red_sox_logoI am a Red Sox fan.

This is the year that I, a lifelong baseball fan, was finally willing to come out and admit that fact. It’s been something I’ve hidden from everyone but my wife for many years, and my decision to come out of the closet this year was a difficult one. I’m not joking. It got me reflecting on how complicated our sports allegiances can be.

As a rabid baseball fan in Western Canada, I’m somewhat of an anomaly, and it’s because of my mother. I was born in Toronto; though I’ve spent almost all my life in Vancouver, my parents are still, in many ways, Torontonians through-and-through. While hockey is secondary to me as a sports fan, I am a Vancouver Canucks fan and have little interest in other teams; no doubt my parents would be fervently rooting for the Leafs in a Vancouver/Toronto Stanley Cup match.

My parents are both baseball fans; while I know my father got his early interest in baseball from his older brother’s love for the Brooklyn Dodgers, I’m not sure when my mother became a fan, but it’s her influence as a baseball lover that I’ve felt most strongly over the years. I know that from the time I was 3 years old, I was under the umbrella of the Blue Jays, which as far as I can remember was my mother’s influence. One of my early memories about clothes as a kid – probably only 6 or 7 years old – was my pride in my Blue Jays baseball caps and T-shirts.

I played baseball as a kid as well, and it was the only sport I played I actually loved to play. My baseball obsession really didn’t blossom until I was 13 years old, though. That’s when we moved back to Toronto because of my dad’s job. While it was a short-lived move, while we lived there we began attending baseball games. I can remember my first game in the brand-new Skydome (now Rogers Centre) and feeling the rush of cheering, along with 40,000+ people, for George Bell to hit a home run to win a game. I don’t remember how important the game was, or even who we were playing (though it would have been late in the season and they were in a pennant race) but I’d never in my life felt that amount of energy and passion, all of us on our feet screaming for that home run we needed. He smacked that dinger over the left-field fence and I was never the same again. It felt like we’d willed it to happen.

For the next several years, I was a major Blue Jays fan. I lived and died by their win-loss record. When 1992 came around, I was watching almost every game. I fought with people in bars and restaurants to turn it to every game I could see. Our family headed down to Seattle when the Jays were in town any time we could, and we stayed in the same hotel as the Jays. And when Timlin threw the last out of the 1992 series to Joe Carter, it was one of the greatest moments of my life, and I still remember it as vividly as if it was yesterday.

The following year the Jays were right back in it, and I loved every moment. Quickly after his acquisition I fell in love with Paul Molitor, still one of my favourite and, IMO, one of the greatest players in the game. My signed, framed photo of him that was a gift from my wife is still one of my most prized and prominently displayed possessions. I skipped – and ultimately, in a few cases, flunked – my first-year college classes to listen to the ALCS on my car radio. When Joe Carter smacked that homer for only the second walk-off World Series home run win in history, I really could have died fulfilled.

Then the dark years. The 1994 strike-shortened season. My interest in baseball waned. They expanded the league and stuck the Jays in the most difficult division in the newly split American League, along with the Red Sox and the Yankees, killing the traditional Jays rivalry with the Detroit Tigers. They sold the Blue Jays to a European beer conglomerate as part of a deal for Labatt’s, and they had no interest or experience in maintaining a MLB team. Their salaries slashed, they became perennial division losers, despite occasional high points like Pat Hentgen’s Cy Young award (my only fully authentic baseball jersey is a Hentgen jersey, and proud). I even found myself cheering for the despised Yankees in the 1996 World Series against the only other team I could possibly hate more, the Atlanta Braves.

Then my baseball world changed. In 1997, I watched Ken Burns’s superb Baseball documentary on PBS, and I found out that I loved the history of baseball even more than I loved the modern game. And, more than anything, though Burns tended to focus on the New York franchises, I found myself falling in love with the Boston Red Sox. The Royal Rooters. Tris Speaker. Teddy Baseball. Yaz. Fisk. Rice. Pedro. I read Halberstram’s “Summer of ’49” and fell in love even more. I wished I was born a Red Sox fan. I couldn’t cope with the knowledge that the team I’d been raised on had no history of its own – how could it, when it was years younger than I was? Where was the history, the traditions, the legends that really make a baseball fan’s world?

I became a Red Sox fan that year, in truth, though I didn’t want to admit it. I died a little every year the Babe’s “curse” fell on our heads, but also thought of the curse in a semi-amused way, as I was reading deeply enough to find out just how manufactured that was and how much more sordid the real story behind blaming Frazee and the sale of Ruth was. I watched the Jays play the Sox with my family, while secretly memorizing names and stats and numbers of Sox players.

The 2004 season cinched it. The 2004 ALCS was one of the most depressing, then exciting weeks in sports I ever saw. From Ortiz in extra innings to Schilling’s bloody sock, any last vestiges of Blue Jays fandom I had were shed away.

It’s taken a few years since then to admit it to my family and friends. My mother thought I’d about lost interest in baseball entirely; I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was still watching, just not her team anymore. There’s a lot of pressure among Canadian baseball fans, not just my family, to root for the only Canadian team in baseball. On the bright side, many Sox and Yankees games get carried on the sports stations because they’re the two most popular teams, with widespread viewership, so it wasn’t as tough to follow them as a National League team like the Dodgers, of whom I’m also fond.

So, I’m now out of the closet. My father, also a baseball history fan, gets it; my mother, sadly, does not, and I don’t think really believes that when the chips are down in a pennant race I’ll root for the Sox over the Jays. If any questions remained, last night, I watched the first Jays/Sox matchup of the season. Wakefield pitched a masterful 8 innings, with Pap shutting down the 9th for a 2-1 win. I didn’t know many Jays players, and it never felt odd to cheer against a team who thrilled me in 1992 and 1993. The conversion is complete. Go Sox.

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