Tuesday, July 21, 2009

red sox nation

One could not be a follower of baseball in New England and not have heard of something referred to as "Red Sox Nation." The phrase refers to the collective fandom for the Boston Red Sox who seem to be buoyed or depressed as a function of the latest Red Sox effort. Tonight, July 21, the Red Sox lost for the fourth straight time which is, no doubt, making sleep difficult for the more ardent of the fans in Red Sox Nation.

I had heard that the nation travels. That is, when the Red Sox play away games people travel to the other cities to watch the games there. A few years back I did see this in Baltimore when I went to a Red Sox--Oriole game and the nation was well represented. However, it was just this past weekend when I noticed the phenomenon in full force.

Last Thursday I set off for Toronto where the Red Sox were scheduled to resume play after the All Star break. It was amusing to me to see several cars at rest stops that were filled with passengers wearing Red Sox garb. These observations were just appetizers. The lobby of the hotel in Toronto had no fewer than a half dozen Red Sox dressed fans at any time I happened there. At a breakfast place called, Fran's, four full tables were populated with serious members of the nation who were discussing the nuances of the pitching staff and other details as they snorted their eggs. Yonge Street, a major street in downtown Toronto, looked like it was the setting for some sort of parade with Red Sox hatted and jerseyed families bouncing up the road on their way to the Roger's Center. On Friday night when Kevin Youkilis, a Boston Red Sox player, homered in his first at bat, the roar of the crowd made me think I was in Fenway not in the Blue Jays park. I was wearing a Northeastern shirt at the park and was stopped by someone who asked me if I was at the stadium for the reunion. "What reunion" I inquired. She told me that there was an alumni function that evening in Toronto for my Boston based school.

Okay, so you are a zealot--but it is close to 600 miles from Boston to Toronto. All the games in Boston are on tv. You bring your whole family to Toronto at a cost of 30-70 dollars a ticket, plus gas, plus lodging, plus restaurant eating? The clan in front of me at Fran's had six members counting a pipsqueak who could not have been more than 4 or 5. Even if the youngster gets in free, that is 250 a game, just for the tickets.

A fan myself, I am nevertheless surprised at the serious energy that is found in Red Sox nation.

Monday, July 13, 2009

tough night for sports junkies

Tonight and Wednesday night will be tough sledding for many. The days before and after the all star game are, to use the theater term, dark. Baseball is on vacation, basketball in the off season, football three weeks away from training camp, not a year for the world cup, Wimbledon is over, hockey months away from the first goal---this is murder for sports fans.

A constitutional morning step for the sports fan is to check what might be on the tube during the evening that can satisfy their fan jones. Today, such fans skimmed this listing, and took a deep breath. The only balm in the Globe consisted of a series of minor league baseball games that will be aired on small power radio stations.

Probably a good night to exercise, or see a movie, or read a book, or sleep early. Even the all star game itself, tomorrow night, does not provide much relief. It is an exhibition with the hype that the game decides home field advantage in the World Series.

Long week.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Of the various phenomena which, when I dwell on them, confound me--cigarette smoking, tattoos, and keno are high on the list.

The smoking of cigarettes, from as early as I can remember, has been a bewildering habit. They stink. They are expensive. And they kill you. Let me have a pack of Luckies. Tattoos? If you don't like your shirt you can always change it. If you put a button on your hat that reads "I am The Greatest" when you are 20, you might want to take it off when you are 40, or 21. Why would you write something on your body that can not be altered? Is the point that this message is "forever?" Perhaps so, but as we all who have been around the track more than twenty times know, many things which seem like they will be "forever" turn out not to be locks.

Cigarettes and tattoos. I don't get them. However, playing keno may be the most bewildering of the trio. Near my home there is a downtown area with storefronts which offer Chinese food, delicious breakfast fare, and really outstanding shoe repair. There is also a tavern in this section with many television sets for those who enjoy watching a game with a beverage. Adjacent to these four stores is a keno parlor. When it opened, I thought it would close in a month. It has been there for over five years. In there, people sit watching numbers on a screen for hours at a time. As I peek in through the windows, the viewers seem to be nearly always glum--sitting by themselves, sadly watching numbers pop up on a screen. Today is a gorgeous 80 degree day with no humidity in Boston. What possesses anyone to sit inside "playing" keno?

Perhaps these same keno players would find March Madness followers to be confounding. But there is a difference, I think, between spectators watching activity that involves humans and emotion, and the hopeless staring at numbers which surface randomly on a monitor.

jonathan sanchez

Last night after midnight I was watching espn's recap of the events of the day.

I wrote in the Madness of March how espn has been a godsend for sports fans. Fifty somethings tell thirty somethings about a time when sports news consisted only of five minute sound bites in the nightly newscast. Now a staple of each fan's day is viewing the highlights of that sport's day.

There is a theory in communication studies that argues that who we are in terms of our relationships, culture, families, and society is constituted by how we communicate. That is, communication is not simply something used to convey information: for example, "The Red Sox won", but a process that has as its residual effects the formation and reformation of our society and our relationships. ESPN and other dedicated sports channels have had the effect of satisfying fan's desires for information, creating some desires, extending the scope of fandom, and creating the agendas for our days.

At about 1 a.m. eastern time espn took viewers live to a ballgame being played in San Francisco. A player named Jonathan Sanchez, who had recently been demoted to the bullpen, had been given a start for the Giants because another player was injured. Going into the 8th inning, Sanchez had a perfect game. An error by a third baseman eliminated the chances for a perfect game, but the opportunity for a no-hitter still existed. In the 9th inning the first play was a ground out. The second batter hit a tremendous shot to center field that was hauled down by an excellent outfield play. The third batter was called out on a Don Larsen-esque third strike (if anyone knows what I mean by this, contact me at a.zaremba@neu.edu). Sanchez embraced his catcher and then nearly everyone on the team. His father who was at the game came down from the stands to bearhug his son. The last outs were played over and over again on sportscasts. Overnight, Jonathan Sanchez and the feat, and the emotion surrounding the feat, became part of the collective consciousness and subconscious of our society.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


I was awakened this morning by the ping of an aluminum bat. At 730 the little leaguers still alive in the Nipper Maher Park July 4th tournament were practicing their cuts in anticipation of an 8 a.m. game. I tried to sleep but after an hour's worth of fitful snoozing, the bats and the chatter were victorious. I decided to make some coffee and join the crew.

By the time I had a coffee cup in hand and walked to the field it was already the bottom of the 6th, the last inning in a little league game. Just as I arrived at the diamond a player from Winchester slapped a single over third, and to the dismay of the crew from Sydney Nova Scotia, Winchester tallied a third run defeating Sydney 3-2. The group from Sydney having made the marathon seventeen hour trek to participate in the tournament, hung their shoulders as they slumped off the field and then stood classily but dejected along the first base line to receive acknowledgements from tournament officials. The jubilant squad from Winchester had survived to play another game later in the afternoon. It was the boys and girls from Sydney, however, for whom I felt compassion. Necks bowed, they had been eliminated by a walk off single after a long battle.

I returned home and set the tube up on the deck to watch what became a Federer-Roddick Wimbledon marathon match. Four hours later, Andy Roddick who had served impeccably for four straight hours, miss-hit a ground stroke at 14-15 in the fifth set allowing Roger Federer to win his 15th grand slam tournament. Federer was jubilant. Roddick who had held serve every single game until the 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14 concluding game, sat slumped in his chair as Federer tastefully accepted the applause from the crowd.

The difference between Roddick's reaction and the 12 year old kids' from Sydney. Not a thing.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 4th international tournament

An international little league tournament is held each year over July 4th weekend in Nipper Maher park, a recreation facility that is only steps from my home. I can hear the sweet noise from my deck. This year ten teams are competing, seven from western suburbs near Boston, and three from Canada--two from New Brunswick and one team from Sydney, Nova Scotia--a seventeen hour journey from Nipper Maher Park.

At 8 this morning I was reading the paper when I heard the familiar sound of balls and bats, infield chatter, and parents' rooting for their children. I took my coffee cup and walked the 200 yards or so to the field. They have spruced up Nipper Maher for the tournament. A Canadian and United States flag are flying near the attractive dugouts. There is a decent little refreshment stand and a table of chatchkas for purchase. An electronic scoreboard has been erected.

In the 8 a.m. game a team from North Waltham is pitted against St. John, New Brunswick. A 12 year old girl named Amber is throwing change-ups and looks to be the winning pitcher in the 6th as the Canadian club leads 6-3. I look at the tournament bracket sheet and see that this game will be followed by a 930, 11:15, 1 oclock game. And then these are followed with games that continue until darkness. I begin to converse with a knowledgeable parent whose daughter will be hurling in a subsequent game. He points to another field in the complex which looks brand new to me. He tells me that due to the incredible rainstorms that have hit Boston over the last two weeks, that field is essentially under water. He shakes his head wondering who could have built a field with such poor drainage since the field where we are at is perfectly drained.

I walk around to the outfield and lean on a fence watching. A boy in right field makes a good catch on a line drive with the bases loaded and parents are gleeful in response.

No doubt the families represented by these children have their own aggravations and all is not blissful in their universe. But on this day it seems to me that they who are congregating here for an all day marathon of baseball are happy watching their children compete amicably. There is a seventeen hour ride back tomorrow night for the squad from Sydney. Look at a map and you will see that it is on Cape Breton Island, as far away as one can be from Boston and still be in Nova Scotia. It took me and three cronies four days to drive back here from Sydney many years ago. It will be a joy ride for these youngsters. Win, lose, or draw, their experience will be a joy ride.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

night and day//day and night

There are always surprises. Just when you think you have a finger on the pulse, your enterprise can be rocked.

Last night after a USTA tennis match, the cluster of very amateur players were sitting near the courts nursing beverages and discussing the nuances of what passed for tennis during the evening. Just before I left the facility I glanced at a television screen in the clubhouse and noticed that the Red Sox were beating the Orioles by a score of 10-1. Victory in hand I drove the 15 minutes back to my home all the while contemplating whether it would be pizza or some other edible that would satisfy my hunger. I stopped for some sandwiches, pulled into the driveway, put on the game, and was comfortably in my chair in the process of bite number one in time to see the last out: the Orioles had come back to defeat the Red Sox 11-10.

Today I had the day off, but the Red Sox and Orioles did not. They played a matinee to conclude their three game series. When the Sox fell behind 5-1 in the 8th I went upstairs to make a phone call and take care of some correspondence. When I completed the tasks, I checked the score of the ballgame and saw that the Sox had scored 4 runs in the 9th and another in the 11th to beat the Orioles, 6-5.

In sport and in life when you think you are really sure of something it might be wise to reconsider the apparent certainties.