Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Station this wagon
By Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff

Here’s a memo to all the front-running, bandwagon, pink-hat-wearing fans that have infiltrated ballparks from Seattle to Atlanta: Find another team.

It’s been a nice ride. But frankly, I can no longer take your nightly dominating presence at visiting ballparks, a plague of obnoxious team pride that has little to do with actually being a fan of the team.

I understand success breeds contempt, but rarely does it divide members of the same rooting interests, a fine line that is threatening to secede the true members of Red Sox Nation from the card-carrying yahoos.

I’m sure there were plenty of honest-to-goodness Red Sox fans packing Safeco Field last night, when Boston fell to Seattle, 9-4. But please. Not that many. The term Fenway West isn’t even relevant anymore because it seems every ballpark is Fenway these days.

San Diego? Fine. It’s clear that Southern California is a hotbed for Boston transplants, so it stands to reason that fans would pack the stands of Petco this past weekend. Granted it’s cheaper to fly to Baltimore and procure a ticket to Camden Yards to watch the Red Sox play than it is to attend a game in your own backyard.

But at the rate Red Sox fans are multiplying like Mogwais across the country, biologists are going to start studying the patterns of our New England breeding habits.

“You've seen them,” writes the Olympian’s Eliot Smith in a nice little rip-job on these poseurs. “Take a pseudo-sports fan and inundate them with the latest and greatest feel-good story, and they can be swayed. One day they're the world's biggest Mariners fan and the next they're all about the Red Sox, because they spent a summer ‘back East’ at the beach.”

That couldn’t possibly be more dead-on.

It has to be embarrassing for true Red Sox fans to attend a game far from the confines only to feel like he or she is sitting in those outdated, rickety, wooden seats facing the wrong way. Time once was that was a special feeling, a bonding across the nation with fellow fans who have either relocated or traveled with the team on summer vacation.

Now, those people have to be surrounded by wanna-bes and frauds who just want to join the crowd and be a part of “Red Sox Nation.” These are the people that will make sure you know that have “Tessie” programmed on a loop on their iPod, only to be replaced by the sure to be just as annoying “Gyro Ball.” These are the people who had to ask yesterday who this Rod Beck guy was. These are the people who purchase "Roush Fenway" sweatshirts. These are the people who think Jerry Remy was immediately succeeded by Todd Walker at second base. These are the people who notice you’re wearing Big Papi’s No. 34 on your T-shirt, but can’t understand why it reads “El Guapo.”

As one Red Sox fan living in exile in the Bay Area wrote recently:

”I first experienced it a few years ago when I started going to Oakland A's games at the Coliseum. I've gone to a lot of random games, but each year, I made it an effort to go see a Red Sox game in order to represent. During the first few years, there were fans and Boston ex-pats scattered throughout the stadium. When we bumped into each other at the food stand or in the seats, we'd give each other the knowing nod and continue on our business. During the playoffs in 2003, I remember vividly being the only Red Sox fan in my entire section. When we eliminated the A's, it was easily the scariest walk I've ever had to take from walking from the 500 level to the BART station.

“The 2004 World Series changed all that. During the next year, I went to the entire Red Sox series in Oakland and I was surprised that over half the fans were Red Sox fans. Honestly. They literally appeared overnight. It became harder to get seats. Suddenly, instead of being the only Sox fan in my section, my friends were usually the only A's fans. Instead of seeing green all around the stadium, there were significant patches of Red, Blue, and the occasional pink. Yes, pink. If anything, that was a smoking gun that we now had bandwagon fans. It's those damn pink hats. Who really wears pink baseball hats? Not to be a snob, but true fans don't wear that.”

Not to continue the snobbery, but Red Sox Nation has been infiltrated by these “fans,” an annoying band of gnats that populate cities across the nation, showing off their latest Boston garb to prove their overall intelligence in choosing to root for the Red Sox. As if we didn’t have enough of them in Boston proper, forcing many a true Red Sox fan to their couch or local pubs instead of Fenway, they plague visiting cities, only to find the nearest phone booth once Boston leaves town and change back into their hometown gear.

Smith echoed the sentiments of the above fan, reasoning that five years ago, this mass of Bostonian presence did not exist in Seattle. To try and figure this out, he perused last night’s crowd of Red Sox “fans” for an answer.

”’Seriously, the Red Sox are like, the universal language of the people,’ says Sarah, who came to Monday's game from Spokane with her friends Christina and Jodi - all transplants from Connecticut. ‘You want to root for them - especially here in Seattle, because the Mariners suck.’
See, that's what tends to irk non-Boston folks. For a team with a storied legacy of losing, Red Sox fans can be cocky. At least Yankees fans have the hardware to back up their boasting.

The universal language of the people? Methinks Sarah has been taking speech lessons from Dr. Charles. Seriously.

And really, is there anyone else to blame for the current hypocrisy that has deflated the true spirit of what once was Red Sox Nation than the Red Sox themselves? Nobody is decreeing the fact that the Red Sox shouldn’t want to market themselves to as many people as possible, to sell their product to however many millions that they can on a nightly basis.

But at some point, there comes a tipping moment, when the true fans become just plain tired of the cheese and wine crowd that has become the norm at a park once known more for hot dogs and suds. When the team becomes simply just an arm of city redevelopment, creating more high-priced condos in a city desperately in need of affordable housing, you can understand how some people get put out by their omnipresence in our world -- political, entertainment, and athletic. No matter in what lot we turn to, the Red Sox are there, like a reminding beacon that they now own your soul. Not a fan of NASCAR? You will be once the Red Sox get through with you.

Red Sox fans these days are a different breed, the true followers overshadowed by the bravado of the bandwagon fan, all the more boisterous in the case you might not have noticed their stark-white “Schilling” jersey, a forgotten tag revealed when they raise their arms in the air to scream at the top of their lungs for the starting lineup. “See? I’m a big fan.”

It’s been real, but you’re no longer wanted. The Red Sox sure want you though, as their coffers are certainly no worse for the wear thanks to your need to flaunt your racket. But what team will you turn to when the Red Sox aren’t winning? And what fans will the Red Sox turn to when all their true followers have become ultimately tired of being lumped in with this embarrassing group of loudmouthed frauds?

It’s not me. It’s you. So maybe it’s just best that you move along now.

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