Hello there! I know I need to be better about updating my blog more frequently–clearly, I haven’t gotten used to this idea of regular blogging quite yet. I need to make a schedule, I think. In honor of the Red Sox becoming AL East Champs and my trip tomorrow to Baltimore with Cindy to see the Red Sox play the Orioles (!), I’m going to post the following short essay I wrote about being a Sox fan and a New Englander. Enjoy!
It begins innocently enough, when my love suggests that I “find another team to root for.” She is only responding to my complaint that my team, the Boston Red Sox, is filled with players I no longer recognize–in spite of being a faithful fan, a watcher of most televised games. She is suggesting that, since I don’t know many of the new players now wearing the Red Sox uniform, I might as well devote my attention and loyalty to a different team, maybe one that is located closer to Virginia where we live, the Baltimore Orioles or the Washington Nationals, though she doesn’t suggest either. I haven’t lived in Massachusetts for close to fifteen years now, but what my love doesn’t yet fully grasp is a fact that we Bostonians know instinctively: you can take the girl out of Boston, but you can’t take Boston out of the girl.
As a writer, I know that place matters. I come to realize this reluctantly, wanting at a young age to be from somewhere else, not the Massachusetts suburb where I grew up. I wanted adventure. Even Maine would do, where there were rocky cliffs to explore, an ocean to navigate, creatures to gather and learn about. We spent our summers in Green Harbor, MA, a quiet beach town, where we never locked our door at night, where we kids could roam the streets and play hide and go seek until dark, where I could walk out on the jetty and imagine myself an adventurous girl.
And where I learned to love the Red Sox.
The year is 1967. The Red Sox are chasing the pennant, thought I am only dimly aware of what that means. I am seven, and my Red Sox experience so far is limited to radio broadcasts, the soundtrack to summer for most of my growing up. It seems to me that the transistor atop the stone mantle in our cottage is permanently on, the announcer’s familiar voice like another member of the family, reciting a never-ending litany of names like Tony Conigliaro, Carl Yastrzemski, Rico Petrocelli, George Scott. These are the boys of summer that year. These are the names I begin to recognize, though not until fall, when we are back in our real house, the only memory of summer the warm breeze through the screen door as we eat dinner in the kitchen. Now in our real house, the radio atop the refrigerator is on, and the Red Sox are playing the Twins. In the fall of 1967, I am just starting third grade, and because this is playoff season, the month must be October and soon, I will be turning eight. The night is unremarkable. I don’t remember paying attention to the announcer, and I don’t remember the emotion rising in his voice. What I do remember, the picture that replays in the slideshow of my memory is my father’s fork clanging to his plate and, arms raised in victory, my father pushing back from the captain’s chair in our kitchen to dash through the screen door and into the street, knees raised high, dancing. His soundtrack now: “The Impossible Dream.”
I was about twelve when I first visited Fenway Park to watch baseball in person. It would have been Family Day. I would have been with my father, my mother, my brother and sister. I would have ordered popcorn in order to shout through the megahorn when the container was empty. I would have shouted loudest if Luis Tiant was pitching. Luis Tiant had a house in Milton, our town, and because he lived there, he became one of us. He was a local, a good guy, and the fact that he was pitching for the Red Sox and living in Milton made it seem like the rest of us had a chance, too — that we might be destined for something greater that whatever we imagined in our twelve-year old minds.
In his book Staying Put, Scott Russell Sanders writes that in baseball, home is where we start and also our destination. When I was younger, I thought there were too many places in the world to settle down in only one. I wanted to see them all. I wanted to live in each place I visited, not just tour, but develop a routine, know my neighbors, become a regular. If home is that place where we belong, then I was on a constant search. In college years, France felt like home, and in later years, when I was given a Fulbright to teach there, Senegal offered me a version of home that I wanted to accept. Far from suburbia and baseball, in a place so foreign I couldn’t even imagine it before I traveled there, I considered what it meant to be at home. To belong. To have some vital part of yourself nourished or acknowledged so that in truth you can say this is my place in the world.
If home is where you grow up, where you learn your fundamental view of the world, then my home is Massachusetts. We talk funny, especially if we’re from Boston. We don’t pronounce our R’s — a distinction that has been mocked in the movies. We are the land of the bean and the cod, the Kennedys, the site of the first university established in America. We are home to the Puritans, the Unitarian Universalists, the Transcendentalists. Along with Virginia, Massachusetts was the first land settled in the United States. In Petersburg, Virginia, my 11th grade American literature students sigh. “Everything,” they say with great exaggeration, “started in Massachusetts.” They have a joke among themselves: on quizzes and tests, when in doubt, guess Massachusetts.
Growing up in Massachusetts, I thought everyone was a Democrat. I didn’t know any Republicans, or I didn’t know that I knew any. I certainly didn’t know any Yankees fans. In my world view, both being a Republican and a Yankees fan were something you would keep quiet about, not admit to. You would proclaim your Red Sox fandom loudly, though — wearing caps and T-shirts whenever possible.
Now, in Virginia, when I drive on the interstate and I see Massachusetts license plates, I feel an immediate kinship with whoever is in the car. I imagine our instant familiarity. Our jokes about how we’re better off without Manny, about the hope that blossoms every year during spring training, the long hot lull of summer, the re-emergence of hope in the warm Indian summer days of fall. Displaced in this land of conservative Southern politics, of Sunday family dinners and outward politeness, we are outspoken and blunt. We aren’t sentimental. We are infused somehow with the same darkened landscape, the same salty air, an indescribable New England-ness that sets us apart and makes us — god forbid– Yankees.