were just like the Phillies â€” smaller-market teams competing with the New York teams. Engaged fans. Charm. Blue-collar ethic. Players you could identify with.
Climbing the ladder
I attended Boston University starting in 2002. Of course, BU is smack dab next door to Fenway Park. My fandom continued. David Ortiz became a steal. They grabbed Curt Schilling. They traded Nomar for last-minute help. None of these moves seemed that grand. In 2003 the slogan was “Cowboy Up,” geared by infielder cum good ol’ boy Kevin Millar. The hokey-dokey spirit of the Red Sox world was somewhat endearing, somewhat fun. All us college kids became adopted fans â€” a combination of that slogan, the spirit of the fun-loving team and yes, that song “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” drew in a lot of young people to the Sox.
At the time it seemed innocent enough.
In 2004 magic overcame Boston. The team came back from that 3-0 deficit against the Yankees. I watched Dave Roberts steal second from outside Fenway Park, at the Sausage Guy’s stand. The riot cops were surrounding us. It was incredible â€” a thing I’d never experienced as a Phillies fan. When the Sox won game four the city erupted â€” it seemed everyone knew what would happen. Sure enough the Sox pulled out game five, took game six and ran with game seven. A few games later and the Sox were champs of the world. Finally.
I handed out champagne to fans that night. We were drunk, happy, excited. We were all Red Sox fans.
2004 changed everything. Everyone was now a Red Sox fan. There was a Nation. They became media darlings. A Boston “B” became a regular thing to see in public. Moreover, the adopted fans began to feel entitled, while the traditional Sox fans remained critical, berating. In 2005 the White Sox disposed of the Red Sox, and I remember fans cursing the team. The ones who hopped onto Red Sox Nation? Nowhere to be heard.
In 2006 things got worse. Fans? Angry as hell. Nation members? Couldn’t see them.
Then last year. Now everyone’s out in full force again. And I’ve seen it first hand â€” before 2004 the Sox were easy to like, their fans were as tortured as we and they portrayed it well. You couldn’t help but be happy for the Sox when they won in ’04. But after ’04? The Nation is forced down our throats. Die-hard fans question a team that has won twice in four years (give it a rest) while people are deciding to be Sox fans simply because they’re good.
Now this team is about money, advertising, television shows like “Sox Appeal” â€” where two Sox fans go on a date at Fenway and choose whether they’re compatible. Now this team is about gimmicks, fairweather and bandwagon fans and Neil Diamond songs. They’re about Jimmy Fallon and Bill Simmons.
Maybe we don’t like the whole phenomenon because we haven’t tasted success. Maybe we feel cheated that Boston gets all the glory while its partner in crime, Philly, gets left behind. Maybe. But I’ve been there; I’ve lived in New England for six years now. And here’s the thing â€” I don’t dislike the Red Sox. Not at all. Like I said, I am a Red Sox fan. But I feel sorry â€” sorry for a franchise that has become a giant gimmick, a franchise that is now defined by money, ads, dating shows, colored t-shirts, Neil Diamond and selfishness. I feel sorry that an entire fanbase has transformed itself completely in 10 years.
More importantly, I feel sorry for my dad’s t-shirt. It’s now long gone, but that Fenway Park depicted on that shirt is long gone, too. There was an understated beauty about that park, a charm and grace no Giant Glass sponsorship could seize. Now people curse the Sox and their fans for invading territories, and they curse their spending ways, and they curse their self-loathing and self-celebrating, which seemingly occur at the same time.
No longer do I feel proud to be a Red Sox fan. I don’t associate myself at all with the 2007 championship, nor the recent no-hitters, nor any of those milestones. I associate myself with the 2004 team that came from the dead to win the biggest prize of all. I associate myself with a connection I had with Fenway Park, with the Sox themselves.
Out of all this, I have but one hope: That if the Phillies win the World Series this year, we don’t turn our franchise into the same beast. That we remember pride, that we rejoice in our failures as well as our triumphs. That we remain true to who we are: loyal fans of a loyal franchise.