Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Southern Sox Fan?

I'm a Red Sox fan. In North Carolina. From North Carolina, even. It's actually a pretty serious part of my identity. It takes up way too much of my time, just ask my wife. During the season I get very far behind in paperwork, especially since I discovered "GameDay" on my computer (it's not like we actually get to watch Red Sox games here) and even more so since I found "The Joy of Sox". I got a call from a friend just last week who actually said "Hi, I just passed a car a lot like yours in a bad wreck, and it had a Red Sox sticker on the back. I instantly thought of you, and just wanted to make sure......Swear.

When I tell people who don't know me well I'm a Red Sox fan, or sometimes just when they see my hat, I inevitably get one of two reactions

A - What part of New England are you from...or

B - (if they've heard me speak) Oh, how long you been a Sox fan?, with that look - the one implying that I climbed on the magic bus in or around 2004.

My love for all things Sox actually goes back to my early childhood.

No, I wasn't born there. I was born right here in Winston-Salem, NC, and have never lived more than 8 or 10 miles from the city limits.

No, I didn't go to school there. I attended a tech school here.

No, my parents aren't from the Northeast. My mother is from northern Indiana, and my father grew up in very rural Tennessee, south of Memphis, near the Mississippi line.

My fanatic enthusiasm is the result of a confluence of circumstances, memories, and a lack of obvious other choices.

I guess one reason I am a Red Sox fan is that my parents never had, nor do they have, any affectation for any particular sports team. Neither of them went to college, so there was no loyalty to grow up with there. There were not any pro teams anywhere near either of their hometowns, so nothing there either. Not only that, but before I was born they moved to an area that was a barren wasteland for pro sports fans. When I was a child, college sports was the only game here in NC, and even though we have the NFL, NBA, and NHL here now, college still rules.

So it's no surprise that my dad was not all that into watching sports, although he liked to play. He played softball for the commercial league team at Piedmont Airlines, where he worked. I used to go to a lot of his games. He was a pretty darn good pitcher, actually. He also bowled in the company league.

He did take us on numerous occasions down to the local ball park, Historic Ernie Shore Field. (A post on Ernie is forthcoming!) I also went at least once a year with the Cub Scout pack I was in, and also with the families of various friends. One of the years in Cub Scouts, our den mother was Mrs. Cardwell. Her son Gary was in my class at school and his dad, Don, pitched in the Major Leagues! We went to several games that year. I loved the ball park. There we watched the Winston-Salem Red Sox play in the single A Carolina League. My local pride insists that I must add here that the Carolina League, while just A ball, was and still is considered the top single A league around. The team was the Red Sox A affiliate from 1961 to 1983. I was born in 1958, so I don't remember the prior years, when they were a Cardinals team. And I was too young to realize they were a "Minor League " team. I don't remember going to watch "A" ball.

This is what I remember.

We sat in the stands with our Red Sox mini-bats, waving our Red Sox banners, cheering for the Red Sox. I was too young to grasp minors vs. majors. I just knew the Red Sox were the good guys. They were the ones who were always in the 1st base dugout we sat behind. We got their autographs. We chanted "Let's Go Red Sox" and "Charge!" with the organ and the PA announcer. One great thing about it being single A is that we sat practically on top of the dugout almost every game. If the game got tight, and it wasn't late in a good season, you could always go find some empty seats right against the backstop behind home plate and razz the opposing batters.

In my youth, I didn't recognize the difference between a city 700 miles away (Boston) and a city 300 miles away (Atlanta). Heck, I even played little league ball for the Clemmons Red Sox! Why wouldn't I be a fan? Most of my friends were Braves fans. This was because their parents were Braves fans. Later I would realize why their parents were Braves fans. The Braves were from the South, as were they. My mom's Indiana roots kept that from ever being a real issue to me. The Braves had Hank Aaron. The Braves were the team they might actually drive to see a couple of times a year, even though the Senators were actually about the same distance away. But why would anyone go to DC when they could go to Atlanta cheaper, and stay in the South? Of course, we never did either one.

Another big reason for my devotion to the Sox was just me. I was not particularly athletic, so the rather laid-back pace of vacant lot baseball suited me just fine. If the kids on the Little League teams I coach now knew just how abysmal my batting was, they wouldn't put a moment's trust in anything I say! And my fielding was worse. But I loved the game, and baseball was the one sport where even over-sized guys like Babe Ruth or Brooks Robinson could be a star, so my fantasies could remain alive. Therefore I grew up more of a baseball fan than football or basketball, although as I got older I was drawn into the very rabid world of college basketball in North Carolina, and am now every bit as much a fan of UNC's Tarheels as I am of my beloved Sox.

Since athletics were not my strong suit, and I never experienced much success on the field, I felt a real attraction to the underdog in all things. I always felt like I was that underdog. Underdog was even one of my favorite cartoons! (God bless Sweet Polly Purebred) As I grew older and learned about the "real" Red Sox that "my" Red Sox were related to, I relished in the fact that they had not won a World Series since around the time my grandfather was born. That was a badge I could relate to! That's not to say I didn't want them to win that ultimate prize. I pinned my own hopes on them. I probably would have been better served to work on making myself better, but I just watched and rooted and bought heaps of Topps cards. I scoured the backs of the Red Sox players' cards to see which ones had played in Winston-Salem. I compared stats, and argued with all the Braves fans about Yaz vs. Aaron. I read about the Greatest - Ted Williams, and anointed him almost a god because he had gone to fight the Germans, just like my own Daddy! I adopted Yaz as my personal hero in the 60's, the savior who would bring the ring back to Boston and break the curse. I felt the crush as a 9-year-old when he won the Triple Crown, led us to a pennant, but fell short to Gibson's Cardinals.

By the time I was old enough to grasp the things that made all those around me fans of whatever teams they were fans of - family roots, schools, proximity, etc. - it didn't matter. I was a Red Sox fan, a defiant one, and damn proud of it. I remained a Red Sox fan, although I did go through an extended leave of absence. Not just from the Red Sox, but from practically all sports. By the early '70s I was completely distracted by...well, by the 1970s! If you couldn't strum it, smoke it, or lust after it, I wasn't that interested.

But I still followed from a distance. I watched them in the World Series in '75, and I revived my despisal of the Yankees as they won back to back in '77 & '78. I came back to baseball through individual heroes more than through my Sox. I loved Nolan Ryan, Carlton Fisk, George Brett, Ozzie Smith, and Andre Dawson. When Wade Boggs came on the scene, I was back. After all, he had played in Winston-Salem. By the mid-80s I had 2 sons of my own, I was thinking T-Ball, Greenwell and Boggs were lighting it up, and Red Sox baseball ruled once again.

That passion came back even though I never got to see them play a game in person until 1999. (A post on that game is also forthcoming! It was VERY special) I remain one to this day, despite the fact that in 2004 the team changed my identity forever. I had always referred to myself as the "long-suffering Red Sox fan". You have to be a real die-hard to pull for a team with the history of the Sox for as long as I had before that year, especially when you're not even from there. Now I'm just another guy in a Red Sox cap, and most people assume I've been a fan for all of 3 or 4 years now. I must say - that really hurts.

However, I'll take that hurt as long as the Red Sox keep winning!


Amy said...

Hi, SoSock. Just wanted you to know that I found the blog and that I loved your post! It answered all the questions I had about how you became a Sox fan, something I had wondered about for some time. I have never seen a minor league game, having grown up in NY and then living in Boston in my 20s, so our experiences couldn't be more different. It is hard for me to imagine living so far from a major league ball park!

SoSock said...

Thanks Amy
Minor League ball can be really cool. When my wife and I were traveling with our soap business, I went to a lot of minor league parks - Louisville, Ky, Charleston, SC, Richmond, VA.
That's also when I went to my 1st Red Sox game. It was at Yankee Stadium and I'll be writing about it soon. It was REAL cool.

Amy said...

The closest I have been to a minor league game is the Cape Cod League during the summer. Those games are lots of fun. Many of those college-age players have gone on to be MLB players, including Jason Varitek and other Sox players (but, no, I didn't see any of them playing). There is a minor league team, or was one, in New Britain, CT, but we have not been there. I would love to give it a try, so maybe this season.

I look forward to your upcoming Mets post.