Sunday, January 30, 2011

"The Birth of a Red Sox Fan," by Aimee.

 "The Birth of a Red Sox fan," by Aimee.

When you grow up in New England, or in any of the states north of that state I won't mention because it makes my blood pressure spike, chances are your family has been there for a while. On my Nadow side and on my Reeves side, my relatives have been born, raised, living and dying here for six generations. I was born in Attleboro (Massachusetts) in 1985. I grew up in Attleboro and called it home for nineteen years, and I still spend about two-three months a year, every year, in Attleboro, (being a teacher) even though like millions of other transplants, I've relocated to Florida for the past four years. But it was my years spent living in the swampy fens of Boston at Simmons College, that I will reminisce about today...because if Tampa is where I live, Massachusetts will always be home.

The Pawtucket PawSox Years:

Carlen & Aimee at McCoy Stadium 2010
My love of baseball didn't begin with going to Red Sox games at Fenway Park. As any Red Sox fan can tell you, it ain't cheap to see a game at Fenway, and having grown up 8.1 miles away from McCoy Stadium, home of the Pawtucket PawSox, our AAA team, I spent many happy nights with my parents watching players like Mo Vaughn, and Roger Clemens' and Bronson Arroyo's rehabilitations, and the fireworks displays of the July 4th games. I remember winding up the circular ramps and seeing the paintings of baseball legends as you made it to the top for Kid's Night and were given a free poster, or tee-shirt, or collectible baseball. I remember how fun it was to collect autographs in homemade roped soda bottles, with a awkwardly cut 'window' and a permanent marker inside and how awesome it was when someone, anyone would sign it. It was an intimate ballpark, and last summer when I revisited it with Carlen during my summer trip home, I was tickled to see how much cleaner, more full, affordable, and fun it still was to see a game there. (Yes we were playing the Toledo Mudhens, and yes, we were defeated for the 11th match of these teams that I've seen. It's a running joke in my family that whenever we go see the PawSox, they'll be playing the Toledo Mudhens, and we will lose.)

"The Curse of the Bambino."

I started watching regular Red Sox games while studying for my AP Literature and AP French 5 tests my senior year of high school. It was the '03 season, the first season with our new general manager Theo Epstein, (then only 28 years old) and as any Red Sox fan can tell you after they groan at seeing that year mentioned, it was a great year to get into baseball, a great year to follow the Red Sox on N.E.S.N with Jerry Remy and Jim Rice all the way to the Playoffs, to the ALCS championship against the Yankees,when in Game Seven on October 16th, 2003 at the old Yankee Stadium, in the 11th inning, when Aaron Boone (NY) a pinch-runner, launched a home run straight over the left field seats. That game was said to be "one of the worst losses in Boston sports history," and after watching over a hundred games that season, the away games in the basement of my parent's house, over Ted's house, and the home games upstairs in the living room with my Dad, I had my first taste of the legendary Red Sox fan heartbreak. Undaunted, with the hard resolve of a seasoned fan, we told random strangers on the streets that, "We'll get 'em next year!" We gritted our teeth against the onslaught of Yankees shirts and hats seen around town over the next few days until we could quietly celebrate the Marlin's victory against the Yankee's in the 2003 World Series.

A few months later, in the cold grisly January air, I received my acceptance to Simmons College in Fenway, Boston, and I knew that the next four years would give me chances to finally see an actual game at Fenway Park and to hopefully see the Sox beat the Curse of the Bambino after 86 years. (But to myself, and fans all over the world, no one, I mean no one, saw 2004 coming.)  

2004: The Curse is Broken!
That fall I moved into my dorm in Boston, 853 steps away from Fenway Park, at the Simmons College Residence Campus, and watched the pre-season Ft. Myers coverage on Dana's 12"x12" t.v. in our dorm room. That April, I was able to go to my first game at Fenway Park with Dana (see photo right). Just as exciting, when we were leaving I ran into my best friends from Attleboro: Jenna & Randi! (See photo below). The legendary ballpark, almost 100 years old, is the oldest still used park in America. It is impossible not to be impressed by the history as you walk around the park.

That summer, in between shifts at Jaec's coffee, I watched games at Ted & Dan's and in my parent's basement again, with a renewed hope and vigor for our team that season. 

That September 11th, I was able to tour Fenway Park, during the annual blood drive and to sit in the Green Monster seats, and see the inside of the .409 club house, the steel beams of the underground ramps and hallways, the haunting image of the single Red Seat of the right field bleachers, where Ted Williams hit the ball 502 feet from home plate in 1946. It's daunting to think of all the personages and players that have walked these halls but it's fulfilling to be a part of that history.

I returned to Simmons in the fall of '04, and watched, stupefied, as the Red Sox made it all the way to the ALCS, where for the second year, we would be playing the Yankees for the championship. The ALCS started with the Yankees winning the first three games. All of Boston had been covering their eyes with their hats and hands, imagining another insufferable defeat against the Yankees, cursing like sailors, while we sat and watched the horrors unfold on t.v.'s across New England. Then we surprisingly held onto a win for Game 4. Then Game 5. Then Game 6. It had come down to Game 7 and 2003 is flashing through the brains of Red Sox fans everywhere. Starting to "Believe in Boston" we scored 10-3 against the Yankees and won a chance to the World Series. Let the riots ensue. That night in Boston became legend. At colleges around New England the Police were out en force to stop the exuberant melee of the celebratory mob mentality raging all around. There was no place more so riotous than Brookline Ave and Fenway, which 853 feet away from my dorm room was hosting hundreds of thousands of college students loudly celebrating the recent victory over the Yankees. 
I made it into the paper with my "Get Well Soon Johnny! [Damon]" sign and proudly saved a copy.
(See photo right.)

  2004 World Series:

The next week brought the World Series (from October 23rd-October 27th, 2004) where in an unbelievable daze of four games the Red Sox sweep the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series. Mark Belhorn helped with in Game 1, Schilling pitched an almost perfect six innings with a legendary "bloody ankle" to win Game 2, Pedro Martinez redeemed his last inning of  the '03 ALCS by pitching a shut out seven innings to take the win in Game 3, and Damon, Nixon & Ortiz score in Game 4 to win the series. Luckily, I captured our immediate reactions on camera at the unbelievable victory of this historic moment (photos of Jackie & Aimee):

Like every other college student in Boston, I grabbed my video camera and my "Marry me Theo!" sign and ran with Dana, Jackie, Denise, Igor and Jacqui down to the growing mob at Fenway Park. The Pru[dential Buildng] was lit with the "GO SOX!" message throughout eighteen floors of the 52-story skyscraper. The trees on the streets of Fenway, Yawkey Way and Landsdowne, were shaking with collegiate rigor, the cars and taxis unlucky enough to be heading over the bridge from the Cask'n Flagon towards Kenmore Square were turned over or being used as step schools for better views, and everywhere I look, college kids are on their phones, yelling their excitement to everyone and anyone. Boston Police Forces are out with gigantic 'Prisoner Transport Buses' taking no chances after the death of Victoria Snelgrove the week before, who died after taking a rubber bullet to the eye in the Red Sox riot after a Yankees game, killed by a police officer. Mostly the crowds are subdued from the violence and celebratory the week before, and strangers are hugging, people dancing by with brooms referencing the sweep of the Cardinals, illegal fireworks going off a street away at Landmark Center, laughter, smiles and excited tears everywhere. Everyone is taking pictures of the '04 ALCS pennant, knowing shortly that a new red one would be added next to it for the first time since 1918. (I ended up putting all of my 'Red Sox Riot' footage together for my final project in Video Production that semester: I received an 'A'.)

Boston: City of Champions.

After the World Series, the Red Sox came home to what was one of the greatest parades of my life. Again, the streets were littered with fans from around the country, celebrating the return of our heroes, as they drove by to screams and cheers on the Duck Boats, culminating at the Charles River where they drifted into legend. (As did the fan that jumped in after them.) The cold, grisly weather didn't stop the 3.2+ million fans who came out in droves to line the 3 mile long route, standing on the road, rooftops and riverbanks to see the parade.

(Aimee, Tony, Jacqui, Randi & Jenna watch the victory parade.)

2007 and beyond... 
While I watched much of the '07 season as well, I missed most of the World Series, because my father-in-law died. Suddenly, baseball seemed so removed and faraway from my life, as I tried to comfort my family. I took a break from baseball (watching less than twenty games over the next few seasons) as the overdose of such intense and hugely watched seasons as '03, '04, '05. '06 & '07 overwhelmed me and I turned instead to the NFL. In 2010, I was able to share the experience of a private after-hours tour of the Red Sox Spring Training complex: The City at Palms Park Stadium in Ft. Myers with Ted & Carlen who were vacationing in Florida at the time.

Last summer (2010): I was lucky enough to be able to buy eight Red Sox tickets to Fenway Park's July 3rd & 4th games, from Melissa & Matt and took my parents to their first Red Sox game at Fenway. I also brought Maggie that night and then Nate and his fiancee Beth, and my cousin Josh the next day. It was one of the best weekends of my life!

Which brings me full circle: baseball has always been about sharing games with friends & family. Whether it's a PawSox game at McCoy stadium, or a rare seat at a Fenway Game, I find that it doesn't matter how far away from 4 Yawkey Way, Boston, MA 02215, I live: I will always be Red Sox fan.

Which brings me back to a new season: 2011 and all the hopes and dreams we baseball fans have for it. I'm starting live game watching early this year, with my first Spring Training game on March 20th: a game where in a repeat of the '04 Series, my beloved Sox take on the St. Louis Cardinals (my husband's team), and while I'll try to remain polite and collected, I have a feeling the 'feelings of old' will return as soon as I see an Ump make a bad call...

Have a good night folks!