September 28, 2011

Steve Solloway: Young Red Sox fans don't know true despair

Now they're getting a taste of what life was like for Boston fans before 2004.

By Steve Solloway ssolloway@pressherald.com
Columnist

Ever hopeful, Zach Collett settled into his freshman dorm room at the University of New Haven the other night, a TV remote and an open textbook nearby. It was time to watch the Red Sox game and do his homework.

Some time after Jacoby Ellsbury ran into the centerfield wall and dropped the ball, Collett was reaching for the remote's off button. Baltimore had just scored three runs. The Red Sox were about to lose for the 17th time in 22 games. The team's place in the American League playoffs was anything but assured.

"I get upset," said Collett, a college ballplayer from Westbrook. "Baseball is a game meant to be fun, and the way they're playing right now, they're not having fun. They're playing so uptight."

In their Cape Elizabeth home, Kevin Kobel and his 12-year-old son, Chris, watch Red Sox games together. Dad has never really told his son the stories of the pre-2004 teams, when disgusted fans turned away from their Red Flops.

Until this month and the epic Red Sox swoon, Kevin Kobel didn't see the need to talk of what happens when the team angers the baseball gods. Now he sees the disappointment in his son's face. Welcome to the club, kid. This is what the Red Sox used to do to us all the time.

A younger generation of Red Sox fans doesn't carry the baggage of their parents and grandparents. Even older teenagers don't remember much of life as a fan before 2004, when the Red Sox stepped back from elimination in the American League Championship Series to beat the New York Yankees four straight times to move on to the World Series.

Then came four straight wins over the St. Louis Cardinals and the first World Series banner since 1918. Three years later, the Red Sox won the 2007 World Series. All the talk of curses and jinxes vanished. Older Red Sox fans were freed from the chains of history.

Younger fans have no grasp of the Red Sox version of true doom and gloom.

Even before Tuesday night's game -- a not-so-comfortable win in Baltimore -- a very modest sampling of young fans, ages 12 to 18, revealed little of the cynicism or despair of their elders.

Jack and Bonnie Collett could show their scars to Zach. The three talk almost every night, and the Red Sox are usually part of the conversation.

"They've implied or inferred the suffering, but I don't really know," Zach said.

He was a member of the Westbrook team that went to the Little League World Series in that magical summer of 2005. They were 12-year-olds who styled themselves after their heroes, putting off haircuts, ignoring stress and calling themselves idiots.

They gathered one night in a conference room at Little League headquarters, not sure what was up -- until the voice of David "Big Papi" Ortiz was heard on the speaker phone.

The Red Sox were across the country, in Anaheim, Calif., to play the Angels that night, and arrangements had been made to get a few to the phone during batting practice. It was an unforgettable time. Which may be why Collett is still a believer.

Sean Murphy, a Westbrook Little League teammate, is more skeptical.

"Even if they make the playoffs, I don't think they'll go very far," Murphy said. "It's the pitching. They can't ride any one pitcher. I don't think it's (Manager Terry Francona's) fault. It's (General Manager Theo Epstein's) fault."

Murphy, attending Southern Maine Community College while his pitching arm mends from Tommy John surgery, went to see the new movie "Moneyball" recently. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the Oakland A's general manager who must build a team with a modest payroll. Murphy believes Epstein spends too much on the wrong players.

"I've been listening to the games on the radio a lot more," said Murphy. "When I watch on television, I just have to look away."

You didn't hear the heat of anger or the disgust of frustration in Murphy's voice. He is a child of a different generation.

"I think everyone's relying on the others to do well," said 12-year-old Jacob Allen of Cape Elizabeth, speaking about his favorite team. "I'm a little disappointed, but I think Tampa Bay is going to lose to the Yankees. I think the Red Sox will be in the playoffs."

He understands. If he was 12 and living in Baltimore or Kansas City, his team fighting for a playoff spot couldn't even be imagined.

"Watching them lose is not my favorite thing," said Bryce Snyder, 17, of Yarmouth. "If they don't make the playoffs, it probably wouldn't ruin my fall."

That's the talk of a different generation.

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: ssolloway@pressherald.com

 

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