Volume 74, Number 25 | Octuber 20 - 26 , 2004

Notebook

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Boston fans at the Riviera on Oct. 13, Game 2 of the Yankees-Red Sox Championship series, from left, Alan Heaton, Laura Zellerbach, Tallulah Knopp and Amanda Pillsbury

I feel your pain: Learning to live with a Red Sox fan

By Ronda Kaysen

By the time my boyfriend told my mother, over brunch in a Downtown cafe, that missing the afternoon’s Red Sox game was akin to missing the birth of his first child, I already had a good hunch of what future lay ahead for me. Chances are it involves a TV in the delivery room.

Living with a Red Sox fan is difficult in any city, but living with one in New York City requires an added level of compassion. With the Yankees squaring off against the Red Sox in the American League Championship series for the second year in a row – and Monday night’s 14th inning Red Sox comeback assuring a cliffhanger — the stress of forever being the underdog against the most heavily bankrolled team in baseball is catching up to my Red Sox fan, at least.

A few weeks after we started dating, in the middle of a particularly brutal New York City winter, my boyfriend professed his undying love for the Red Sox. Foolishly, I assumed he meant he liked baseball. A native Californian, with no real interest in sports, I was oblivious to the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry. The only World Series I clearly remember is the 1989 Battle of the Bay between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s, which was interrupted by a far more dramatic earthquake that ripped apart much of downtown San Francisco and Oakland. I can’t remember who won, and I don’t remember if I cared. For years, I lived in blissful ignorance of the alleged Curse of the Bambino. I had no idea the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series since 1918 — shortly before they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees — and nor did care.

Now I know better. When the Red Sox lost in the seventh game of last year’s Championship Series against the Yankees, my crestfallen boyfriend called in sick to work. When we had sat behind first base at Yankee Stadium a few months earlier and watched the Red Sox shut out the Yankees 11-0, victory seemed imminent. But that final game, when a shot at the World Series was possible — if not plausible — was too much for my Red Sox fan to take. Struck by a bout of insomnia, he spent the next day avoiding Yankee fans that he refers to as “poor winners.” Worse than losing is losing to Yankee fans who have not mastered the art of the graceful winner and instead enjoy reminding non-Yankee fans how terribly misguided in their affections they are.

After that devastating 11th-inning loss, my Red Sox fan decided he was done. Too many years had been spent pacing the living room in agony, shouting at the television and pleading against all odds for a victory. “What rivalry? A rivalry would imply an even playing field. The game’s fixed,” he told me recently, referring to Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s bottomless coffers. The Red Sox should switch to the National League, he suggested, and end the so-called rivalry once and for all.

This year, he took a different approach: he wouldn’t watch the games at all. I was relieved to have the remote control back to myself and mistakenly imagined a summer of cheerful weekends at SummerStage and evenings spent lounging on our stoop sipping lemonade while we blissfully discussed everything un-baseball. But once a Red Sox fan always a Red Sox fan, and my Red Sox fan was no less distraught by his team’s battle for the American League pennant when he wasn’t watching the games than he was when he watched them.

It was during this summer’s baseball boycott that he told my mother, with a straight face, that missing a particularly crucial late-season game was as stressful as missing one’s wife giving birth. My mother — who thinks watching grownups hit balls with pieces of wood is as close to a complete waste of time as you can get —replied without irony, “I like the Yankees, are they any good?”

Last weekend, with the Red Sox down two to nothing in the Championship Series, we headed upstate for a bit of R & R with my brother, Gregg, and his girlfriend. When Gregg suggested we catch the game at a bar in town, the car fell silent. “We’re not watching the games,” I explained. “It’s too painful.”

“Man, that’s love,” Gregg said, shaking his head. “When I was a kid, I used to cry whenever the 49ers lost. It was like my heart was breaking.”

I twisted around in my seat to get a better look at my little brother. He’s two years younger than me; we shared a room growing up. I had no idea he cried over football. “You did not,” I said.

“I did too. That love is serious. It’s real.” He paused and looked out the window. “But it doesn’t matter anymore, the ’niners suck now.”

Last weekend in the western Catskills the hills were a glorious cacophony of red and yellow and orange. In baseball speak, autumn signals the nearing of the end, the six-month hiatus that is the quiet regrouping for another shot at glory. In girlfriend speak, it means a six-month respite from strategy and speculation and angst.

The next morning, while I fried French toast, my brother crept into the kitchen. “Don’t say anything,” he whispered, “but the Red Sox lost last night.” He bit his knuckle. “At home,” he added.

I glanced out to the porch; my boyfriend leaned against the railing, looking out at the Chinese maple in the yard. True to his promise, he had not checked the scores and he wouldn’t know that his team was one game closer to a shutout until someone turned on the radio. I had no intention of breaking through his post-season blackout.

But three nights and two games later, when the Red Sox had managed to survive a devastating 0-3 deficit and win both games, my boyfriend couldn’t help but stay up late into the night, scanning the Internet for highlights of his team’s 14th inning success.
“Look at them,” he said, pointing at the players clambering each other on the field. “They’re pumped.”

For my Red Sox fan, not watching the game is as much a strategy as crowding into the Riviera on W. Fourth St., a Red Sox-friendly bar in Greenwich Village, to cheer his team to victory. Rooting for the underdog requires bracing for defeat and avoiding the myriad jinxes that plague a cursed team.

“Maybe this is their year,” I said, knowing that no team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series.

“If anyone can pull this off, it’ll be the Red Sox,” he said, grinning.

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