I believe in the Church of Baseball. I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn't work out between us….I've tried 'em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.
- Annie Savoy, Bull Durham
I remember being a Red Sox fan for as long as I remember being anything. From the day/night doubleheader against Toronto, when all I could do was marvel over the fact that I was up past bedtime, to Game 3 of the World Series in 1986, when my mom let me test out my shiny new license heading east on the Mass Pike so that we could bear witness to Oil Can Boyd on the mound, a loss that was nowhere near as devastating as what was still to come that year. Raising my daughter with a B on her hat was as important to me as teaching her how to read, making sure she understood our deep New England roots, as well as the complicated politics that went along with loving the last team to desegregate in the 20th century.
But baseball is more to me than just the team I follow. It’s a game I love. I learned about pitching from sitting next to my dad in the playroom of my childhood home, listening to his quiet analysis of the ball count, the strategy, and never losing patience when I could not wrap my head around the infield fly rule. I loved my mother’s passion for the game, her willingness to leave the beach during our annual family vacation on Cape Cod to drive us to Fenway, braving the commuter rush on Route 3 to scrounge for parking and make it in time for the first pitch. When my first real job landed me in Plattsburgh, New York, I made baseball friends, colleagues who drove across Canada’s border with me to see the Expos play in a city that really didn’t care much for the game.
America, as I’ve written elsewhere, does not have a national team of any kind. Certain events create fan consensus each year, such as the Super Bowl and March Madness; the Olympic Games generate a national cheering section; and I have no doubt that when the U.S. women take to the pitch in France, millions of Americans will watch soccer, a sport many love to bash.
While root-root-rooting for the home team tends to be quite localized in the United States, some teams do become more nationally prominent than others. The Dallas Cowboys from the late 1960s through the early 1980s, with their 20 consecutive winning seasons. The Pittsburgh Pirates, who turned a World Series run in 1979 into a national phenomenon to the tune of Sister Sledge’s “We are Family. The New Orleans Saints’, whose post-Katrina Super Bowl success ensured that just about everyone could chant “Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say they gonna beat dem Saints?” with style.
And sometimes it’s about the game, not the team.
When a friend gifted us with ridiculously amazing seats to a Mets game over Memorial Day weekend, I took off my Red Sox hat and got in the car. My daughter asked her friend to join us, someone who happened to be a Mets fan, and whose baseball-crazy mother outfitted her head to toe in blue and orange, a vintage 1987 Mets shirt to boot.
“Can I wear my Mookie shirt?” my daughter asked. No, I told her, wanting to avoid the issue of fandom. It would be too hot, and that shirt had long sleeves. “How about my Benintendi shirt?” she persisted. Damn, I thought. Forgot about that one.
I explained to her that we weren’t going to this game as Red Sox fans. We were going as baseball fans, ready to enjoy a hot day in the sun watching a good game played by a team that, like us, hates the Yankees. And it was a good game. Citifield is a baseball palace, with everything from peanuts and Cracker Jacks to Shake Shack and sushi. We rubbed shoulders with John Oliver, saw Adeiny Hechavarria show Spencer Turnbull that he meant business, and watched Zack Wheeler have a really good day. Carlos Gomez made a catch that brought images of Boston’s Andrew Benintendi instantly to mind, and the tense top of the 9th, where the home team’s one-run lead felt awfully precarious, was a situation that made us Boston fans feel like we were home. We left the 4-3 Mets victory hot, tired, and with fouled off balls in our hands, the lovely Bat Boy making sure our girls each had one.
It was a good day for baseball. We had a blast watching this team, if not our team, that plays in our own backyard. We will still make the pilgrimage to Fenway a few times a year, no doubt slogging up Interstate 95 for hours. But maybe heading to Citifield every now and then means we can watch a home team of a different sort.