Bittersweet Theology of Red Sox Faithful ; in a City of Calvinism and a So-Called Curse, Being a Baseball Fan Means Tragedy, Then Ecstasy, Then

By Mark Sappenfield writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 19, 2004 | Go to article overview

Bittersweet Theology of Red Sox Faithful ; in a City of Calvinism and a So-Called Curse, Being a Baseball Fan Means Tragedy, Then Ecstasy, Then


Mark Sappenfield writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


In a week that has encompassed a loss of Trojan proportions and an extra-innings escape as improbable as any by Houdini, lifelong Red Sox fan John McGrath merely crinkles the white whiskers of his chin with a wry smile.

"I want to say it's different this year, but to be truthful, it's just more of the same," he says.

Being a Red Sox fan, after all, has never been for the faint of heart or mind. It has been the peculiar province - and pain - of the New Englander.

The drama of this year is only a taste of a story and a tradition built over generations. In a time when sports seems to be usurping its own sphere - becoming a cultural influence far beyond its actual import - the Beantown Nine's connection to the people of New England remains a unique phenomenon in American sport.

The Red Sox are at once the symbol of spring renewal after the cold and dark of a Maine winter and a Puritanical sermon of brimstone in autumns of failure. They are the muse of angst-ridden Harvard lit majors and the milk of Vermont dairy farmers.

Perhaps no team so perfectly represents more than itself - indeed, the outlook and ethos of an entire region. The Sox are New England, as much as blushing fall maples or rubber-booted fishermen, and this season - regardless of the conclusion - has only tightened the ties. "They never let you down," says Ed Boulos, a native Mainer attending one of the games. "You can always expect drama."

Drama, of course, makes for a good story - even if the ending has always tended toward the tragic. On one hand, the fact that Boston hasn't won a World series since 1918 has created a solidarity of the downtrodden. The reason Bostonians love the Red Sox "is the losses," says Maureen O'Brien, milling among the still-hopeful crowd outside Fenway. "It creates empathy."

Yet the Boston Red Sox are no Chicago Cubs - they are no lovable losers. Trials of faith have never been foreign to the New England mind. Whether it was scratching an existence out of the granite- veined earth or the preparing for an afterlife of Calvinist severity, the joys of the moment have always been spare - and attended by no small amount of toil.

The failures of the Red Sox are a product of struggle, not concession, and to some, they are best seen as the reflection of the region's doctrinal traditions. …

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