Red Sox Nation in the Lone Star State

 

By John Ring

 

ARLINGTON, TEXAS — Once you get past the accents, the battle is over. And I’m not talking about a southern drawl, y’all.

They are knowledgeable about sports.

They are passionate.

They are loyal.

They, in terms of this column, are the fans of Red Sox Nation.

They came by the dozens to Arlington, Texas this past week because their beloved Boston Red Sox were opening the season against the Texas Rangers.

I sat down with about 18 of them at a restaurant just adjacent to the new baseball stadium in Arlington. It replaced the renovated minor-league ballpark that the Washington Senators and Ted Williams came upon in 1972 when the Rangers were born.  It’s right next to Six Flags over Texas and close to where the Dallas Cowboys will be breaking ground for a new football stadium as well — but that’s another story.

Back to Beantown.

Tommy was a guy slightly younger than I and based upon his countless trips to Super Bowls, All-Star games and his being able to watch the Sox in all but two baseball parks across America, much richer. Asked who his favorite Red Sox player of all time was, he replied, “No-mah.”

What? Who?

“No-mah,” he replied, “you know, No-mah Gah-cia-parrah”

Right. Nomar Garciaparra. Sorry, the accent thing, you know?

Tommy’s a smart guy. He knew it was Pat Darcy who threw the fateful pitch that Carlton Fisk hit for a home run during the 1975 World Series. He knew who the first DH was for the BoSox (Orlando Cepeda) and he is the rarest of breeds — a conservative in Massachusetts who voted for George W. Bush. “But I also voted for Ross Perot,” he joked.

The other 17 were typical of northeasterners. They were aghast and wide-eyed when I told them that I was in the military and voted for Bush. They all voted for Kerry. “I don’t like the war, I don’t like Dubyah but I love baseball,” said MJ, another die-hard fan. She didn’t like other things as well. “The Big Dig is nothing but a money pit,” she complained about the massive, billion-dollar project to unravel the traffic mess in Boston. “Look, if you ever come to Boston, don’t bother renting a car. There’s nowhere to park.”

A surprising note… they have no great affection for Fenway Park. They love the tradition and history but hate the seats, the price of beer and obstructed seats. “Look at me,” demanded MJ, “I’m 5-foot-five and a hundred and five pounds and I can’t fit in those seats comfortably. A beer runs six bucks but you just get a small plastic cup of it.”

Bostonians have a history of being upset about prices and taxes — at least back to the Revolutionary War days. Remember their problem with tea?

“The Big Dig was an absolute fraud,” said Irene. “It’s the biggest publicly-funded project of its time and nothing works. There are lawsuits everywhere. It leaks everywhere, too.”

They are just as united in their fury and passion for baseball. No one I talked to blamed Bill Buckner for his error in the 6th game of the 1986 World Series. “It was McNamara’s fault,” said Tommy about Red Sox skipper John McNamara. “Buckner shouldn’t have been in the game then. He was a horrible defensive player. You guys in Chicago should know that.”

“And when the Sox lost to Cincinnati in 1975, that was Darrell Johnson’s fault. Jim Willoughby was mowing down the Reds. Why Johnson pulled him for Roger Moret, I’ll never figure that one out.”

I ran into more Sox fans at the game I went to on Tuesday night. There were several hundred of them, not dozens. They lined up 5 and 6 deep from home plate to the left field corner in hopes of getting Red Sox player autographs and to watch them on the field before the game. They gave their Sox a rousing ovation after batting practice.

“Whenever the Red Sox or Yankees come to town it’s like this,” said Percy, a beer vendor who is also a teacher in Garland, Texas. “But for Opening Day, it’s like ‘Whoa!”

It wasn’t much of a game. Phil Nevin drove in five runs in his first three at bats, the Rangers routed knuckleballer Rick Wakefield and Texas mauled the Red Sox by the score of 10-4. Many of the Sox faithful made the trip scheduled by the Red Sox team; they arranged the travel, hotel, tickets, Red Sox jerseys and a welcoming speech to the contingent made by none other than Jim Sundberg.

“A classy guy,” said one of the Reds Sox fans to me after the game. “I remember when he played for the Rangers and Royals. He’s still the best catcher in Rangers history. He treated us first class and was a true gentleman.”

I wore a Texas Rangers T-shirt and an old-fashioned Washington Senators hat and sat amongst them, cheering for one of the two Lone Star state’s teams. I gotta admit, it was fun. And how could I root against Sundberg when we both grew up on the south side of Galesburg?

In politics, Texas may be a Red State and Massachusetts a Blue one, but in baseball, they’re just the opposite.