I was a bandwagon fan
I only care about two sports, and really, I only really care about one. I’m a baseball fan. I’m also a Celtics fan. If my team isn’t in the World Series, I watch the World Series. If the Celtics don’t win the Eastern Conference, I watch a game or two after that. I read Bill Simmons, and I get Bill Simmons, but I’m not a Bill Simmons-type sports fan.
It’s almost sick the way I care about baseball. The reason I get Bill Simmons is because I am that type of baseball fan.
But Bill Simmons would think I’m an alien, because I was a bandwagon fan.
Here’s the nickel version. I am a Kansas City Royals fan. Ask anybody who knows me, and it’s one of the first five facts they’ll come up with. In 2008, I almost had my friend John Serpico, a Yankees fan, convinced that the Royals could win the Central. I awaited Kila Ka-aihue. I praised the leadership of Mark Grudsielanekelesniaziak. Alex Gordon hadn’t become a major bummer. Brian Bannister was intriguing. Gil Meche was gonna earn that contract (Meche should never have to buy a beer in his life; the end of his career was worthy of a SI cover story). Soria was Soria. Billy Butler! Zack Greinke! They finished 75-87.
Why was I so excited in 2008? Because I was paying penance, I think. For 12 years, I’d been cheating on my team. With the Boston Red Sox. And after the 2007 World Series, I knew it was over. Maybe in my newfound appreciation of my childhood team, I overdid it. I was like a new religious convert–terribly earnest, unnervingly certain, and always annoying.
Here’s how it happened. I moved to Boston in 1996, the same year as Nomar Garciaparra. My first trip to Fenway was only weeks after my arrival. The difference between Fenway and Kaufmann was striking: at Fenway, even then, the fans CARED. Kaufmann was friendlier, prettier, more comfortable. Kaufmann was for families. Fenway was for seething obsessives. At 18, Fenway was better. I became friends with locals who were diehard, lifelong Sox fans.
Nomar was amazing. I started really paying attention to the Red Sox because of Nomar.
I became a Red Sox fan because of Pedro Martinez. If you lived in Boston in 1999 and weren’t a Red Sox fan, you were a Yankees fan. I don’t ever expect to see a pitcher like 1999-2000 Pedro Martinez.
I could detail the rest: Manny, Papi, Millar… it doesn’t matter. The fact is, I became a legitimate Red Sox fan. Some people in Boston would never accept that such a thing is possible, but it is and it was. Between the great players the Sox were adding, the team’s sense of purpose and special destiny, the relentless marketing machine funded by the Henry ownership team, and the fact that my hometown team was managed by ownership committed to mediocrity or worse, it was VERY EASY to become a Red Sox fan.
And I was annoying.
And I felt a little guilty. And after 2004 a lot guilty. And after 2007, unignorably guilty.
Here’s how I know I was really a fan of the Red Sox. When Nomar got traded I was FURIOUS. The Boston sports media at the time had gotten the cues from Red Sox management, and had been portraying him as a “clubhouse cancer” for awhile (it’s standard practice with the Sox to leak attacks against their own players to get fans ready for, and even excited about, jettisoning their heroes. Just look at the Youkilis stuff when Middlebrooks looked unstoppable, or the Beckett shit when Beckett was shit), but I was nonetheless stunned. As far as I was concerned, he was the soul of the team. The fact that I had strong feelings about it, that I was personally injured by the move, was the sign to me that I was a fan. And despite my hatred of that trade, my happiness in 2004 was real. I revelled in the Sox win.
In the offseason, though, I checked in on the Royals, like they were an ex-girlfriend I’d just realized how badly I’d treated. They’d just lost 104 games. Things were terrible. I felt like I should give them a call or something. But, you know, things were going pretty well for me. And, well, no. I was sure the Royals would turn things around.
After 2007, though, I kind of felt like I was cheering for the Yankees. The Sox were huge, an empire. They could spend anything. Theo had an outsized reputation–I was skeptical that a man could be called savvy when he had a checkbook like Henry’s, and was committed to Julio Lugo. The Dice-K acquisition was weird. 52 million dollars? The Boston media publishing endless articles about a pitch that didn’t actually exist? It all just felt nothing like Nomar and Pedro. The Pedroia kid was exciting. Wake was knucklin’ and Timlin was huntin’ and Varitek was gruntin’ but otherwise Papi was the only thing that I felt good about.
And so it was that I was selling the 2008 Royals to John Serpico.
My fall from the Red Sox has been sharp, and my return to the Royals has been a classic romance. Early this May, the fifth season since my break with the Sox, I was listening to a game on the radio while making dinner. Boston was in Oakland. I’ve never had any interest in the A’s. When the game ended on a strikeout, the A’s defeating the Sox, I actually made a little fistpump. I was cheering against the Sox.
That fist pump is unfair to them. I’m cheering against the Sox out of embarrassment. They don’t deserve my hatred. I still reserve my hatred for the Yankees and the Angels, and occasionally for the Rangers.
I don’t regret becoming a Red Sox fan. Those years were exciting. I still look back on them in amazement. The feeling was genuine. But at the same time, it was the ardor of an ex-pat for his new country. The old country calls, and we have duties to it.
I was a bandwagon fan. It’s a little bit horrifying, but it’s true. We all have regrets. I’m not sure I regret this regret, though.
Reminder: I picked the 2012 Royals to have a winning season and the 2013 Royals to make the playoffs.