I’ve been meaning to write this post for more than a month, almost two., for it has been that long since I have watched a Boston Red Sox game, or indeed any baseball game at all. This, I knew, was complete abdication of everything I believe about loyalty, courage, faithfulness and gratitude, yet I could not force myself to meet my own standards, and I am ashamed.
For I hate sports fans like that, feckless, fair weather, Sunday soldiers who root loudly for their team when things are good, and who defect to the booers and the doubters when the tides of fortune turn. I have been the most loyal and faithful of Boston baseball fans since my childhood. I watched or listened to every game when the team was annually awful, from 1962-1966, and yet got reserved seats for the final series of the 1967 season a year in advance, because I thought, absurdly, that the team might be in a pennant race. (And I was right!) I endured team collapses and disappointments in many seasons since—all the famous ones, and others that only a dedicated lifelong fan would remember.
What happened to me this year?
I won’t catalogue the horrors that derailed what was supposed to be a contending team this season: anyone who cares already knows the litany, and those who don’t, couldn’t care less. But as the injuries mounted and the sub-par seasons multiplied, watching games literally began ruining my days and nights. I was looking at the 3 hour commitment to watch my beloved Red Sox as the daily equivalent of watching a close friend die a painful death in the hospital. I couldn’t sleep; I was short-tempered with my family. I realized that what I had always regarded as a highlight of my summer months had become not merely a dreaded chore, but an unpleasant ordeal. So I stopped. Oh, occasionally I would check a final score, but I haven’t touched the sports pages or watched ESPN”s Baseball Tonight for many weeks. And I hate myself for it.
I feel like Newt Gingrich, serving divorce papers on his wife while she’s being hospitalized for cancer. To me, the Red Sox are tradition, history, home, honored heroes and friends, role models and wonderful memories. If I rank the 10 best days of my life, the Red Sox figure in many of them. No other interest, hobby, passion or pursuit has taught me more, entertained me more, or given me more excitement and joy. Don’t I owe the team more loyalty than this, to abandon them when they are objects of derision in their own home town and everywhere else? This is where I used to shine as a fan. When the New York Yankees had the Red Sox beaten, three games to none, in the 2004 American League Championship Series, I told everyone I knew that the Red Sox not only weren’t done, they would come back and win. Now I’m no better than the much despised front-runners who flocked to the team after they won that series, the World Series and another Championship three years later. You know—the Yankee fan clones, whose dedication is directly proportional to the team’s won-lost record.
Making things worse is the fact that the two teams that dominate where I live now, the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles, are having exciting, surprising, winning seasons that has baseball interest here at an all-time high. I would normally be rooting for those teams too, in somewhat restrained fashion, but I can’t do that now. Then I would really be like Newt, chasing a younger, healthier woman while the one I promised to honor in sickness and in health lay in a hospital bed.
I miss baseball. I mourn the loss of my decades-long record of fealty through good times and bad, and I feel, irrationally, somehow responsible for the team’s failures when I haven’t been pulling for them through my TV screen, radio or in the stands, like I did without fail for decades. I hope the team will forgive me, and take me back some day. And I hope I can forgive myself. It’s terrible when you can’t find the fortitude to live up to your own values.