Why am I rooting for the Red Sox in the World Series? Because I grew up in New England. That should be all there is to it, right?
I could spin tales about spending my formative years watching Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, and Wade Boggs knock balls around Fenway Park, long before they put seats above the Green Monster. I can still remember the heartbreaking night in 1986 when a softly hit grounder, along with the hopes of millions of fans, trickled between Bill Buckner’s legs, and the curse seemed stronger than ever. In 2004, when I was living in South Africa, I fervently believed in the slogan “I believe” and dragged myself out of bed every night at 2 a.m. to watch them make history. But I shouldn’t have to expound on all that. It should be enough to say that I cheer for the Sox because I was born and spent the first eighteen years of my life in Connecticut and New Hampshire. Unfortunately, it’s no longer quite that simple.
While I was in Phoenix for a tour of the new light rail system, the shop manager appeared wearing a Red Sox cap. He was introduced as having worked for the Boston Metro system for thirteen years, which was sufficient to explain his support, as far as I was concerned. But even so, he felt compelled to describe specifically where he’d grown up on the outskirts of Boston, and how rooting for the Red Sox was a family tradition. To demonstrate his good sportsmanship (most likely for the benefit of the Denver representative) he explained how much he liked Coors Field and respected the Colorado Rockies compared to the dreaded Yankees. It was silly. You shouldn’t need to feel defensive about wearing a cap to support your childhood team when they’re in the World Series. But for some reason, he did.
This attitude made more sense the following evening at dinner when I asked one of my colleagues who he was rooting for. He admitted he was rooting for the Red Sox, and then launched into a complicated history of his connection with the team, including his trips to Fenway, and how his support of the Sox piggybacked onto his hatred of the Yankees.
It seems as though the bandwagon accusation has become prevalent enough that all Red Sox fans (and possibly Patriots fans) have to have an adequate backstory prepared to explain their support. My friend’s wife, who is from Philadelphia and unabashedly dresses their newborn in Red Sox garb, explains that liked the Red Sox “from before all that” because her Phillies were terrible and she needed someone to root for in October. I expect the a wallet-sized photo of young Thomas in Red Sox gear will serve him well if he’s ever slapped with bandwagon accusations once he reaches adulthood.
The Red Sox’s transition from lovable losers to evil empire effecively took place over the span of eight consecutive victories that spanned the 2004 ALCS and World Series. Their status as such was cemented three months later in January when the New England Patriots won their second consecutive Superbowl and third of the decade. New England fans got carried away with how great a year they’d had, and managed to squander the goodwill of the sporting world faster than America did with the international community after 9/11. After a drought of almost ninety years, a single world championship was able to change them from one of the most pitied organizations in professional sports into one of the most polarizing.
Rudy Giuliani recently mentioned that he was rooting for the Red Sox because he’s an “American League Fan”. It will probably cost him New York. He could personally save a dozen kittens from terrorist vampire furriers on live TV while curing cancer, and people would still remember him as the guy who traded in his loyalty to his hometown Yankees for a few votes in Boston (which he wasn’t likely to get, anyhow).
For the detractors, it’s not hard to find examples of bandwagon fans. For the die-hard supporters, it’s even easier. If you don’t know who Franconia would tap to replace Daisuke Matsuzaka in the rotation if he injured his rotator cuff, you’re not a true fan. It’s like some kind of loyalty oath crusade. Stephen King can no longer watch them play from the comfort of his home in Maine; he’d better get his ass down to Fenway. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are suspect. Even Dennis Leary probably had to rattle off some statistics before they let him into the broadcast booth. I can’t help but picture Ted Williams sitting in a Red Sox bar somewhere, explaining his life story to some disinterested jerk from Southie who says dismissively, “wait, why did you say you’re not rooting for the Padres again?”