It’s All About Telling a Story

Saturday night in Seattle and I’m back at Safeco. I kind of wish I could call it something other than that. I could just say, “the ballpark.” That’s better than some insurance company’s name.

Anyway, I’m at the ballpark, sitting in the upper deck and munching on a chicken katsu plate from Uwajimaya (yes, bring your own food in and avoid the stadium price-gouging), and the place is packed. Unlike the previous game I went to, the Mariners fans are louder than the Red Sox fans. It’s Father’s Day Weekend, the Solstice festival (with thousands of nude, bodypainted bicyclists parading through Fremont) is happening. Grill smoke is in the air, everywhere. Seattle summer is in full, dazzling swing.

And I’d already been sunburned earlier in the day at the nude bike parade, and now the sun creeps over the stadium awning and I’m in full blast, and no way. So I stand behind stands behind home plate for the last three innings. It was a shutout, with another unknown (LeBlanc) keeping the Sox to two hits in 8 2/3rds. Diaz came in for the ninth and closed the whole thing down to the loudest sound I’d ever heard in the ballpark.

I’d never been happier to see the Sox lose, too. I’ve rooted for them plenty—every time I went to Fenway except for the two Mets games here. 2004? I was crazy for them. 2007? Sure, why not? But once, well, basically all Boston sports began winning everything and the region’s fans (who were already ornery, some of which who are infamously racist) truly became the worst in sports.

I say “became” because, when I was a kid in southeastern Connecticut and southern RI, Sox fans didn’t have anywhere near the glitzy swagger of the Yankees to trophy around. The Yankees (or, to them, pretty every New York sports team) were the evil empire. I believed this, too, as a young, jilted Mets fan who, frankly, learned a great deal about grief and loss in the 2000 World Series, and learned exactly how to hate a bandwagon, showboating fanbase along with Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins fans.

That is until, in high school, I was accosted by a drunk, staggering Patriots fan in the parking lot of Gilette Stadium who jabbed his finger at me (I was wearing a Jets jersey, from when I still rooted for the Jets with my dad, and I’ve since sworn them off just out of sheer embarrassment) and said, “I bet yer a Yankees fan, too!”

I was like, dude, I like the Sox. I hate the Yankees. I’m a diehard Mets fan. Not all New Yorkers are the same, you know?

And from then on, mostly regarding the Patriots, I’ve generally hated their fans. And a lot of Red Sox fans. I don’t follow basketball or hockey, but I can imagine hating Celtics and Bruins fans, too.

I’m throwing a whole lot of my friends under the bus when I say that I hate Boston/New England sports fans, but so be it. Push!

Honestly—and I noted this in my last post, and maybe it’s just regional differences of temperament because, as an East Coast guy, I miss the ornery, crass, and otherwise unlikable yet completely lovable social traits of the Northeast and the Northwest tries way harder to be polite than is possible for me to achieve—nobody likes bandwagon fans, fans that brag or boast, fans that put others down, fans that hurl racist pejoratives at players of color, or fans that light cars on fire and riot when their team wins a championship.

And I’m not saying that even, perhaps, 90% of current New England sports fans are bandwagon fans, or exhibit any of the above behavior. Nearly all of my friends who root for these teams have done so since childhood, when the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series since 1918 and the Patriots were just another crappy NFL expansion team. They are all dignified sports fans who appreciate the fun and entertainment of it, who love their teams, but who also have a great deal of respect for other teams, even their rivals.

So, when the Sox made a go of it, considering the story behind them (perpetual underdogs) and the fanbase (beaten-down fans of perpetual underdogs), I couldn’t help but root for them. I loved it, too. I watched games with friends who had been waiting for this their whole lives, and whose parents, even grandparents, had also been waiting. People were shaking the ashes of their dead relatives at their TV screens before games, or refusing to shave or shower, or any of the other strange superstitions that sports fans believe in. There were so many emotions at play, and when Boston went down 3 games to zip against the Yankees, and then came back, and then went on to win the World Series, I wanted to hear the Dropkick Murphys on repeat just as much as anyone did. Hell, I even called my local radio station to request it—and my request was fulfilled.

I had a Sox hat. I still have it. I’ve worn it for two great games at Fenway: when David Ortiz hit his last home run, and when the Red Sox had a wild extra-innings walk off the following summer. I high fived fans on my walk to Back Bay Station. It didn’t matter, either, because the Mets are always there for me, my childhood team, my father’s favorite, my favorite.

But it doesn’t mean you can’t root for other teams, and even root against those other teams from time to time.

Like rooting for the Mariners. I mean, there’s another story. Seventeen years without a playoff berth. The 116-win season that was drowned in the champagne of yet another Yankees postseason series win. The home of Griffey and Ichiro. A team of has-beens, unknowns, fading stars, and distant relations. The team of the place that, at least for a while, I am calling home.

The only catch is that I can’t root against the Mets. Any other team? Fair game. For or against, doesn’t matter. As long as some fan ethics are upheld—like, generally not rooting for unlikable players, teams, or hopping on blatant bandwagons—I’m a fan of the game overall, and it is mine to explore and enjoy as I will.

So, when standing in between two sets of families and kids—one Sox fans, the other, Mariners—in the concourse behind home plate for the last three outs on Saturday night, I looked at one family as already spoiled by repeated victories (Sox), and the other as deserving of a good win. Honestly, what really matters is that everyone has a good time and enjoys the game, because it’s just a game, it’s leisure for us, it’s not personal, and we have no control over anything that happens other than what crappy food we eat or how much we dress up in expensive, useless, but meaningful sports garb like custom jerseys and fitted caps and color-matching shoes. (I’m guilty of this, I get how stupidly materialistic it is, but it’s fun.)

But when Mookie Betts struck out and the Mariners fans, the tens of thousands of them, already standing, their gazes locked on home plate, silently hopeful, then loudly hopeful, cheering on their pitcher, suddenly burst forth with a fucking chorus of victory screams and chants and cheers, I let out a shout and clapped hard for a few seconds and, finally, saw that ballpark at its fullest, loudest, brightest, and happiest moment of this season.

Then, wanting nothing more with a crowd of 50,000 baseball fans on a holiday weekend, I ducked straight for the exit and made fast for the train station before everyone else. But I’ll be back because there’s a story there that’s being told, and told well.

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