As a lifelong Red Sox fan, the first thing I did when moving to New York was look up baseball bars that might be somewhat less than hostile. I made a list, by neighborhood, then set about cajoling my handful of new friends to try them out, hoping to be spared the awkwardness of perching at a bar, alone, and having to prove to (male) strangers that a girl can follow baseball without assistance or flirtation.
I washed down Hairy Monk burgers with pints of Guinness—sometimes with a little Boston ‘B’ drawn in the head, but soon that got expensive.
One year, I went splitsies with my father on a satellite package that would give me NESN coverage of every game. For three-odd hours, my roach-infested living room filled with the dulcet tones of NESN jingles and salty Boston accents selling mattresses. But what a tease; the feed opened for the first pitch and closed with the last. Cut to black. No Eck, no RemDawg, no Dan Shaughnessy. No W.B. Mason Extra Innings, or Granite City Electric’s Extra Innings Extra.
The iPhone brought me the At Bat app, a glorious model of stats and battery-draining cartoon-batter-in-a-strike-box coverage, pitch by 90 mile per hour pitch. Fastball. Inside. Ball four. I plunked it in my speaker dock and reveled in the trusty ballpark lilt of WEEI Red Sox Radio, listening to the crowd, the claps, the crack of bats on balls. I found Joe Castiglione’s nasal twang extremely comforting.
But mostly, as an exiled member of the Fenway Faithful, I went gently into that pinstriped good night. I took the grunts and jeers of those I passed while in my Boston cap. I suffered the scoffs and tuts of cashiers I paid with my BoSox bank card. Eventually I was inured. Cashiers would raise an eyebrow, daring; I would raise my eyebrow back. It was just another debit card.
I bought a tank top that read, "Real Women Don’t Date Yankee Fans," and wore it proudly even when, by force of demographic overpowering, I did not heed its wisdom. That got expensive too. I went to Yankee Stadium, even when the Sox were not in town. I forged a maybe-more-than friendship with a man who wore his Yankee braided-magnet-necklaces in the shower and to bed. For a golden year or two, we traded stats like barbs. We agreed on mutually important things, like A-rod’s (talent granted, but) lack of greatness, Big Papi’s likeability, Joe Torre’s class, Jacoby’s speed… I told myself my love for baseball wasn’t Sox-exclusive. I could clap politely when Jeter broke Lou Gehrig’s record on that fine September night. This would not forfeit my soul—or displease my nana’s, may she rest in peace.
Some seasons, I simply lacked the fortitude or funds to keep up as I should. I spent summers bumming around Europe. A trade, an injury would come and go, with me no wiser. I’d lose track of starting pitcher ERAs. (I did tear up, however, when I first saw Youk in Yankee uniform. Likewise when V-tek finally retired.) But I always tuned in for the big games. I grew comfortable behind enemy lines. I bellied up to sports bars four-deep with my foes and clapped, starkly and loud, against the silence when the Sox scored hits against the Yanks. I urged acquaintances and friends to do the same.
Which is how I ended up taking a Scotsman and two Mexicans to the Bronx.
Thursday, September 5th. Night of the first autumn nip. We bore the insult of New York fans and New York frankfurter inferiority and settled in our seats—wedged up in the grandstand about as far as one can go before falling out the back. And there, in the gentle, late-season fluorescence of a night game, having convinced two-thirds of the assembled company (my philosopher boyfriend and his female colleague) to root for Boston, I set about detailing finer points.
"What is it for a pitch to be ‘nasty?’" they inquired, looking for the exegesis of the term.
As if the very gods themselves were smiling on my errand, the things I spoke were manifest. "If this," I said… "then this." "If in a ground-out the shortstop throws to second and the second baseman throws to first, then, feasibly, two batters can be out; that’s called a double play." All of a sudden, 6-4-3. Oooh."And if a fair ball bounces out into the stands, it’s called a ground rule double…" Immediately one was hit. Aaah. I knew better than to burden them with niggly matters like the strategies of bunting or the infield fly.
Being newly-doctored, they were fast to learn. Fast, also, to internalize the love for this year’s red-socked journeymen.
"If this hitter gets a homerun, then the Red Sox get three points!" declaimed my Glaswegian boyfriend in one at-bat.
"They aren’t points," his interlocutor dissented, "they’re runs. Right?" She shot to me.
It was just one of those magic nights. The air was crisp. The stadium was somewhat empty (it was the second night of Rosh Hashanah) and we had landed in a patch of somewhat-less-than-hostile Yankee fans, interspersed with energetic, orphan pockets of folk in Red Sox jerseys, hooting quietly into their beers.
"Boo!" I cried, against my usual decorum, when A-Rod took the plate. "Booooooo!" my cohort cried, with joiners’ glee.
"Hey! Eeeeeeasy, Boston," razzed the (already red-faced) Yankee diehard in the "28 Championships" hat and jacket, at which point I promised him I wouldn’t boo anybody but A-Rod. The end of the game would find us fist-pounding in mutual respect.
And the game. Oh what a game. Two scoreless innings, and then a third-inning two-run swap. A tie-breaking fourth followed by three runs of insurance in the fifth. The Red sox were on top.
My friends clapped, bouncing in their seats. "We are so going to win this!" As much as their blossoming love for America’s (and my) favorite pastime warmed my heart, their gloat needled my guts. "No no no no no no no," I slurred at them, cross-eyed with trepidation. "You must never ever say that." I did everything but make them perform some unsaying ritual—like jumping up and down one-footed, rubbing their bellies and their heads, intoning, "Go Mass, wicked pissah, I shall never speak so cockily about a four-run lead…especially against the Yankees." But they didn’t understand about the House of Pain.
As if on cue, Jacoby got picked off at first (after several attempts).
"You see?" I said to them.
"Pffft," they said to me. Lavarnway singled Nava in and Boston scored another run. But I sank into my seat to witness history’s umpteenth encore. The Yanks slapped us to the tune of six runs in the bottom of the seventh. The newest immigrants to Red Sox Nation were aghast.
The lone Yank fan in our party, my boyfriend’s colleague’s boyfriend, was a businessman. He had been trained to think the Yankees, by statistical imperative, were doomed to win. He came to life quite suddenly and started clapping. Clapping and smirking. Smirking and clapping.
"How could this happen?" They wailed and gnashed their teeth.
I smiled a tight-lipped smile and spoke the mantra—to which my dear old Dad had always taught me I should turn when times were tough—the very same words we muttered to each other after Game Three of the 2004 ALCS: "We’ve got ‘em right where we want ‘em."
Like children facing their first disappointment, they watched, mouths open, stunned, as our three batsmen in the eighth went up then down. They clawed me—and their armrests—as the Yankees did the same.
Top of the ninth, and we were one run down. Yankee Stadium roared for Mo, who jogged in, warmed up, and swiftly logged two outs. And then?
And then. By this time, some of the Yankee yuppies in our section had departed. Little islands of us good guys tried to keep our faith above the two-out din.
And then. As if by magic, Mike Napoli knocked Mariano’s fourteenth pitch—a cutter—to centerfield. Quintin Berry (the new Dave Roberts?) snuck his way to third. Drew singled, Berry scored. Tie ballgame.
Bottom of the ninth. One out. Soriano walked, stole second. And then—as if by hand of retributive god—we caught him stealing third. Two outs. Curtis Granderson went down swinging.
Top of the tenth. The thunder of Yankee rally had kittened out into an indignant bellow here and there. Joe Girardi sent in Joba, and the rest was history. The Boston fans and I were on our feet, out-shouting the enemy. My boyfriend was hopping up and down. Mexico’s newest baseball fan was chanting, "SÍ SE PUEDE!" at the very top of her lovely academic lungs as her boyfriend glowered. Middlebrooks flew out, but Jacoby singled and stole second (take that, Adam Warren), and Victorino brought him home. It didn’t matter that Papi was intentionally walked for the second time that evening. Or that we stranded a pair of men on base. Koji Uehara came in for the 10thinning save—getting A-Rod in two pitches and Overbay in twelve. Suzuki whiffed the number 20 pitch, and that was that. The Sox had won it, 9 to 8. "New York, New York."
They may not be as frequent, my moments as a Sox fan among strangers, but they’re there. I fall somewhere on the exile spectrum. A better fan, perhaps, would pay closer attention, from April to August. A lesser woman, however, may have given up.
I go home and plug the WEEI boys back into my stereo. I try to evoke, for two newly-minted citizens of the Nation, the ethos of the Bearded Idiots of yesteryear. (My boyfriend liked this; he’s hirsute.) I try to explain about small ball. About keeping the faith. And what it means for us to be the first team to net 90 Ws. Or what it will mean to win the AL East.
"There’s just something about this team," I tell them, as Salty smacks a go-ahead Grand Salami against the Yanks. I tell them about a ballpark someways to the North, nestled above a turnpike, about a place where baseballs sail into the bluest night above the monstah green.
"You think this is good?" I ask them. "Just you wait until October."