The Boston Red Sox just visited the hopeless Orioles in Baltimore and were swept three games. Two of the O's wins were of the walk-off variety. Needless to say, that is very annoying for the high-and-mighty Sox and their loyal fan base who filled Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It must also be annoying for Orioles fans to hear the incessant chanting: "Let's Go Red Sox." I wonder if they sang "Sweet Caroline" in the 8th inning? A week or so earlier, the club lost four straight to the Tampa Bay Rays.
I know it is too early in the season to start worrying--barely into May, although the weather seems to mirror August. It is far too soon for the typical Sox swoon. By definition, you can't swoon until after you have succeeded. Otherwise, you would not be able to tell it is a swoon.
Like most baseball clubs these days, the Red Sox entered the season with high hopes and a new cast of characters. The learned commentators lauded the club's starting pitching and the defense, but worried about the adequacy of the offense, and for good reason. Youkalis and Pedroia are dependable sluggers, but I always get the feeling that they are outperforming their real skill level. Other Sox veterans are inconsistent or injured or both. And then there is the hometown's favorite meltdown, David Ortiz.
The newcomers have not yet shown their mettle, although John Lackey certainly has star qualities. We were told that Adrian Beltre would improve fielding quality at third, but he boots easy plays in a manner reminiscent of my play at third base in high school. (The main difference is that Beltre makes the spectacular plays. I booted those as well.)
There is plenty of time for the Sox to begin playing well, and so why should I (or we) care that they are playing so poorly? Why should we care at all? There is certainly the excitement of watching the club play and rooting for the hometown team, but the annual turnover means we are really just rooting for the Red Sox uniforms, inhabited this year by many new athletes. We are fans of the laundry.
However, there seems to be more at stake than just a rooting interest. We really do care. Losses hurt. Looked at with any modicum of objectivity or logic, that is really quite silly. None of these men are from Boston or Massachusetts. We did not attend the same high school or college. We have absolutely nothing in common, especially our tax brackets.
Feeling bad, of course, is just as crazy as feeling good when your team prevails. In the latter situation, you share in the winning - without any real justification. You should go out to see the victory parade, however, because you may not see one for a while.
Whatever the reason for this vicarious sadness and joy, it is the source of important business good will for the franchise. Some clubs have flourished based on the patronage of commiserating fans. The Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and - yes - the Boston Red Sox are prime examples. While the Dodger's faithful were astonished by the victory over the Yankees in the 1955 World Series, no one could convince the Borough that they really deserved to win. Much the same in Boston in 2004. It took a second victory in 2007 to convert happy losers into expectant winners. Adherents of the Cubs will likely feel much the same when (and if) they ever win.
I guess the price of being a genuine fan is that you do suffer the ups-and-downs with some exaggeration. The difference between football and baseball is that with the gridiron game you have to wait a whole week for redemption on the field of play. In baseball, there is another game in a day or two - another pitcher who may finally find his stuff - another batter who will break out of a career-long slump. Hope springs eternal.
As an observer of the business of the game, I have wondered how long it would take for the demand for Red Sox tickets to be sated. The streak of Fenway Park sell-outs has surpassed 550 games, and it should last through this year, unless the Sox drop way out of the race in the American League East. That would mean that the old Sox were back, the Sox that were expected to lose. I can barely remember those days.