|Baseball's border wars|
By Tom Farrey
Special to Page 2
You will hear a lot of talk in the next week or so about how the center of the baseball universe is wherever the Red Sox-Yankees playoff series is being held that day. It isn't true. And it isn't wherever the Cubs and Marlins are playing, either.
The center of the baseball universe is Burlington, Connecticut, precisely two hours from both Yankee Stadium, to the southwest, and Fenway Park, to the northeast. In fact, I'm fairly certain that our own version of the Mason-Dixon Line (we call it the Munson-Nixon Line, after Thurman and Trot) separating Yankees fans from Red Sox fans runs right along the property line separating my home from that of my neighbor.
I know this because I had a conversation with his son one day this summer.
"How 'bout if you lose that Yankees hat, Zach?" I said to the four-year-old boy, his cap pulled down low over his straight, blond hair. "You know … try this Red Sox cap instead."
Instead, as we stood in my garage, his face filled with horror.
"Nooooo!" he blurted, as if I were some creep seducing him with candy.
I kept at him. He wouldn't budge, and he wouldn't laugh. His father had thoroughly programmed him. These were the eyes of a zealot. Agent Sydney Bristow would have been easier to crack. The best I could do is get him to be a "little bit" of a Red Sox fan, while maintaining his allegiance to the Yankees. His cap would stay on. And he had conditions.
"Just don't tell my dad," the poor kid whispered, terrified.
Living in the middle of Connecticut ought to protect us from this cult-like behavior. Here, amid the Land of No Pro Teams (OK, there's the WNBA's Sun), you might think people would be a little more balanced. But in fact, balance here means equal helpings of Yankees and Red Sox fans, and neither side can get the other team off their minds for more than 23 hours at a time.
That's because each morning during the season, the Hartford Courant sports section arrives. Always, the agnostic front page includes one Yankees game story and one Red Sox game story. Yankees fans hate it because they know their team is genetically superior. Red Sox folks hate it because the team's annual August swoon is never done in private; it's always juxtaposed against the Bombers' late-season rise to the top of the AL East.
Living here forces one to compare and contrast -- and take sides.
For me, the decision was hugely important, for my wife and I moved here from one-team Seattle five years ago when Cole was one. How did I want to raise my son? What values did I want to emphasize? Should we promote excellence and standards, achievement and self-confidence … as well as arrogance and the notion that money can buy anything? Or should we encourage patience and humility, resilience and character … as well as crushing self-analysis?
I slipped a Yankees cap on Cole's head. He looked like a pet killer.
Swapped it out for a Red Sox cap. He looked like the nation's next great leader.
So Red Sox it is. He wears that cap now while riding bikes, digging for worms in the backyard, and whacking tennis balls off the back side of the house -- our Green Monster -- with his tiny blue aluminum bat. A home run is hitting it past the row of Arbor Vitae and into the neighbor's lawn, just over the Munson-Nixon Line. The fact that he thinks the "B" on the cap stands for his middle name, Blethen, is incidental, I think.
On his T-Ball league baseball card -- yes, kids get those these days -- his "Favorite Player" is listed as Pedro Martinez. I'm telling you, Cole is a good kid.
Of course, Cole, too young to be much of a major league fan, knows nothing of the Red Sox ace. Probably thinks "Pedromar Tinez" is an all-powerful Yu-Gi-Oh card he has yet to acquire. So, mea culpa here, I penciled in Pedro's name on the photography sign-up form where it asked him to list his favorite player.
I know. Don't live your sports dreams through your son. Whatever. Father knows best.
But now that I've made these choices for Cole, I need the Red Sox to win. If not this year, then sometime in the next decade. If my boy is going to grow up emotionally healthy, he needs to know that all that patience and faith, in the end, have a payoff. That the Red Sox are not some parable from the streets of 19th-century London, in which life is irrevocably miserable because social class is set from birth. This is supposed to be New England, not old England.
The Red Sox need to be an American tale.
Unable to find the strike zone in the ninth, Scott Williamson had the frail eyes of a Little Leaguer who just wanted to go home to mommy. The wrath, and neuroses, of Red Sox Nation were palpable as he put the potential tying and winning runs on base. Compassion was not the emotion of the moment. But Derek Lowe bailed him out. Or was it simply team character that saved the day? I had to wonder after witnessing the angst-free attitude of Jason Varitek in the post-game TV interview. When asked about Williamson's troubles, he was nothing but supportive, optimistic, inclusive. "We're going to need him," the catcher said, and it occurred to me that this guy is looking forward, not back -- no easy thing to do in this region of the republic.
I'm an investigative reporter. Investigative reporters don't cheer easily. But when Lowe grooved strike three to end the A's series, I flew off my sofa and ran toward the TV. The Munson-Nixon Line was about to get more interesting, more divisive.
As for Cole and Zach, best buddies, they seem to be going the other direction. As if our neighborhood rivalry is perhaps getting too thick. They approached me while I was watching the game the other day.
"Uh, Daddy," Cole announced hesitantly, Zach by his side.
"Uh, Zach and I decided, uh, that more than Yankees and Red Sox fans, we're going to be, uh, Diamondbacks fans," he said, referring to the name of their T-ball team, on which they play happily together and where the game is nothing more than a game.
How mature. Like I said, I knew all this Red Sox drama would make him a better man.
Tom Farrey is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.