BY JONATHAN SKRMETTI
“This is the year!” The familiar refrain of Red Sox Nation resounds again from (Beacon) Hill to (Boston) Harbor, followed closely by snickers from the rest of the country. But the Sox have the best team they’ve had in at least ten years, with some of the best offensive numbers of any team ever, fearsome starting pitching and (to be fair) a bullpen that does its best to offset those advantages.
If your eyes have glazed over, I assure you that that’s it for the sports talk. But the Red Sox are more than just abstract statistics, wins and losses and entertaining games played in a beautiful setting. The Sox are also the foundation of a community, the receptacle for generations of hope.
My grandfather was three when the Sox last won the Series. In the intervening years, my family has gone through several sets of season tickets, lost a coffee table in a Sox-related accident (my grandmother jumped on it while celebrating a Ted Williams dinger) and grudgingly forgiven Bill Buckner.
The recent HBO special, Curse of the Bambino, makes Sox fans out to be a bizarre bunch of kooks who attribute their team’s failures to some sort of diabolical convergence of mystical forces. In the eyes of HBO, Sox fans don’t want their team to win. In reality, maybe a few isolated nuts take that approach, but the vast majority of Sox supporters are exceedingly dedicated sports fans who happen to support a team that, while consistently great over the long term, has not emerged victorious in the postseason for the last eighty-five years.
It is true that Sox fans approach the game a little differently, with a fatalism born of long New England winters spent ruminating on the could-have-beens of a century gone by. Each spring things start well, but by September we’re all wishing we could perform the Heimlich maneuver on the team as it fades out of contention. This year is different, and the September slump is one tradition I’m happy to leave by the wayside.
Shared suffering has brought Sox fans together in way that the supporters of many other teams cannot appreciate. As decades of Goldwater-era oppression formed the ligature of a mighty Reagan Revolution, so has the frustration of eighty-five non-championship seasons knitted Red Sox fans into a tight community.
But just because losing brought us together does not mean that we revel in our team’s failure to go all the way. Losing may build character, but it also sucks. Sox fans would prefer that our team discontinue its ignominious streak. Sure, if the Sox win the series our kids will not hold them in their hearts in quite the same way, but so what? When my ancestors fled the poverty and oppression of Europe they felt a little homesick, but that doesn’t mean they turned the boats around.
So I hope that this is the year. Maybe victory will diminish the mystique of the team, but I’d rather tell my grandchildren about the bad old days than make them live through them.
Jonathan Skrmetti’s column appears biweekly.