It's a Sox Nation. As if you didn't know.
They say New York was so big they named it twice. Red Sox Nation has grown so exponentially, it apparently takes two front-page features on a pair of the nation's (That's the United States, mind you) most familiar newspapers.
But while the Boston Globe's yippy-yay feature on the ever-present road attendance of Red Sox fans provides some of the same glimpses as USA Today's, the latter certainly also displays a darker, more foreboding side to the price of popularity.
Bryan Marquand's Globe story focuses mainly on talking to fans who popped up this week at Tropicana Field to watch their beloved boys of summer play in a sea of pink, red, and blue. The only player comments included are from Tim Wakefield and Mike Lowell, at the very end of the piece.
"It means a lot," Wakefield said in the locker room Monday after pitching a shutout.
"I don't know if it gives you an advantage, but it makes you feel good," said Lowell, the Red Sox third baseman, standing nearby. "It's never bad to have people cheering for you on the road."
That's in stark contrast to Paul White's story in the nation's McNewspaper, which is heavy on player and staff views of Red Sox Nation, and its increasing fanaticism.
"We're told to leave it all on the field," [Kevin] Youkilis said. "But with the fans around so much, it becomes a 24/7 thing. You can't escape it. The hardest time is at the hotel. Sometimes that takes away from the whole experience."
"That's a little disappointing to hear," says Red Sox fan Scott Patterson of Cranston, R.I., who graduated in May from Southern New Hampshire University and started a blog (bostonsportslife.blogspot.com) with a classmate.
"We as fans have taken a huge part of our lives and invested it in this team."
Despite Mr. Patterson's apparent feelings that the team should be available to him and his compadres every ticking moment of the day, that's the exact thing that has to frustrate many of the players to no end. Terry Francona even alludes to the admittedly awful Robert DeNiro flick, "The Fan" in explaining there's always that fear tucked away somewhere that one of your fans might not be as, let's say balanced. "Sometimes I probably seem surly when I don't want to be. But people just walk up to you on the street and start talking. You just don't know which one might be that 'one.'"
When the likes of Patterson walk around with that lingering fear, then maybe we can complain about the disappointment of hearing how overwhelming this can all be for the players.
The moment when the Red Sox went from a beloved baseball team to a marketing cult of fame is generally pinpointed as sometime in 2003, somewhere between "Cowboy Up" and when pink hats came into prevalence. It exploded after 2004, when Sox fans were too giddy to really have any semblance of a chip on their shoulders as they were pushed out of their own park by officials, celebrities, and general wannabes who don't have even the slightest hint of who preceded Johnny Damon in center field.
Then came 2005, when the Red Sox Nation cards started to separate the frauds from the fans who just want to enjoy the danged team. Then came 2006, when the poseurs left a sea of empty seats at Fenway as injuries led to the team's late-season collapse. Then came 2007, fresh with "Sox Appeal" and the inanely forced search for a President of Red Sox Nation.
To play for the Red Sox these days is unlike the experience of any other ballclub, a long-thought distinction that used to have to do mainly with the rabid intensity of the fan base. But that status has changed, and greatly, I might add. These days, the folks camping out at the hotels across America have less to do with a certain baseball fanaticism, and much more to do with wanting to be in the shadow of celebrity.
During Super Bowl week of 2004 in Houston, I was stunned by a culture that was obsessed -- no -- possessed by the very possibility of witnessing a celebrity in their midst. It could have been Adrian Zmed, and the pop culture starved Texans would have flocked to him like college kids to a Friday free wing special. There was something about it so empty. Like much celebrity chasing and obsessing, there was a noticeable void there in peoples' lives, one that we cranky New Englanders certainly didn't possess on the whole. Matt Damon? He's that kid that used to act across the river. Saw him at Grendel's once. Nice fella. In Houston, the man would have been swarmed to the point of being oxygen-deprived, with a high-pitched chorus of "Omigod, omigod, omigod."
I was wrong. We've become Houston. At least where the Red Sox are concerned.
More than a baseball team, the Red Sox are a status symbol, and that is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of it all. Disdained, much like the Yankees before them, Boston's most beloved baseball team has gone from a local obsession to a national phenomenon. And as the owners and marketing gurus continue to benefit, the players, and the fans that can't find it in their heart or their wallet to continue with what was once their passion, are starting to understand the downside of it all.
That, for better or worse, is Red Sox Nation in 2007.