The Boston Red Sox have fans all over the world. That’s where that whole “Red Sox Nation” thing came from and why late summer games from Baltimore to Los Angeles will feature large contingencies of fans ready to shout “let’s go Red Sox” loud enough to be picked up by the local TV broadcast. While the heart of this so-called nation is obviously in Boston, there are plenty of fans who experience their fandom in a more transient form.
I am one of those fans. I have been a fan of the Red Sox for my entire life but have lived in Philadelphia for the last 12 years.
Growing up in upstate New York, I experienced the rise of Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra, the heartbreak of 2003 and the magic of 2004 from closer to the epicenter of Sox fandom, but when I moved to Philadelphia in 2007 to start college at Temple University, I began a new chapter in my Red Sox following that carries on to this day.
My first season spent watching the Red Sox in Philadelphia was a pretty great one. The Sox won 96 games and stormed over everyone in their path, including a sweep in the World Series, to earn their second title of the aughts. This was a different team than the 2004 one. It was stocked with superstars and, other than a 3-1 deficit in the ALCS against Cleveland, they rarely faltered.
For this Sox fan, that title, and the ones in 2013 and 2018, have been exceptionally fun to watch — but also largely silent affairs. I watched Jonathan Papelbon strike out Seth Smith for the final out of the 2007 World Series alone in a cramped dorm room while my roommate and other friends gathered next door, apathetic to the championship. When the Sox won in 2013, I had to keep my celebrations muted so as not to wake up my roommates who had gone to sleep hours earlier. This past season, as Chris Sale finished off the Dodgers, I was once again sequestered to my living room and simply pumped my fist and smiled as my girlfriend — who is a self-proclaimed ambivalent Phillies fan — slept in the other room.
These are all experiences that may be familiar to Sox fans from anywhere beyond Boston, but they mesh together with the more Philadelphia-specific incidents I’ve experienced. In 2007, as the Red Sox made their run to the World Series and I embarked on my freshman year of college, I wore Red Sox gear at every chance I got. While sitting in a sociology class during the first week of classes, I had a Josh Beckett player shirt on, which elicited an inquiry from the guy sitting behind me. He asked me about my thoughts on Beckett and the Sox. That sparked a conversation about my fandom, as well as his for the Phillies, leading to a friendship that is still going 12 years later.
It hasn’t all been friendly. I had a similar wardrobe aesthetic during the fall of 2008 when the Red Sox clashed with the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALCS. At the same time, the Phillies were fighting for their first World Series appearance since 1993. The Sox and Phillies came within a breath of playing in that year’s World Series, but even though that didn’t come to pass, Phillies fans knew the Sox could have been the next opponent en route to their 2008 title. I specifically remember walking to Temple’s computer lab with a Sox hat firmly placed on my head and receiving a less-than-friendly reminder from a stranger that the Red Sox were not particularly good at baseball. While most fans from outside Philadelphia might think this should be expected from fans in Philly, that was actually one of the few times I ever received any chirping from passersby.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been some heated exchanges with my friends who owe their allegiance to the Phillies. During my time here, both the Red Sox and Phillies have had their fair share of success, which has led to more than a few debates about which team is better on a given year. In my experience, I’ve found that player comparisons have been even more spirited. Remember my friend from sociology class? He and I once had a charged discussion comparing Dustin Pedroia and Chase Utley that could have easily gone on forever, though that would have been terrible for both of our blood pressures.
There have also been plenty of mutual experiences between me and my Phillies fan comrades. When Papelbon signed with the Phillies after the 2011 season, I was there to tell them what to expect. When Martinez pitched in Philadelphia in 2009, a favorite way to mock me was saying he would go into the Hall of Fame as a Phillie. When Shane Victorino helped the Red Sox win the 2013 World Series, it gave the folks I know in Philly a reason to think somewhat favorably about the Sox, albeit briefly.
Perhaps the best encapsulation of my experience as a Red Sox fan in Philadelphia occurred last season when the Sox visited Citizens Bank Park. I was the lone person in Red Sox garb among the group I went to the series opener with — though there were plenty of other Sox fans in attendance — earning me a few barbs from my friends and other fans in the stands. However, there was more trash talk thrown about the Philly Special than insults about Rick Porcello’s fastball.
Every fan’s experience is different. What its been like for me to be a Red Sox fan in Philadelphia may be drastically different than what’s it’s like for those with similar allegiances here and other cities. I’ve found that being a fan from afar can be a sometimes solitary existence, but it can also create friendships and open your eyes to the experiences of other fans. As the Red Sox finish a two-game set against the Phillies tonight (and face them again in September), just know I and the rest of the Red Sox fans from this region will be holding things down in Philly.