Below is another article in a series of blog entries I’m writing as a candidate for president of Red Sox Nation.
I’m a different Red Sox fan now than I was as a kid, and before I had kids, and before 2004. Is it possible that all Red Sox fans go through an evolutionary process? I’ll go on the record asserting that there are four distinct stages in the evolution of a serious Red Sox fan (at least, there have been four for me). No stage is necessarily better or higher than another (indeed, I’m striving to return to stage 1), and all fans at all stages are equal in their Red Sox Nation citizenship. Here’s how I’d define the first two stages.
Stage 1. Discovery, Innocence, OptimismThis is the stage in a Red Sox fan’s life when he/she is awakened to the existence of the Red Sox and Fenway Park, and when everything about the team is joyful and thrilling. (Stage 1 fans could be six year-old children, or college students from outside New England, for example.) People in this stage have feelings for the team that resemble a very intense crush. They have a favorite Sox player whom they idolize, treasure the Sox posters in the Sunday Globe, and cannot conceive of a scenario where the Sox fail to win the World Series this year (they are overflowing with hope.)
For me, this stage began in about 1976 when I was in second grade and it continued through high school and the 1985 season. I kept a few journals for school during these years, and half of my entries focused on the Red Sox and the Sox-Yankees rivalry. All entries were cheerful. The journal entry I wrote the day after Bucky Dent’s homer in ’78 (I was ten) hints at more melodrama than pain. My eight year-old son is in stage 1 now, and I pray for him that it lasts as many years as possible. These are the wonderful years of baseball innocence.
Stage 2. Identity, Obsession, Vulnerability This is the stage of the “die-hard” fan. These fans have several emotional Red Sox memories (or scars), and their excitement about the Red Sox has blossomed into a full-fledged addiction. They cannot miss a game. Or even an inning of a game. People in this stage throw their souls at the mercy of the Red Sox’ fortunes. They experience unparalleled euphoria when things are going well, but are vulnerable to deep depression when the team disappoints. Every win or loss is taken personally and somehow reflects their own self-value. Some fans choose to never leave this stage, and we admire them for that.
For me, stage 2 began when I went to college in New Hampshire and was surrounded by people from all over the world, but mostly from New York and New Jersey. The Red Sox served as the core of my identity. I felt like a full-fledged member of the team. I would travel very, very long distances, stand in long lines (even overnight), pay money I didn’t have, and change any long-standing plans (such as participating in a relative’s wedding) to watch them play in person. Like I say in my song, it’s a kind of insanity. (Most fans in stages 3 and 4 re-enter stage 2 when the Sox play the Yankees, or are in the playoffs and World Series.)
Coming soon, the definitions of Red Sox Nation citizens in stages 3 and 4 of their fan evolution.