The Malcontent

Only a Game

Red Sox Nation, it’s time we have a talk. This isn’t going to be easy, because I come to you not as one of your own, but as The Enemy: a Yankees fan, a loyal subject of the “Evil …

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Red Sox Nation, it’s time we have a talk. This isn’t going to be easy, because I come to you not as one of your own, but as The Enemy: a Yankees fan, a loyal subject of the “Evil Empire.” But see, that’s part of the problem. I’m not The Enemy. I’m just a baseball fan. It’s only when you insist on viewing baseball as a cataclysmic battle between two diametrically opposed forces that I become “The Enemy.” And that, my Dustin Pedroia-loving friends is precisely the point. (For the record, I quite like Dustin Pedroia and have nothing but respect for him. Ditto for former closer Jonathan Papelbon, Trot Nixon, Gator and any number of Red Sox gamers throughout the years. That being said, Youk is kind of a douche.) A lot of you take this just a bit too seriously. It’s time to grow up and learn to enjoy baseball for the game that it is.

As I write this, your beloved Sawks are dead last in the AL East, having just been thumped 18-3 by the Texas Rangers – and at home, no less. Boston’s 4-7 start, following on the heels of last September’s epic collapse, has again turned Red Sox Nation into a circular firing squad. There’s so much finger pointing, gnashing of teeth and throwing of tantrums that the casual observer could be forgiven for thinking something important was actually at stake. The airwaves of WEEI are brimming over with hysterical emotion as caller after caller throws in his two cents worth of outrage and armchair coaching. Doomsday has been predicted, the honor and integrity of the ownership have been questioned, and first-year manager Bobby Valentine has been called a “cockaroach” (sic). It’s only April.

Part of the problem is that Red Sox Nation spent generations as a downtrodden baseball backwater, a land of disappointment, broken dreams and epic collapses where defeat was constantly being snatched from the jaws of victory. Those days are over, but mentally and emotionally many of you can’t detach from the pre-2004 ideal of the long-suffering Red Sox fan. You still believe the Fenway Faithful are the moral compass of baseball, cheering on a misfit band of scrappy, lovable underdogs as they face down the cold, calculating storm troopers of the Evil Empire. News flash: you popped your cherry in ’04, and everybody thought you’d kind of grow up after that. The rest of us see you as a bunch of whiny, entitled, melodramatic babies who seem to think that one of the elite organizations in professional sports owes you something. Your team is one of only two to win two championships in the past decade, and currently boasts the third highest payroll in the major leagues. You want to find long-suffering underdogs? Try looking in Pittsburgh, Kansas City or Chicago, not Southie, Cambridge or Dorchester.

Furthermore, baseball is not life or death, despite the overwrought hysterics of the WEEI listeners and Boston Globe columnists. For years, the smirking, lackadaisical play of Manny Ramirez was treated as apostasy by the Fenway Faithful. Perhaps it’s true that he was a pampered, eccentric primadonna, but I prefer to think that he simply got the joke: that he was being paid millions upon millions of dollars to play a game, and legions of grown-ass men reacted every day as if their lives depended on it. He eventually seemed much more at home in LA, where the Dodgers fans arrive late, leave early and don’t get too worked up over any single game out of 162. Red Sox Nation sneers down its nose at such casual fandom, but it seems rather sane and healthy. They’re loyal supporters of their team who also happen to be busy adults with other priorities and responsibilities. They like baseball because it’s fun – because it’s only a game.