It’s hard to imagine, for me, genuinely caring about a baseball player retiring. I love baseball, but I’ve never had a favorite player in the way that I did with Rajon Rondo (before the Bill Kennedy incident) or Alberto del Rio (before they gave him that dumbass double stomp finisher which breaks my heart into a thousand pieces every time he does it).
I’ve always rooted harder for the laundry more than the folks in the laundry, despite what we could probably call "strong pro-labor political leanings". It’s not that I don’t care about players at all, it’s that I’ve trained myself to care less about them, and more about the people I’ll be spending the longest time with: more often than not, that's the front office staff and managers. My affinity for analytics plays a small part in this, as numbers have a tendency to turn baseball players into concrete poems.
Stats in baseball have a tendency to reflect not just the player’s ability but their relative shape, size and playing style. Which, at least for me, creates a disconnect: I don’t think about replacing, say, Mike Napoli. I think about getting another 6-foot-2 dude who hits dingers, and maybe even with a beer-league softball swing. It’s not that I don’t care about the player as a human being, it’s that I actively don’t care about them as a narrative.
So, while I’ve certainly joined in on the "fun", I don’t think I’ll miss David Ortiz all that much when he leaves. Nor will I be particularly sad when Koji Uehara moves on or when Dustin Pedroia finally gets too far away from 30 to be valuable enough for the team to keep. I will mourn their contributions to the team, but for entirely selfish reasons. I will not miss them, but I will be thankful for all the joy they brought me over the years.
Some of this may be naiveté, and it may come across as a lack of appreciation for the work that someone like Ortiz has done as a baseball player and human being. But it’s that I’ve come to appreciate that the modern structure of sports almost requires me to feel this way.
It pleads with me to be looking forward to next year, to the future, to the hope of what could be. I’ll look at our amazing farm system, our up-and-coming stars, and I’ll try to be just as excited as when I first started following the team, forever chasing that dragon. The nature of modern sport implores me to accept, on a visceral level, the inevitability of change. I need to root for the future because the past is being perpetually stripped away by time and intention.
But most importantly, it’s because the only thing better than good is new.
Now, that may sound crazy -- or dangerous to anyone who has ever seen How I Met Your Mother -- but it’s an important mindset to have in the world of sports, where entire organizations turn over in the span of one offseason. We’ve had a punctuated equilibrium in the evolution of roster movement, and it’s led to a world with which we are exceedingly familiar: we subscribe to a team emotionally, with the explicit understanding that we’re celebrating a symbol more than a collection of individuals working towards a common goal. Or, as it’s better known, a team.
We root for the ideas the organization claims (or gets us to believe) they represent. For years, there was the dastardly Evil Empire v. noble Rebel Alliance construct around our team. Every pink hat and green jersey a tangible token of us buying into the idea that the Sox were a team for everyone, not just those who lived and breathed the sport (like Cardinals fans, the trademarked best fans in baseball) or believed in winning at any cost (like Yankees fans, who continue to be monsters.)
And for years, players like Papi, Pedroia, and Koji -- along with being seemingly awesome people, fundamentally good guys and excellent players -- symbolized that for the entire fanbase. They served as avatars for the Red Soxian way of building a team, whether it be as a bunch of idiots, scrappy overachievers, or diamonds in the rough pulling off the impossible and/or improbable.
For some people, that’s all they can ever ask for. Having one’s self reflected in the people you admire and root for is what makes Steph Curry so dang popular, even though he is most certainly an alien. He, like Dusty, looks and plays like we feel we would if given the opportunity (and even just a modicum of their talent). But allowing ourselves to love players -- and connect with them emotionally at the level where we’re sad when they are go -- can be a dangerous thing if done past an arm’s length.
Teams leverage these connections to make hold us hostage financially, or worse, threatening to move to some Podunk town that’ll give them all the love (read: money) they think they deserve. Now, the Sox would never do that, but only because they’ve had us hook, line, and sinker for generations. It doesn’t make them bad people, just businessmen.
And that’s the most important thing to remember when waxing nostalgic: that the laundry we root for is sentient and -- at least on an individual fan basis -- doesn’t care about us. Not in a bad way -- they don’t wish us ill or anything -- but we’re walking dollar signs and PSLs to them. Which, of course, is probably for the best, as it’d be weird if a corporation owned by an oligarch wanted to be besties.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t be nostalgic about things. It doesn’t mean we can’t be sad as the end of an era -- maybe the best in the history of the team -- rapidly approaches its inevitable conclusion. It just means we should probably put the whole thing in perspective.
And, I mean, if nothing else, some of these kids can rake.