"Oh, man, where'd I put that Nick Punto t-shirt? Arg! I can't believe I didn't buy two."
I am, in theory, a grown man. I have two kids, a wife, and if I could afford it, I'd have a mortgage because I hear there isn't much that's more fun than a mortgage. In my spare time I'm a Red Sox fan. In that capacity, I have purchased many different Red Sox-related items in order to prove this fact to complete strangers. This article is about that. I thought this would be a good idea because at this point, just about anything is a better idea than watching the team on the field, and that includes my clothing. I think. Maybe not. Now I'm having doubts.
When I buy Red Sox clothing, I've focused on t-shirts. This is because I prefer a dignified look, one that says, "RED SOX!!" It's the sort of look that does wonders with the ladies and in job interviews. Sports-team themed t-shirts are right up there with neck tattoos when it comes to selling yourself as a responsible adult. But I don't let that stop me. I have my Jose Offerman neck tat to prove it.
So I've bought a bunch of t-shirts and jerseys and hats. Here's the thing though. I'm not very good at picking which stuff to buy. In fact, I'm abysmal. Think back over the last few decades and imagine the players you wouldn't want to associate yourself with. Got a list? Those are my guys. Their names are emblazoned all over clothing I've paid a small fortune to adorn myself with. Really. My record is putrid. Here, I'll prove it.Our story begins years and years ago, when, as a child, I played for the Red Sox in Little League. I was, of course, always number 21. Why? Well, duh. It was Roger Clemens' number and Roger Clemens WAS the Red Sox back then, at least as far as I was concerned. Whatever happened to that shirt I don't know, it slipped into obscurity well before Clemens exiled himself to the Great White North. But if I had kept track of it I'm certain what would have happened to it. I would have burned the thing somewhere around February 18, 1999, the day Clemens was traded to the Yankees. Because burning things makes them better. Or at least burned.
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I didn't live in Boston for a very long time, but while I was there, Carl Everett was the bomb. In 2000, he exploded against opposing pitchers, hitting .329/.403/.647 through the All Star break that season, and as we'd all a later find out, he exploded in the locker room as well. You see, Mr. Everett was insane. There was the whole thing where Everett claimed that dinosaurs never existed and fossils were man-made to throw him off the track. There were other things too, but denying the existence of dinosaurs is enough to prove the point. So, of course, I had a Carl Everett t-shirt. Of course I did. I don't have it now though. It went from a must-have around Boston (while Everett was on his MVP course) to something you wouldn't wear if you had no other clothing available. "No thanks," you'd say. "I know it's 12 degrees out, but really, I'd rather be naked." And I'd understand.
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The replacement for the Everett t-shirt was as easy to pick as the Everett shirt itself. Which should have been a sign. In 2002 the Red Sox were making vain and vaguely desperate grabs at star players, or so it seemed. They'd signed Manny Ramirez an off-season ago and the team had gone a turbulent 82-79. GM Dan Duquette felt more star-power was needed and so he gave what was at the time a big contract to a young outfielder from the Royals (via the A's) named Johnny Damon. Well, Damon had a mediocre first season in Boston, before the team's breakout year in 2003. Damon was one of the worst offensive regulars in a stacked lineup in '03 (seriously, look at these guys, six of them with OPS+ of 120 or over) but that didn't stop me from buying his shirt. I wore that shirt throughout the playoffs including the night [censored] Boone homered off TImmy Wakefield. I wore that shirt again the next season throughout the playoffs, through the amazing ALCS come-back and the life-affirming sweep of the Cardinals, and on the train riding up to see the victory parade on the warmest and most glorious cold and rainy day Boston has ever known. When Damon signed with the Yankees a few years later, I mailed the shirt to my aunt, a Yankee fan who lives in Manhattan. I think she still has it. She told me once she wore it around town for a while, which is good. It was a good shirt and God knows I wasn't ever going to put the damn thing on again.
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In the years since I've owned, in order, a Daisuke Matsuzaka t-shirt, a Josh Beckett t-shirt, an Adrian Gonzalez t-shirt, and the one constant, my David Ortiz model. Which I look excellent in. Though so would anyone. I even bought my wife, back in the heady times of 2007, a Coco Crisp shirt. She wore it on her first trip to Fenway. I still have a picture of her during batting practice wearing that shirt and enjoying her first ever Fenway Frank. Talk about perfect, and I don't even eat hot dogs.
It occurs to me that my history of t-shirts is also the selected history of a franchise's high and low moments. Clemens had perhaps the highest, other than winning a World Series, and certainly the lowest, winning a World Series for exactly the wrong team. Damon was a huge part of The 25, but then he joined the Evil Empire. Matsuzaka had some good moments, but perhaps the best of them was that time when we were all following his plane as he flew to Boston to sign a contract. There was nothing but excitement and possibility then, all of which has given way like the old rotted floorboards in an abandoned house.
All these guys were important parts of the Red Sox at one time, for better or worse. For a minimal financial hit, they were important parts of my wardrobe as well. That's a lousy way to end this piece, so one more thing to say to close it out. Two years ago I entered the Red Sox store at City of Palms Park in March. This was shortly after the team had signed Carl Crawford and traded for Adrian Gonzalez. We were excited. You remember. I went in looking for a Gonzalez t-shirt. "We don't have any," said the lady. Don't have any? Adrian Gonzalez. Big fella, going to lead the team to another championship. Ring any bells? "Nope, sorry," she said. "Don't have any." Fine. Well, how about Carl Crawford. I had to get something and while I wasn't nearly as excited about Crawford as I was about Gonzalez, hey, it was Carl Crawford. He's one hell of a player. I'll take him. "Ok," said the lady. She went into the back room. Then she came back. "Nope." They were out of Carl Crawford t-shirts. Phew. Saved me another paragraph.