Monday, June 12, 2006

Home is Where You Go to Bitch About Your Bullpen

By any reasonable measure, Boston is my home.

Boston is where I've lived for 32 of my 56 years on earth. It's where I met my wife and raised our family. It's where I decided what I wanted to do for a living, and was lucky enough to practice that trade for almost three decades. I'd be perfectly content to live the rest of my days here, and the increasing realization that the exigencies of earning a living make moving a real possibility is a serious bummer.

But Boston isn't my home town. That's Wilmington, Delaware, where I spent the weekend attending my niece's wedding. I left Wilmington at 18, wouldn't live there to win a major bet, and yet I love it. There are pleasures and simple contentments I find in Wilmington that exist nowhere else, and they're all the sweeter for the rarity of returning to savor them.

Well, duh. Yours truly has just described a universal human trait, one especially prevalent in the USA with its notoriously peripatetic population. Your home town is where you grew up. Big deal.

It's only mentioned here because in our country, and as the World Cup makes clear, in everyone else's country, the socially acceptable way to express this nostalgia for the haunts of childhood is through sports. People change addresses with ease, they change political, social, and even religious beliefs. But change the teams you root for? Man, that's heavy, and frankly, it's disturbing behavior. My parents have done little I disapprove of, but when they confessed retirement in northern Florida had turned them into Braves' fans, I was appalled.

To the extent a longtime sportswriter can still be a fan, I am a Phillies, Eagles, and 76ers fan and will remain so no matter where the roof over my head may be. These are not the happiest nor easiest of franchises to follow. It's slightly creepy to be part of a fan community that takes such pride in being the most miserable and hostile audience in American sports. But destiny is what it is. Checking the Phils' box score first every day is a healthier tribute to childhood than eating cheesesteaks at every opportunity.

Since about 1700, the history of the New England economy has been one of short, dizzying booms, followed by long busts and even longer periods of stagnation. Given a choice, most people would rather be warm than cold. These two facts are why no team has more expatriate followers than the Red Sox. They have been a constant presence at parks around the country for generations, loud, sarcastic, pushy-delightful.

Meeting the exiles (and if you work for a New England paper, radio, or TV station, they seek you out) was one of my favorite parts of any Red Sox road trip. A man and wife wearing matching Jason Varitek shirts as they walk through Kenmore Square are just fans. The same couple doing so in a bar in Anaheim or a hotel elevator in Seattle are trying to tell you their life's story. New Englanders are not noted for being friendly and outgoing with strangers, but these former New Englanders always are. As someone associated with the Sox, however tangentially, they didn't think I was a stranger.

Sportswriters, including myself, tend to shun the company of fans. Any fans reading this, it's not personal. Sports is our job, and like anyone else, we're not always eager to talk shop off the job. Why was my reaction to out-of-town Sox fans so different?

It took a long while to come up with the answer to that question, because it had nothing to do with the fans. It was about me. There's one life experience I can never have in New England. It's too late to grow up here.

The exiles in the blue caps with the red "B' gave me the chance to do so by proxy.


Post a Comment

<< Home