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by Bethany Tung
Boston is known, by the rest of the country, for its colonial history. It is known for the U.S.S. Constitution and for Harvard. It is known for baked beans and for Ye Olde Font of Dirty Water, the Charles River. And it is known for the building that lies within the boundaries of Lansdowne Street, Yawkey Way, Van Ness Street, and Ipswich Street: the oldest park in baseball, after Tiger Stadium closes. Home of the Green Monster and the manual scoreboard. John Updike's "lyric little bandbox of a ballpark". Victim of an infamous Curse, courtesy of a certain George Herman Ruth: Fenway Park.
It is to this edifice, and to the team that Fenway houses, that my life, like that of many a New Englander, is tied. From balmy springtime days in Fort Myers, to summer Sunday afternoons, when heat waves are rising off parking lots and off record temperature charts, to an occasional taste of October hopes and dreams, the seasons of the Boston Red Sox march along.
The first time I remember beginning to get interested in this marathon sport of summer was when I attended my first game, about four years ago. Before that, I had never been too excited about the flow and ebb of this most renowned Bostonian team. I knew names like Clemens and Naehring, that three strikes made an out, and that the huge wall in left field was affectionately known as the "Green Monster", but that was about it.
On this particular day, my family hadn't even planned to be at the ballpark. I think that our original destination was the Museum of Fine Arts, or someplace equally dry to my nine-year-old mind. When I heard of the change of agenda, I was delighted, although for no other reason than, "Anything's got to be better than that museum."
My brother, two years younger than I, was less than thrilled. He was on an ancient-Egypt kick and wanted to visit the mummies. We dragged him along anyhow.
The game must have been against the Cleveland Indians, because I distinctly remember thinking, "Wow, what a weird grinning head!" It was a perfect day to be at the Fens, a warm, sunny afternoon, with just enough of a breeze to take the edge off the sunlight beating down along the right-field seats. The game was relatively unremarkable. The Red Sox won.
Thus began a relationship: a love-hate relationship that, little did I know, would stay with me for my entire life. In those short few hours while I sat in the grandstands, my fate became hopelessly intertwined with that of the Sox. I was unofficially inducted into the ranks of the Fenway Faithful, and as a consequence (or reward?), I inherited the decades of suffering, the pain of dashed hopes, the memories of what once was and the dreams of what may be again.
I read about the 1946 World Series, in which Pesky "held the ball."
I heard tales of the Impossible Dream season of 1967.
I trained in the art of Carlton-Fisk-ian body language, which can miraculously compel a soaring, spiraling baseball, carrying on it all the pleas and prayers of millions of fans, to stay fair. Found out why the middle name bestowed upon Bucky Dent in Boston is commonly replaced in the newspaper by "Bleeping". Endured taunts and countless replays of Bill Buckner's through-the-legs fiasco in Game 6 of the 1986 Series.
I began memorizing statistics so I would be well-armed in arguments with other baseball fanatics.
I realized how quickly and easily a lead could turn into a loss, so I carefully refrained from celebrations until after the final out had been recorded. I also made sure to never rub a win in anyone's face...or at least I tried not to.
Above all, I learned to hate the New York Yankees with a passion. I shunned any type of blue-pinstriped garment and mentally filed away any New York defeats, such as their sweep by the Sox back in September, or Nomar beating out Jeter in both the All-Star balloting and the AL batting title. These stood me in good stead when I happened to get into, well, let's call them "conversations", with Yankees fans.
To be a Red Sox fan is to be a living paradox. Every year, often despite your best efforts to the contrary, you get your hopes up, thinking, "This might be the year!", but underneath a tiny nagging voice is constantly saying, "Don't get too excited. Remember last year and all the years before that. Don't let yourself get burned again."
You can be the most religious person in the world, but if you follow the Sox, you have no choice but to believe wholeheartedly in curses and superstitions.
The average Red Sox fan is a walking, talking oxymoron. I am no exception. And who knows how my life, my baseball life, might have turned out, had it not been for that fateful July afternoon in that greatest of baseball cities, Boston, Massachusetts.
[Author's note: Now the 1999 season has dwindled to a painful, heartbreaking end. The incessant refrain of Red Sox Nation, "Wait 'til next year," has returned for another long winter. But who knows: maybe during the offseason, we will acquire that pitcher, that slugger, who will lead us on to the ultimate victory in the first season of the new millennium. Boston fans can only hope and wait...and wait...and wait...]
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