Baseball has been one of my passions since I was about 5 or 6 years old. I clearly remember anxiously awaiting my Dad to bring home the Stars and Stripes from the base in Spain so that I could read the box scores and keep up with the Red Sox. My father, and his father, are from Boston. I was born a Red Sox fan. I remember the agony of 1975, Bucky Fucking Dent, Bill Buckner, Aaron Fucking Boone, and of course the pure, unadulterated joy that was the 2004 post-season. I still have 5000+ baseball cards from about 1975 through about 1982 in boxes in my closet. Until this season, I re-watched Keeping The Faith every Spring just prior to Opening Day. I cried as I watched it every Spring, just to prior to Opening Day. I never got around to my annual re-watch this year because I was too busy obsessively keeping up with the English Premier League, but we will get to that in a minute.
Although never an obsession, my interest in the NFL has been waning over the last several years too. I’ve been thinking a lot about why that is. What could have changed that caused a 48 year old dude to suddenly become a passionate EPL fan while drifting away from the two sports that he grew up with? I think several things are at play here, some external to me, and one issue that is all about me.
The problems with MLB and NFL have been well documented so I probably don’t need to rehash them here. There is a lot going on with the major professional sports to cause a thinking person to lose interest. However, I want to focus on the personal side of this, what happened to me to cause me to drift from my one true sports love.
I think it all goes back to 2004. I grew up a passionate Red Sox fan through the 70s and 80s, and continued on as an adult through the 90s. Even with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th and Foulke on the mound in Saint Louis 1 out away from a World Series sweep, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, because the other shoe always dropped on the Red Sox. Of course it didn’t that year, and that changed everything. A few years later the Red Sox were up against Colorado and I wasn’t even worried. I was totally relaxed through the World Series, not that the Rockies ever seriously threatened.
My love affair with the Patriots is similar. They were pretty much the laughing stock of the NFL when I was a kid. While all my friends in junior high had their Cowboys and Steelers logo jackets from Sears (remember those?) I had a Patriots jacket. I took a lot of abuse for that jacket, but it never occurred to me to jump on a bandwagon and follow a popular or winning team. It took character to stick with the Red Sox and Patriots back then. I was proud of that character, and in a way I was a character in the story of the ever suffering Boston sports fan. Let’s face it, the Patriots are the bad guys today. They win, the push the envelope on the rules, and their coach is kind of a dick.
And that, I think, is the crux of the change. It doesn’t take character to be a Red Sox or Patriots fan these days. Hell, we’ve become the very thing we used to hate; the big money, well run teams that are always in the running. (Ignore the last two years for the Red Sox). The story of the Red Sox and Patriots that I loved ran its course. That book is completed. It’s on the shelf. I can pick it up and remember it fondly as I thumb through the pages, but I never experience the joy of reading it for the first time again. The story of those teams now is the story of big money well run franchises. Where is the fun in that?
I’m always the first person up on Saturday morning, when soccer is on here in the US. At first it was just background noise while I messed around online, read, or whatever in those quiet hours I had to myself on Saturday mornings. However over the course of last fall I found myself watching with more and more interest, starting to understand and appreciate the game of soccer. Then I started looking forward to Saturday and Sunday mornings, so I could drink tea and watch soccer. After a while I started thinking about finding a favorite team. I did some research and immediately ruled out the big money teams that always win, so no Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United or Manchester City. I thought I would be a Liverpool fan because of the Red Sox connection, but actually that seemed to turn me off. I decided to just relax and try to watch every team and see what happened. What happened is that I started seeking out the Southampton Saints each week. So I did some research on their background.
Their story is that as a smaller city on the South Coast of England they will never have the money of the London based teams, so they put together one of the premier youth development programs to make their own talent. They went bankrupt a few years back and got bounced all the way down to League 1. New management put a 5 year plan in place to get back to the Premier League, they did it in 3. Now after 4 straight years in the EPL, they’ve finished higher every season, this year finishing 6th, only 3 point from a Champions League slot. It’s a team that lives on the edge, having to sell off players before they get too expensive and reinvest in younger players. They are basically the Tampa Bay Rays of EPL (with the Green Bay packers fan base), and I fell for them hard.
And that is when I made the connection between the Red Sox, Patriots, Saints, and Purdue. I’m a tortured sports fan. Sure, tribalism and regional pride play a role in the teams we choose to love, but for me it’s the story arc. Apparently I like tragedies, and the Red Sox and Patriots are no longer tragedies. Getting to know some Southampton fans on Twitter it feels like the comments section at Soxaholix pre-2004. Sure they are having a great year, wonder how they’ll screw it up? We had a great season, wonder who they will trade away in the off-season? It all sounds very familiar. It sounds like home, metaphorically speaking, in a sports sense.
So what happens if Southampton pulls a Leister and wins it all next year? Well, we all know that won’t happen, and even if it does I’ll always have Purdue. They can always be counted on to break my heart.
Note: I have not abandoned the Red Sox. I have my MLB.TV subscription and I’m quite enjoying this season, with Ortiz retiring and two minimum wagers in Holt and Travis in the starting lineup. But then, the Ortiz retiring story is kind of a tragedy, right? But it's not the same. The passion is gone. I don’t expect it to ever come back.