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Giving Thanks (Baseball Edition)

As a Sox fan, I’m thankful for two main things right now.

MLB: Boston Red Sox-Championship Parade Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

It’s already the day after Thanksgiving, but it’s never too late to express thanks. Even as we collectively move on to Black Friday, I wanted to be sure to say that I’m thankful for two main things as a Red Sox fan right now.

I’m thankful for Craig Breslow and the fresh start that he brings to our team.

It’s still early days, so his track record is limited, but there’s reason for optimism. His earliest moves are intended to bolster our pitching: he declined Corey Kluber’s option, protected pitchers Wikelman Gonzalez and Luis Perales from the Rule 5 draft, non-tendered Wyatt Mills, traded Luis Urias for reliever Isaiah Campbell, and hired pitching coach Andrew Bailey. These opening chess moves don’t have the type of flash we’re hoping to see later this off-season, but I feel good so far.

Regarding the lone trade so far, Urias was not going to be a viable solution at second, so why not? I’m holding out for so much more, and at this moment in time, So Much More feels very possible. The hot stove is only just starting to heat up. Time will tell how these moves (and future ones) will work out, whether Breslow can successfully implement his vision to remake this team, and whether John Henry will give him the support he needs. But for now, I am so grateful for the new perspective at the CBO position. (And if Urias tears it up over here in Seattle, I promise I’ll let you know.)

Speaking of ownership, I’m thankful for John Henry.

I’ve written about this before, but now it’s official. The A’s have become lame-duck Oakland residents for 2024. After next season, they’ll be nomads until 2028, when they will move to Las Vegas. Having lived in Oakland during college and attended many baseball games there, I’m still processing this…not because I rooted for them (I didn’t, other than Rickey Henderson) but because it doesn’t take much to see myself—or Boston, or any baseball fan—in their shoes. All 30 MLB team owners, including Henry, rubber-stamped this deal. The city of Oakland, through formal negotiations, and A’s fans, with their reverse boycott and various other protests and statements, have been vocal and persistent in their efforts to retain their team. There’s no doubt this puts a hole in many hearts.

I live in Seattle, a city that lost their NBA team, the Seattle Supersonics, to relocation fifteen years ago. This happened before I arrived here, but from almost my first day in town, the grief over this move has been apparent, and hardly below the surface. It is clearly still a source of pain, and there are repeated overtures to bring a professional men’s basketball team back to Seattle. This is a city with several other games in town: the Seahawks are beloved, the Kraken were championship contenders last year in only their second season in existence, the Mariners broke a playoff drought last season, the Seattle Storm are only one season removed from a championship, and the OL Reign have made the playoffs every year since 2019. This is a city that has its share of superstars like Julio Rodriguez, Cal Raleigh, the recently retired Sue Bird, the soon-to-retire Megan Rapinoe, as well as playoff appearances and championship hardware. (And I haven’t even mentioned the love and pride over their largest local college team.)

And yet, despite the other options in town, despite the many reasons to feel proud of the sports landscape here, despite the past successes as well as the potential on the horizon, the loss of the Sonics still feels fresh, and it’s clear that it still hurts. I see this with my outsider’s eyes. Folks are still quick to bring it up in conversation. The pain is there, and it is real. I see it, even though I’m not really a part of it. And thank god I’m not part of it! I can’t truly conceive of my hometown Red Sox leaving town (or Celtics, Bruins, Patriots – though they sort of flirted with it once). But if they did…it’s almost unimaginable, right?! And like Seattle, Boston is a town with lots of sports and stars to love. Seattle lost one team years ago, and it hurts.

Oakland has lost three in two years.

They have no major professional sport remaining in town, nor is there a major college team within the city limits.

What does that do to a city?

I can’t really answer my own question. But I do remember the love and pride over the A’s that I saw when I lived there. That pride—that team—was a source of frustration to me in many ways then. I particularly recall the 1990 AL playoffs, of which I attended Game 1 in person, grrr.

If a team leaves, where does a city’s pride, its love for a team, go? Where to put that anger if your own team leaves? A’s fans did a great job of channeling their emotions before it was a done deal, but now what happens, especially since owner John Fisher and commissioner Rob Manfred don’t seem to even understand these emotions, let alone provide any closure? Fisher said, “It’s been a lot worse for me than you” when he had the chance to address some A’s fan in person. Manfred, on at least two occasions, blamed the fans for the A’s eventual exit. In April he said, “[A’s] attendance has never been outstanding, let me put it that way.” In June it was: “It is great to see what is…almost an average Major League Baseball crowd in the facility for one night.” He omits the part where Fisher orchestrated the demise of the ballpark and team so that fans and broadcasters were quite literally driven away by a minor-league level team, increased ticket prices, and even wild animals. No owner seemed to have any hesitation in approving the deal, and I suspect some see it as a good thing, providing future flexibility, funds, tax breaks, and precedent for what they might one day dream up to enrich themselves.

It seems like other fans are the only ones who get it.

If sports can bring us together and lift us up—and I’ve never felt that so strongly as I did in 2013, having moved 3,000 miles away to Seattle just six weeks earlier and watching from afar as my friends and city dealt with the Boston Marathon bombings. The Sox stepped up for us, remember that? So if sports can lift us up, I don’t think it’s too simple to say that Fisher has done the equivalent of dragging Oakland down.

We’ve been lifted up in Boston, New England, and beyond because of our love for the Sox. We know about collective love in New England because we’ve been living it. It’s part of us. We’ve made history, we’ve known deep love, we’ve begun and maintained family traditions around the Red Sox and our city’s other teams. A lot of folks my age grew up identifying with a certain scrappiness, pridefulness, and yearning because of hanging on the very high highs and truly deep lows of being a Red Sox fan pre-2004. I was a certain kind of person because of it; it was part of the way I carried myself in the world. I know that’s true among many of my friends, my town, our region, and Red Sox Nation.

Dan Moore of The Ringer has written a beautifully deeper dive on all the ways that sports can influence a city and its residents, considering an economic standpoint as well as particularly psychological and sociological ones.

One last word from Oakland that resonates with me as a past resident and provides some context for the city’s identity:

Look, everybody loved San Francisco [across the Bay Bridge]. And everybody stuck their noses up at Oakland. But we had the Raiders. We had the A’s. We had championships. The fact that the A’s were winning and the Raiders were winning and the Giants and 49ers weren’t gave us pride. And the Warriors had a Black head coach, and were one of the first NBA teams to have an all-Black starting five. Al Davis was the first GM to draft a Black quarterback in the first round. That was very powerful. – Dave Peters, Oakland resident, A’s fan

I will say again that I’m thankful for all the things John Henry has done for us as a city, and as individual fans. In the grand scheme of things, I’m happy to have him as our owner, even as I quibble with some of his recent methods and approach. I don’t ever want to go through what Oakland is going through now.