As I write this, I am sitting a block away from Madison Square Garden waiting to watch my beloved Celtics trounce the Knicks on a surprisingly temperate February night in New York City. The tickets, a Christmas present from my future in-laws, came with my fiancee’s explicit insistence that "You *don’t* have to bring me to the game if you don’t want to" and the implicit instructions to invite our best friend (and my best man).
They also came with the same understanding I’ve had literally my entire life as a sports fan: I would be entering a place I am not welcome, but was born into. Because, I am one of the few, the proud, the (essentially) lifelong Boston sports fan who grew up in New York.
It all started with Larry Bird and Hardwood Classics. This, along with my love of the color green and a minimal understanding of my Irish heritage, quickly led me to believe very strongly I could totally be the next Larry Bird, that the Celtics were the best team in the history of sports and, of course, that the Lakers are just the dirt worst.
But it also made me obsessed -- though I didn’t realize at the time -- with Boston sports, and more specifically, the fans. More than even the Celtics, that was the team I wanted to be a part of. Loud, proud and shockingly sweaty, I knew there was something about those people that led me to believe they knew what they were talking about.
I begin following both teams in earnest -- or at least the best I could in a pre-Internet, pre-League Pass/MLB.TV, prepubescent world -- by the time I was 10, just in time to watch Pedro start to Pedro the crap out of MLB. Enough has been written about Pedro’s Pedrocity to fill another 37 hours of Ken Burns’ Baseball, but as a kid he felt like a sign from God that I had picked the right team and for the rest of my life, I’d never feel pain.
Well, uh, I was wrong. Living in New York as a Red Sox fan in the late 90s and early 2000s was a waking nightmare. With championship after championship, their fans reached a level of insufferable previously unimaginable in modern times. But through every victory parade, sale of ugly championship shirts at Modell’s, and cavalcade of free agent signings, I kept the faith. Even through unimaginable cruelty, with the name "Aaron Boone" haunting my dreams and the halls of my high school.
Aa although they were run over by the Marlins, the idea of the Yankees beating us like that kept them going through the offseason. It was at that point I had a crisis, contemplating -- after what may feel like a brief hiccup of seven years to some, but to a high schooler, an eternity -- whether all the heartbreak was worth it.
What got me through it, however, were the fans. While we were separated by the Long Island Sound and roughly 200 hours of driving (give or take a few hours depending on the traffic through Connecticut), I felt the closeness and kinship as I pored through Simmons’ post ALCS heartbreak message board, what I had assumed would be there when I watched the Garden explode with joy a decade prior. I would, of course, be rewarded with sweet release: the first championship in my life as a sports fan.
And, as I am sure you are all acutely aware, there’s nothing quite like that feeling of ultimate victory. Comparable -- at least for me, your mileage may vary -- to every good thing in life short of maybe marriage and probably kids. There’s something sweet about your first championship team, especially when they are a bunch of Idiots. It’s a group I’ll always remember, be thankful for and think of everytime I wear my now incredibly grimy 2004 World Series hat.
Because those are things you cling to when you’re hundreds of miles away from the things you love. You cherish the spackle stains on the top of your hat when you hit your head on the ceiling of your dorm in October of 2007 from jumping almost exactly as high as Paps threw his glove in the air. Or the one time you visited Boston as an adult and just got to talk to someone about last night’s game.
Sometime I’ll move up north, where I’ve always felt I belong. But for now, I’ll be here, watching my guys go for another championship through my teleputer while arguing with my best man about his morally corrupt fandom. And, while I can’t promise anything in particular for what this column will become or what I want it to be, I’m going to spend every week repaying you all for proving me right after all these years: this is the team I want to be on.