Sports fandom is an intriguing thing. If you’re raised a fan of your hometown team, chances are you’re a diehard. I’m New England born and raised, which means I’m a true Patriot, with the ferocity of a Bruin, all while wearing Red Sox and relying on the luck of the Irish. I bleed Red, White and Blue, Green, Black and Gold, and…well…Red. I was also born into an era where none of these teams were any good. Until the Patriots won Super Bowl 36 in February of 2002, the last time a Boston team won a title was 404 days before I was born. Despite the 14 years of heartache I felt as a Boston sports fan, I still believed. It’s easy as a kid. You’re already using your imagination, pretending to be a warrior, a fireman, an athlete, as superhero, your dad. Belief is easy. Particularly when your life blood, the Boston Red Sox, hadn’t won a World Series since 1918. You understood that a curse existed, but you didn’t FEEL it. That meant the Sox hadn’t won since 9 years before my Papa was born. That’s crazy. Didn’t matter though. As an adolescent, going to Fenway was the coolest thing in the world. Bringing my glove, not knowing we were sitting behind netting, or in seats that a foul ball would need to defy the laws of physics to get to. Sport was life.
Then? Elation. Since the Patriots beat the greatest show on turf, Boston sports has endured the greatest 15 year span one could imagine. The Patriots, who had never won a Super Bowl, have now raised the Lombardi trophy 4 times. The Celtics new Big-3 proved anything was possible in 2008. In 2011, the Bruins came back from down 3-0 in the series, trailing 4-1 with approximately 10 minutes to go in Game 4, to winning the game, the next 3, then going on to win the Stanley Cup. At home. And those Red Sox? They broke an 86 year curse in 2004 with a bunch of idiots, tore through the series again in 2007, then won it at Fenway Park in 2013. That doesn’t account for the fact that, aside from the Red Sox, all the other three teams have been back to the championship and not come away with it. Hell, the Patriots have lost twice. (I’ll never forget, no matter how much I’d like to, watching the Patriots lose to the Giants because a ball got stuck to a helmet while I was in a house in Providence divided down the middle by Pats and Giants fans.) Take my more recent love for soccer (New England Revolution and the English Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspur) aside, the teams I grew up supporting have been killing it. I’m lucky enough to have grown up watching Tom Brady, Paul Pierce, Patrice Bergeron, David Ortiz and so many more outstanding athletes and role models that helped me grow and mature just by watching them.
But I’m not here to write about Boston sports. That always has been, and always will be, a huge part of my life and soul. Sports are a part of so many people’s life and soul. I’m not the only one who feels these ups and downs. Sports are family. They’re your little brother who you love dearly, but when he accidentally breaks your favorite toy or video game, you want to kill him. They’re your great uncle – a little crazy but completely lovable. They’re your mother – pushing you to learn new things and life lessons without even realizing they’re doing it. They take you to some of your highest highs and lowest lows. People put their children in onesies representing their favorite team. They bury their loved ones with scarves, penants, hats, and other memorabilia. People get excited. People get violent. Sports are amazingly influential worldwide. As humans, I think we always strive to be part of something. Part of something exciting. Something influential. Something that will change the world, even in the smallest way, for the people around you. If you can’t get tickets to a big game, you may go to a bar near the stadium just so you can be close to it. When the Red Sox broke the curse of the Bambino in 2004, an estimated 3.2 million people went out to the streets of Boston to celebrate at the parade a few days later. Three. Point. Two. MILLION. That’s astronomical. I guess 86 years of managing to fuck it up for yourself will do that to you. This brought together a city that had been through seemingly infinite heartbreak with their baseball team. Some of the best players to ever play the game wore a Sox uniform and played at Fenway. Ruth, Williams, Yaz, Lynn, Clemens, Martinez, Ortiz and the list goes on. Generations came together to laugh and cry and celebrate and share stories of the past. “I was there when Fisk waved a ball fair.” “I was there at the last game of the season with Teddy Ballgame finished with a .406 average.” “I watched the Rocket strike out 20 batters like it was nothing.” But still, despite these feats, you also had those who watched Buckner botch a ground ball that went down in history as one of the biggest baseball blunders ever. Being a Sox fan was hard. But we were vindicated. Our parents were celebrating. Our grandparents were elated. Our foes reminded us of the fact that they won 27, and we were still little leaguers. Gotta love a great rivalry.
My point is, there are few things in the world that can bring people together and break them apart in the way that sports can. Let’s rewind a bit… In 1993, I saw Rookie of the year. It’s a movie about a young boy whose weird injury allowed him to pitch for his hometown team, the Chicago Cubs, and he became an instant star. I was 6 years old. I was enamored. The idea that this couldn’t actually happen (child labor and educational laws and all) was completely lost on me. Though I knew I liked the Red Sox, lucky enough to have already been to Fenway a couple times, I took a liking to the Cubs. Another old team with a tiny ballpark, rich history and fierce fanbase. Oh yeah, and that whole curse thing. I saw The Sandlot. I saw Little Big League. I saw Angels in the Outfield. Solid baseball movies in my mind, but none captured my interest in the way Henry Rowengartner playing at Wrigley did. I began to stash away baseball cards with both Cubs and Red Sox players. I watched ROTY as often as I could. Admired Henry, didn’t know how I felt about Jack, loved Chet and Brickma. It became real, even though I suppose I knew it wasn’t. I read up a lot on the Cubs. They were like the little engine that could…but couldn’t. They felt like the Red Sox to me. And since they were a national league team, why the hell not follow them too? Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg, Greg Maddux, Sammy Sosa, come ON. These guys were fun to watch, but MAN was it frustrating. And I, technically, am not a Cubs fan. I’ve enjoyed watching them, I’ve been to Wrigley, I quietly cheer on the side. But my pseudo-fandom faded when my Boston teams all started winning.
Then comes this season. They finish with the best record in baseball with one of my favorite players (Jon Lester) helping lead the way. They have young, exciting players like Bryant and Rizzo. They have a hunger that I’ve never seen in a Cubs team before. They have seasoned veterans, young starting pitching, one of the most effective relievers in the game, young guys who are exciting to watch. They are a complete package and they’re built to win for the next few years at the very least.
The same goes for the Indians. They were beloved during the Major League movies and a spotlight shined down on them. They’ve also gone a number of years without a championship, 68 years. This Indians team is stacked. They have seasoned veterans, young starting pitching, one of the most effective relievers in the game, young guys who are exciting to watch. They are a complete package and they’re built to win for the next few years at the very least.
See what I did there?
All of this lines up to be the most exciting World Series in recent memory. Two fan-bases that are thirsty, looking for a taste of what it’s like to be on top. 176 years of misery combined. Years of curses, blunders, goats, Marlins and Steve Bartman. This series was phenomenal. The people of Cleveland VS the best of the north of Chicago. If this were a Yankees/Dodgers World Series, who gives a shit?
As Americans, we root for the underdog when we don’t have our own horse in the race. NOW WE HAVE TWO!!! What do we do? Cleveland won the NBA finals last year. It hasn’t been long since the White Sox tasted a championship. Two great cities full of great people full of heartache. It’s hard to take sides. It’s like you’re a proud parent going to a championship game and you have a child who is starting for each of the two teams. Then you see the outpouring of support from their friends, your friends, other family members, teachers, classmates. The love is overwhelming. That’s what I felt in this series. Admittedly, and probably unsurprisingly, I was pulling for the Cubs. For Jon Lester and John Lackey and Theo. Guys who were part of my extended family in Boston. But wait…what about Napoli and Tito? OOF. This is hard, guys. And I’m just an outsider.
The actual diehards, those who eat and breath Indians and Cubs, did everything they could to be a part of it. And those of us on the outside looked on, and cheered, and supported through every pitch, run and gasp. People flooded the areas in and around both Progressive Field and Wrigley Field during the whole series. These games brought families closer together. Brought friends together. Brought two franchises on the fringe into the national spotlight and, unless you’re a heartless prick, you cheered for them. You actually cared. Fans young and old got together, knowing those who passed on were watching as well. I read something about someone’s grandmother putting a picture of her late husband in front of the TV so he could witness the games as well. That hits me in the feels. As does a Cubs fan driving all day to listen to the game at his father’s grave so he could be a part of it. Again…in the feels. After the Cubs won (CONGRATULATIONS ON KILLING A 108 YEAR OLD GOAT) I got a little teary. It made me think of the championships I experienced, and the people I experienced them with.
It made me wonder if I’d have acted differently if I wasn’t lucky enough to be just 17 watching the game with my dad back in 2004. I’ll never forget that moment. Foulke with the pitch – grounder back to the mound – toss to Mientkiewicz – Sox win. I’m jumping up and down. MY DAD WAS ASLEEP ON THE COUCH. I jumped on him, screaming, and crying, and just generally not knowing what to do with myself. Dad waited 46 years to sleep through the win. But man, did we cherish it. I’d have gone to the ends of the earth to be a part of it all if I’d not been home already. I remember after the Bruins won, at home, in 2011. I drove through downtown Boston through a sea of people trying to find a friend. Picked her up somewhere near Cambridge street and we laughed and cried and were just overcome with pure joy the whole ride home. When the Patriots won in 2015 I was in Austin at a Patriots bar with 4 of my buddies. 3 of them were also Pats fans and one was a Giants fan (booooo). When Butler picked that ball in the endzone the place erupted. People keeled over crying. Others lept on the bar. Others just stared at the screen in utter disbelief. In 2008, I watched the Celtics win in Allston at a friend’s barber shop with a bunch of diehards that I didn’t really know. Then I had to make my way through Boston to get home. Everyone was just yelling in the streets, dancing, jumping into each other’s arms.
Through all those scenarios, being in it was just amazing. It’s this feeling of fulfillment. This feeling of pride for your cousin who’s overcome every obstacle to come out on top.
I have a friend who grew up an Indians fan, but lives in Boston. She took a 30 hour trip to Cleveland for Game 7, and summed up the above perfectly. “I grew up watching the Indians. No matter where I live, that team is my home team, and when being presented with an opportunity to potentially witness history being made, there was really no reason not to go back.”