You’d think that the hardest adjustment for someone from Hawai‘i moving to Boston in December would be acclimating to the winter. In 1997, shopping for a new wardrobe excavated a whole new vocabulary to me, an entirely new strategy for dressing. Soon, I learned what parkas, duck shoes, toques, and anoraks were. I knew when and where to deploy wool or microfleece. As winter melted into spring, however, I noticed a change not only in the weather, but in the atmosphere of Boston and the attitude of its denizens. I wondered if the warming in the region wasn’t caused by the increasing ardor of Red Sox fans rather than the tilt of the planet.
My first spring here, I participated in some water cooler sports talk. Hawai‘i has no franchises in the major team sports. When someone from Hawai‘i makes the big leagues, the team they play for becomes Hawaii’s team. So, when the Broncos won the Superbowl two years in a row, Denver wasn’t the only city partying. The islands celebrated because two University of Hawai‘i graduates, Maa Tanuvasa and Jason Elam, were on that fabled team. Without a home team, you cheer for the closest thing: the small town kid made big city sports hero.
In 1999, I had a job in a law firm in Cambridge. During lunch, the subject often turned to baseball. One day, I casually mentioned that my cousins and I were so excited when the Mets won the World Series in 1986. Dead silence in the breakroom, which I misinterpreted as rapt attention. So, I blathered on about how local boy and lefty Sid Fernandez was one of the relief pitchers, and that everyone in Hawai‘i loved the Mets because he was on their World Championship winning team. One of my co-workers sighed audibly and her shoulders sagged. Others looked away, embarrassed for me.
And then it dawned on me. Bringing 1986 up here in New England was like broaching the delicate subject of, say, someone’s facial deformity or the death of a beloved pet. I had basically insulted the religion and nationality of everyone at the table by invoking that year.
Later that day, another co-worker came by my office and narrated the entire history of the Red Sox. He told me about the 81-year drought and the litany of seven-game World Series since 1918. He talked about how it felt as a 10-year old taken with baseball watching his team fall, and how his father had been similarly smitten in 1967 and 1975. He was a smart fan, and laughed off any notion of “The Curse.” No supernatural force loomed over the team, according to him, just mismanagement and the laggard acceptance of racial integration. Despite my reservations with the Yawkey legacy, I was enthralled with the stories of players like Williams, Yastrzemski, Rice, Lynn, Tiant, and Fisk. I felt the first stirrings of a new faith on that day. It was the beginning of my conversion from a fan of players to a team fan.
That year I moved to an apartment on Queensberry Street, just a few blocks from Fenway Park. I was on the fourth floor and I could see the park through my window. When a Red Sox player got a hit, I could hear the cheering. Extra bases, more fracas. Home run, pandemonium. It was the year of the All-Star Game in Boston. The year Ted Williams held audience with his would-be successors. You needed a microscope to see Pedro Martinez’s ERA. The Red Sox made it to the postseason that year, gutting out a 5-game series against Cleveland only to lose to the Yankees in the ALCS.
I didn’t go to a live game at Fenway until the new ownership group came to the helm, partially because of the old owners’ tainted history, but primarily because of lack of money. In 2002, I could afford two Sox Pax in Section 87. The seats were close enough to the visitor’s bullpen so that, when required, I could add my voice to the chorus of insults raining down on the relief pitchers. On Opening Day, April 1, I became a full-fledged fool for the Red Sox and true believer.
Every follower has her beliefs tested at some point. October 16, 2003. Then, I understood. The most difficult change wasn’t the winter climate, but facing it without the glow of a championship.
This winter has been like a day back in Hawai‘i for me. Balmy and calm in my heart, I wait for the first pitch of the season.