-by Matt Magill
My son will be five in a couple weeks, and in his short time on this earth he has developed an undying love for only a few things. In no particular order those things are: giant chocolate chip cookies (not those rinky-dink Chips Ahoy ones), superheroes of every size, shape and allegiance, and the Boston Red Sox. He even has a favorite player, center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (though it may be because he likes to say the name Jacoby, I’m not sure). Regardless, no matter the sport that we are watching or the teams that are playing, he always answers the question "who do you want to win" with "the Red Sox" (he always emphasizes the Sox part, my kid is adorable). Many friends and family have tried to get him to change his mind, to root for the Yankees (shudder), but if nothing else, I have at least done my duty as his father and steered him away from that. I get worried though, because I know that he is in for disappointment, major disappointment, if the last few years of Red Sox baseball are any indication; as his father it is my duty to limit his unhappiness.
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This is obviously the nature of sports fandom though, right? Regardless of the sport, there can only be one winner surrounded by a multitude of losers (and don’t give me any of that "we’re all winners" bullshit, tell that to a Kansas City Royals fan). So I should just tell him to suck it up and love the Sox through the good and the bad, regardless of how much they test your fandom, right? The last thing that I want is for my child to become the blubbering mess that you see plastered all over the internet by irresponsible parents every time a superstar leaves their team (though coincidentally no one cried over Dwight Howard, which I guess proves that his time in Orlando had come and gone). While it may be funny for me to see this play out next year when Ellsbury leaves (whether at the trading deadline or via free agency), it is not right to put him through this.
I have not been a Sox fan for my entire life. Hell, I wasn’t really a baseball fan until I got to college, but I can tell you that the jettisoning of Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox earlier this year was a dark day. He was my favorite player on that team, and while I did not find myself blubbering like that little girl in Phoenix after Steve Nash split to chase a ring, I felt a twinge of sadness that the era of the Greek God of Walks was over. Now I am forced to be a fan of the White Sox so I can keep track of Youk’s progress.
The thing is, going through this first-hand this year at the age of twenty-nine, I don’t want to have to explain to my five year old child when I am inevitably asked "Where’s Jacoby?" that he now plays in Washington, or San Francisco. That would break his heart that his favorite player left his favorite team. Yes, he’ll be five when this all goes down, he’ll get over it, he will most likely find another favorite player (though if he says John Lackey he will be in timeout for the rest of the season) and he will move on. But this is the Red Sox. His disappointment will be revisited time and again as his favorite players are shipped out, or opt not to return because the management has its head up its ass and the media can’t help but fuel fires of speculation and dread in the locker room.
A case in point is the happenings of this last weekend and the trade to end all trades that shocked the baseball world. I don’t think anyone would have seen that trade coming, well maybe they could have seen it coming, but to see the follow through? Seriously? Sure, they wanted to dump Beckett (and I have been a Beckett apologist for years but even I could see the writing on the wall) and yes they wanted that Albatross of Crawford’s contract off their books, but to trade Gonzalez to do it? This is a guy that we moved mountains to acquire and now, after two years they are just tossing him away in order to shed payroll, as if we were the Oakland Athletics or something. Not only did they give up top prospects to acquire Gonzalez from the Padres, but they also moved Youkilis to third (after failing to re-sign Adrian Beltre who is arguably the best third baseman in the game right now, and someone that could have been an anchor in the lineup for years to come), and then dumped him when a better option came along (who is now injured, Karma’s a bitch). I know, Youk was getting old and he was injured and inconsistent and didn’t like Valentine, blah blah blah. But to upset the apple cart for someone that you are not going to stick with, regardless of the financial flexibility they may now have is ridiculous for a franchise that has prided itself (in the past fifteen years or so at least) in doing what they have to do to be in contention at the end of the season. Will this get them back in contention? Not this year, and not with this manager. What is far more likely is that they are two to three years away from being anything more than a laughing-stock. That’s two to three more years out of the already solid-to-great careers of Pedroia, Bucholz and Lester (if they don’t trade them too). I’m not even counting Ellsbury because while the Sox will now have the money to sign him, no doubt, why would he want to come back? This is not even accounting for the fact that if they manage to sign Ortiz for the next three years, that he will be toiling in mediocrity in the twilight of his career, which is not the way he should go out after all he has given to/done for this franchise. In three years time, this franchise will look very different and not necessarily for the better.
The desire not to return to a team full of dysfunction and malcontents must ring doubly true after seeing the less than harmonious exits of former teammates. One of the most beloved people maybe in the history of the Red Sox (especially in the managerial ranks), Terry Francona, was lambasted throughout the media because the team failed to perform down the stretch last year. That same hands-off style that brought two championships to the downtrodden franchise was crucified by the management and the media with supposed leaks of marital problems and prescription drug woes fueling the collapse. Considering the fact that, even under possible stress and narcotic influences, Francona was and is a better manager than that joker they brought in this year.
So not only do I have to worry about my son hearing about his favorite player’s hasty exit, but I also have to field questions like "Daddy, what was Jacoby doing with his dick in that donkey?" after the owners get done smearing Ellsbury in the media. I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan on having the bestiality talk with my child until he is at least nine.
So what is the plan of action? Do I stop exposing him to the debacle that is the Red Sox and hope that he gravitates toward another team? Do we just follow Ellsbury to whichever team he winds up on next year (except if it’s the Yankees, I have to draw the line somewhere)? Do I lead him towards activities that will lead to less heartache, like goldfish cultivating or loving a Kardashian? Or do I just let him go and help pick up the pieces of the inevitable 80-plus years of heartache that are sure to follow? He deserves better. Hell, we all deserve better.
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