With apologies to Andy Williams, who sang the popular Christmas song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” I beg to differ. March, to me, has that honor with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and spring training games, signaling a dawn to another baseball season.
Often, when people learn where I am from and the teams I devotedly follow, they ask me one simple question. How did you become a fan of……? For those of you who have not read my profile in the About section of this blog, I was born and raised in the Dayton, Ohio area, about 45 minutes north of Cincinnati. Now 38, I live in Orlando, but I lived in southwest Ohio until 2002.
Inspired by my father, who played sports avidly in recreational leagues and followed the Reds, Bengals and Ohio State Buckeyes (he still does), I developed an interest in sports at a young age. By the time I was 6, I could tell you the players on teams and their accompanying statistics. That year, 1975, is the first year I remember watching sports. The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl, and I became an instant fan of the black-and-gold.
That fall, I watched my first World Series game – which today is still considered the best Fall Classic game ever played. It was Game 6 between the Reds and Red Sox, when Carlton Fisk hit the first pitch delivered by Pat Darcy in the 12th inning at Fenway Park and waved his home run fair. It was on to Game 7, where I experienced my first Red Sox heartbreak. Still, I was immediately hooked – by young and scrappy players like Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans and Fisk and veterans like Yaz and Luis Tiant.
In Big Red Machine country, I was a Red Sox fan. Keep in mind this was the 70s – no Internet, no MLB.com, not even ESPN Sportscenter. Following the Red Sox was a challenge, limited to newspaper reports the morning after the game and Saturday afternoons when the Sox were televised on the game of the week. I regularly attended Reds game, and for some reason always rooted against them, to my father’s curiosity. At least we have two teams in common to this day, Ohio State and the Boston Celtics.
As for the Red Sox, I remember the excitement of 1978, when there was the infamous one-game playoff between the Sox and Yankees. I sprinted home from school to catch the game, which was held in the late afternoon. I remember crying when Bucky Dent hit the delivery from Mike Torrez over the Green Monster and into the screen. Of course, it would not be the last time I would shed tears over the Red Sox – tears of heartache in 1986 and 2003, and tears of indescribable elation after the 2004 ALCS and 2004 World Series. In between, there have been plenty of good seasons that ended in disappointment – the 1988 and 1990 playoffs against Oakland, the 1995 and 1998 playoffs against the Indians and the 1999 ALCS against the Yankees.
There is nothing quite like Red Sox Nation in all of sports. The devotion. The passion. The unconditional support. The true example of what baseball is all about. I represent the true definition of a fan when you describe by loyalty to the Steelers, Celtics and Ohio State Buckeyes, yet my fervor about the Red Sox is incalculable, just like many of you who read this blog.
When you are a true fan – closely following your team through memorable seasons like 2004 and forgettable ones like 2006 – the highs are higher and the lows are lower. Still, even the tough years are more bearable when you experience the exhilaration of a dramatic postseason like 2004.
As the 2007 season approaches, there is confidence in the air among the Red Sox Nation. Sure, there are question marks. Who will close? Will Dustin Pedroia be effective at second base and at the plate? Will J.D. Drew survive the season without a visit to the D.L.? How will Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka adjust? Throughout the season, there will be winning streaks where everything goes our way, and times when we will swear that we will never watch another Red Sox game. When the season ends, whether the Sox are World Champions or find themselves watching the postseason on TV, we will remain devoted and passionate about our team. As a whole, that is what separates Red Sox Nation from all of baseball, including the Yankees and the Cubs.