I was born in Greater Boston in 1980. This means I was raised around the irrational exuberance, religious devotion, and gloom of Red Sox Nation, despite the fact that neither of my parents was born Red Sox fans. My dad was born in West Virginia. The Cincinnati Reds were the closest team. My mom was born in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. but her parents weren’t interested in baseball. However, the families of my friends were nearly all Red Sox devotees. One close friend's family had an annual tradition of everyone picking the number of games the Red Sox would win that year. Red Sox games were always on, wherever you went.
The modern version of Red Sox fandom is still hard to fathom. Other than 1986, to be a Red Sox fan in the late-1980s and early-to-mid-90s was to taste October baseball and then immediately vomit it up. Memories of the Oakland A's sweeping the Sox and Roger Clemens trudging off the mound.
I was a sophomore in college when Troy O’Leary's 1999 two-run-homer in Game 5 boosted Boston over Cleveland. This set up a Sox-Yankees ALCS. The small school in Connecticut became a volatile community for a week that October. I carried my Red Sox cabbage patch doll from 1987 around campus. The baseball doll (named Ellis after the speedy centerfielder Burks) didn't bring the Sox the luck I'd hoped. Yankees in 5.
By my early-20s, things were changing. The agonizing drama of 2003’s ALCS Game 7 loss to the Yankees. I'd moved west that summer and watched the Sox defeat the A's in Games 1 and 5 of the Division Series in Oakland. Euphoria on the field after Derek Lowe's strikeout of Terrence Long. Sox fans stayed to celebrate while the A's fans shuffled to the exits. This was a year before I finally convinced my wife to join me in the Bay Area. Long-distance mode and finding myself in a new universe made that autumn’s baseball obsession all the more intense. Of course, she was visiting during that 2003 ALCS. I went nearly catatonic for an hour or two after Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball refused to knuckle and Aaron Boone (now managing the Yanks) launched it deep into the night. In 2003, the Sox curse and its existential implications ran deep.
This all became prelude to the magical catharsis of 2004’s comeback. We were about to move in to our new apartment together as it was taking place. The World Series title over St. Louis was refreshingly anticlimactic, the veil finally lifting over New England’s baseball-obsessed masses. Older Sox fans couldn't bask in their cynicism anymore. The Series in 2007 was icing on the cake. Six years later, the 2013 team was unexpectedly delightful. That Tigers pitching staff seemed entirely unhittable, but David Ortiz performed a miracle.
This year... we couldn't have asked for a more satisfying regular season. To see the standings and find triple digits in the win column… it has been mind-boggling. 108 wins is a franchise record. October has arrived and we start over again.
My nephew turns 12 this month. He won't know the agony of the past versions of Red Sox teams. To his generation of Sox fans, not making the postseason is unthinkable. But he won't fully understand that catharsis either. As I near 40, each passing baseball season is slightly less important. Life is bigger. More is at stake than a win or a loss. And yet, attaching myself to a team is part of what makes fandom meaningful. Watching Jackie Bradley Jr. make an impossible catch deep in the triangle at Fenway. Watching Steve Pearce come up to pinch-hit in the 9th. I'll be hoping for these rare, dramatic moments as the unscripted game plays itself out again.