A Fan’s Obligation: 12 Life Lessons From Being a Red Sox Fan

Thanks Carlton. I won't forget.

This is not going to be a fun day.

The Boston Red Sox, the baseball team to which I have devoted a remarkable amount of my time, passion and energy over a half-century, are threatening to complete late season collapse of embarrassing and historic proportions. A spectacularly bad month of September has the team holding on to its once assured post-season play-off slot by its fingernails, and the squad appears to be dispirited and unhinged. Today the Red Sox play a double-header with the New York Yankees, the team’s blood-foe, and its prospects don’t look good. I, of course, must watch both games.

Following a losing baseball team is emotionally hard—I listened to or watched every game the Red Sox played in a six year period in which they never had a winning season— but following a collapsing winning team is much, much worse. It feels like a betrayal, yet at the same time the fan feels guilty for being angry with the players, who undoubtedly are suffering more than you are. This is, after all, their career. Still, you have had your hopes raised over many months; you have, if you are a serious fan, attached your self-esteem to your team’s fortunes. Watching it tank is like watching a presidential candidate you have argued for, and gone to rallies for and contributed to make an ass of himself in a debate. (And no, I’m not a supporter of Rick Perry.)I have been a devoted fan of the Boston Red Sox, an infamously quirky team, for long enough that I have considerable experience handling seasons like this. I can rattle them off like the sequels in the “Friday the 13th” franchise: 1972, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1991, 2003, 2006. During many of these, someone, usually my mother, would say, “Why torture yourself? This is making you miserable. Just stop watching. Stop caring.”
I don’t want to stop caring. Roger Angell, in “Agincourt and After” from his book, “Five Seasons,” expressed my feelings perfectly in this passage, not coincidentally written about a famous Red Sox game I attended, Game 6 of the 1975 World Series:

” It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitive as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look — I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring — caring deeply and passionately, really caring — which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naiveté — the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball — seems a small price to pay for such a gift.”

Over these many years, caring about the Red Sox has given me far too many of those sublime, indescribable moments of pure exhilaration and joy, and it would be the height of ingratitude to abandon them when the reward for caring is pain and disappointment rather than pleasure. The hoard of front-running, fair weather, “Sweet Caroline”-singing pseudo-fans who arrived on the scene once the Sox had finally won a World Series in 2004—yes, I expect them to give up, or boo, or write abusive blog posts. I owe the team more than that.

Following baseball and the Red Sox in particular did more to shape my world view and personal philosophy, including my views on ethics, values, and character than anything else in my life, including my education. Among the many lessons that my passionate attentions taught me were these twelve. A day seldom goes by where one of them doesn’t come in handy:

1. Winning doesn’t build character. Losing builds character.

2. One of life’s most important skills is the ability to get beaten, humiliated and embarrassed and still return to the field and try again.

3. Everyone can make a difference, and you never know when you will be the one.

4. Be ready for that moment when it comes, and don’t be afraid.

5. The modestly gifted can and often do exceed the performance of the true stars, because they know they have to work harder, and do.

6. A courageous and noble defeat is as admirable as a victory, and sometimes more so.

7. Beware of stars who break the rules, and beware the manager who lets them do it.

8. Victory is never assured, and defeat is never certain. Never give up.

9. Accept that luck will play a big role in your life, but never use it as an excuse or an alibi.

10. You can try your hardest, make perfect plans, execute superbly, and still fall flat on your face.

11. Winning fairly and playing by the rules is more important than winning.

12. Anything can happen.

That’s a good haul, even for 50 years of anxiety.

So I will be there today for the Sox, as they have been there for me.

I’m not expecting to have a good time.

But you know what?

Anything can happen.

9 thoughts on “A Fan’s Obligation: 12 Life Lessons From Being a Red Sox Fan

  1. Well, I was right. The day has been miserable until this moment, as Jason Varitek just singled in the go-ahead run in the second game (6th inning) after the Sox went behind 3-0 in the 1st. Game #1 was a dispiriting, boring, 6-2 loss. It’s 4-3, and hope is alive.

  2. As a lifelong Indians fan, who never (well, almost never) had to deal with the wrenching suspense of an almost-there winner, I approve of your sentiments but can’t relate to them. Your Lesson Number 5, however, made me think of one of my favorite lines from the works of Henry Ward Beecher (quick! name another such line!): “In the ordinary business of life, industry can do everything which genius can do, and very many things which it cannot.”

    “In the ordinary business of life, industry can do anything which genius can do, and very many things which it cannot.”

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