What does it mean to be a fan of the Baltimore Orioles? Fellow SBN'er James F addressed this question recently in a nicely written article at the blog Camden Chat. It got me thinking, what does it mean to be a fan of the Boston Red Sox? Unlike the Orioles, the Red Sox have had nothing but success over the past decade. That success has been welcome but it has altered what it means to be a Boston Red Sox fan.
Red Sox fandom and Cubs fandom used to be synonymous. Both were lovable losers whose time would never come. Then the Red Sox time came. Then it came again. The success and popularity of the team, both in contrast to Baltimore, make wearing a Red Sox cap an easy thing to do. If you look at the Red Sox franchise page on Baseball-Reference.com, the team hasn't had a losing season since 1997, the same year the Orioles last posted a winning record. People love to be associated with winners and the Red Sox are and have been so over the recent past.
Still, in a way, I envy Orioles fans.
Rooting for what has become the bully of the block can at times feel morally fallow, even if you were friends way back in second grade before the bully got big and strong and started stealing everyone's lunch money. There are no bandwagoners in O's nation. Who would claim to be an Orioles fan who wasn't? Nobody says, "Look at me! My team hasn't won squat since the Clinton Administration!" There's a certain purity there. When you see someone wearing a Red Sox hat on the street you don't know for sure whether that person can identify two players on the current roster. If you see someone wearing an Orioles hat, you know.
Iit is hard to truly appreciate a team's successes unless you've tasted failure. The Red Sox have tasted failure. Indeed, they've been held down while it was smeared on their faces. But that fact makes the team's current run all the sweeter. When (if?) the Orioles find success again, it will mean all the more because of the troubles they endured to get there. But, as James F points out, the foreseeable future offers more of the same for the Orioles. Their ownership isn't about to change and the way they do things makes the necessary results see unlikely at best.
In contrast to the Orioles, the future of Red Sox fandom is bright. Boston's management, while not perfect, is undeniably smart, capable and ranks with that of any other team in baseball. The farm system, while not teeming with talent like Kansas City's, is fertile enough with potential that one doesn't have to squint hard to see the Red Sox of the future. Perhaps most importantly, their ownership is smart enough to identify smart people, hire them and then get the heck out of the way, pausing only to write the occasional check.
For me, rooting for the Red Sox is a combination of pride in the team's successes, humbling failure, and, something I haven't yet addressed, a feeling of community. I haven't lived in Boston for eleven years and I don't live on the same side of the country anymore. But tonight I struck up a conversation with a total stranger because that stranger and I were both wearing Red Sox hats. This is a common occurrence to the point that, when walking with me, my wife will notice other Red Sox fans before I will. I don't know if this is unique to Red Sox Nation (it probably isn't), but it's an important part of what makes being a Red Sox fan worthwhile.
Ultimately, the angst of decades past has melted away, replaced, at least for me, by perpetual hope. Whether the team wins a World Series this season or not, which they very well could, I know they very well could next season and/or the season after as well. I have to admit, that is a good feeling. I should close by saying I admire James F and other fans of his ilk who have put themselves into their teams with passion and purpose. May you know success, fellow baseball fans. Just not when you're facing the Red Sox.