Thursday, October 31, 2013

How I Became A Red Sox Fan

I’m a big Red Sox fan. I won’t begin to compare myself to someone who was born in 1919 and stuck with them through thick and thin – I don’t know that kind of hometown or sports sorrow – but my loyalty is now forever to Boston. That’s my bedroom desk at right.

It wasn’t always this way. Outside of my adoption, I don’t think there’s any question I get asked more than, “How the heck did you become a Red Sox fan?” See, I grew up a die-hard Houston Astros fan, to the point that a college newspaper op-ed writer I have still never met wrote, “Hardcore baseball fans, and especially the gentleman on campus who attractively sports the Astros warm-up jacket and cowboy hat, know well the name Craig Biggio.”

Bagwell, Biggio, and Billy “the Kid” Wagner were my heroes, the team won the division almost every year, and there were few better starting rotations than Shane Reynolds, Darryl Kile (my first baseball card - may that giant of a man rest in peace), Jose Lima, Mike Hampton, and even Randy Johnson. Even the later names Beltran, Berkman, Oswalt, Miller, Dotel, and Lidge loom large in my mind. I founded one of the largest Astros bulletin boards online (back when bulletin boards were a thing) and kept it going for many years. To the end of my days, Jeff Bagwell will always be my favorite player, and that late '90s squad will always and forever be my boyhood and hometown team, the one you can bury me with.

But there just weren’t that many of us. Even without an NFL team – the Oilers were gone and the Texans not yet arrived – it was still a football town. The baseball folks were mostly fairweather fans, especially when Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens (my favorite pitcher even pre-Houston, but a loathsome traitor to the game) came to town. I was by no means the only exception to the rule, but a true baseball culture just didn’t exist.

In 2005, I went to New Hampshire – Red Sox Nation – for college. The Astros made the World Series for the first time ever and I. Went. Nuts. Game Four of the NLDS was one of the greatest games ever played – at 18 innings, greatest two games, really – and the very first photos of me on Facebook are from the night we won the NLCS. It was great until we lost, but even then, I was sick as a dog and refused to miss a game, even down 3-0. Every game was close and Bagwell and Biggio finally got to play in a Series. It was amazing, but, not that I knew it yet, it was both the pinnacle and finale of my now-past time as a then-life-long Astros fan.

The divorce (amicable) and remarriage went down like this. I was married to the Astros, and I was faithful. I never wanted to become a Red Sox fan, and I fought it every step of the way until it was final. It all started when this cute little girl named Boston flirted with me at the bar for years, but I always said no, I’m married. But she kept at it, and I couldn’t resist – after many years, in late 2006, I finally cracked and said, well hey, one dinner as old friends won’t hurt. But it didn’t stop at dinner. The first kiss happened, and then it was a full-blown affair. Before long, I was in couples counseling. Interleague play was always complicated, but every year my loyalties shifted closer to the Sox. I remember in 2008 and 2009 actively telling friends, “We’re separated, but I just can’t sign those divorce papers.” Well, eventually I did sign them – but at least we could raise the kids together. I still had a favorite NL team and favorite AL team, even after the one I’d want to win a Series against each other shifted. But then the Astros moved to the AL, and I had to choose.

I chose Boston – and friends, I’m on my second and final marriage. It was not my call, but I love her and I wouldn't have it any other way.

How did all that come to be? The Red Sox had both a baseball culture and a history that the Astros will never be able to claim. I went to downtown Boston for the first time in September 2007, and literally two out of every three people had some sort of Sox gear on. You just don’t see that in Houston. And you knew they weren’t fairweather fans, not after that stretch from 1918 to 2004. Then of course, the history of the Red Sox is the history of baseball: Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Babe Ruth, the New York rivalry. Those were the two baseball things – culture and history – I had yearned for all my life, to the point that the Red Sox had already always been my second favorite team and my favorite AL team, years before I ever went to New England. I wasn't even a fan yet in 2003, and watching Aaron F'n Boone hurt like hell. Plus, Boston always seemed like a sister city to Houston, one that was simultaneously both more blue collar and more academic. Both were scrappy, and neither had won a World Series since the ‘Stros’ inception. Even in high school, still an Astros fan through and through, I argued passionately that Ted Williams was the greatest position player to ever play the game – and of course, Jeff Bagwell came up through the Boston farm system.

But after I started visiting Boston in 2006, that first trip for my first Springsteen concert, I was sold. I’m not an East Coast guy and can’t wait to get back to the mountain west, but damn, I do love that city.

I still have that Astros starter jacket, which my dad gave me to much delight after weeks of pre-Christmas begging, and will still wear it sometimes, never with shame. "Texas forever." And of course I still wear one of several cowboy hats when I can, and do sometimes feel the pang of the past. But as we all know, going home to mom and dad’s house can simultaneously feel like home yet not quite right. We find a new family, and a new home. We never, ever give the old one up, and it’s always a part of us, but as the Apostle Paul said, we do put away childish things. It’s just one more of the thousand ways baseball represents real life – I try to remember my ex fondly (an ex whom I gave Red Sox earrings, no less), but at the end of the day, the past is past and Boston Strong and that’s all there is to it. Wicked cool.

Tonight, for the first pure time in my life, my team won the World Series – and it’s really nice. Really fucking nice. It needs to happen more often. And with Lester, Pedey, a resurgent Lackey, Koji Time, Napoli’s beard, and hopefully more Big Papi at the helm, it WILL happen more often.

Go Sox. ‘Nuff said, said McGreevy. And I don’t disagree. Bah bah bah, good times never seemed so good.

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