We've all heard the chants at Safeco Field. "Let's Go Red Sox!" followed by the annoying clap-clap clap-clap-clap of literally thousands of card-carrying members of Red Sox Nation, whose love for the Red Sox--the lovable underdog team that has broken these die-hards hearts in the worst imaginable ways--dates back to the great struggle of the 2004 World Championship season. These "die-hards" were born and raised on the tough streets of Bellevue, Renton, and Kirkland, where they had nothing in their lives but the Sox to cheer them up.
Oh wait. That's not true at all, is it? Ask any of these "hardcore fans" who the Red Sox catcher was before Jason Varitek. They'll probably be surprised to hear there was a catcher before Jason Varitek. (It was Scott Hatteberg, if you're curious.)
Now don't get me wrong here. What the Boston Red Sox did in 2004 was amazing. No team had ever overcome a three-games-to-none deficit in a league championship series in the history of Major League Baseball. I'll admit it. I was rooting for the Red Sox. I was tired of the Yankees' reign of dominance. Manny Ramirez is a great player and a more awesome personality. Johnny Damon busting out of his slump to carry the Sox into the World Series back when he still looked like a homeless man was hilarious. And Curt Schilling pitching through ankle tendinitis: the bloody sock game, as fans know it, is truly the stuff of legends. I'll make no secret that my problem is not with Red Sox players, many of whom are good players and good guys. My problem is with the bandwagon fans who have spent their entire lives in Seattle. People who have never visited Fenway Park, or even visited Boston. People who chose to like Boston simply because they were the Yankees' rival. But how can they truly be the rival, the lovable underdogs, when they have the second highest payroll in baseball to the Yankees and have won two World Series championships this decade compared to the Yankees zero?
"They can't describe the Sox's last playoff appearance before 2003," said third grade teacher Eric Behrens from a Local Elementary School (changed to protect Eric online). "They likely don't realize who Hanley Ramirez is. They think in all sincerity that the media ignores them." This is absolutely true. Despite hours of coverage every day on ESPN, and despite the Red Sox surpassing the Yankees in airtime, you will still hear them complain that the media ignores them in favor of the Yankees. Despite the massive coverage the Red Sox receive, during the Mariners recent series with the Red Sox at Safeco field, I attended all three games and realized that none of these bandwagoners knew the Red Sox were actually in second place to the Tampa Bay Rays. When told of this truth, most of them dismissed it as a lie even after I pointed to the flags displaying the American League East standings that fly over the left-field bleachers at Safeco Field.
The worst part is not the incredible ignorance of these fans, if you can believe that. The worst part is their insistence on taking over Safeco Field. Now as a season ticket holder I know Safeco Field is not a very passionate place. A select few, myself included, will yell and heckle and have some fun at the park. We'll stand when Felix Hernandez has two strikes on a batter and cheer him on in hopes of seeing a strikeout. We'll call out bad players and tell them to retire (I'm looking at you, Jose Vidro...and Richie Sexson...and Miguel Cairo...and Jarrod Washburn...wow this list is pretty long) But that's just not how Safeco Field works. I find myself getting angry glares and I know I'm not alone. In a place where your own team's fans will get mad at you for cheering and being too loud--strange because it's right next to Qwest Field where people from the same city know to stand and cheer and yell for their team--it's just all too easy for bandwagoners to take over.
Case in point: the second game of the Mariners last three game series with the Red Sox. "Let's go Red Sox!" These bandwagoners chant once more. I turn and boo as loud as I can, trying to get others to join in with me to no avail. I try to counter with a "Let's go Mariners!" chant. Four or five join in but we're still drowned out. Manny Ramirez stares either intensely or absent-mindedly at Mariner pitcher Miguel Batista. With Manny, you never know, you just know the man can hit. Two Red Sox have gotten on base prompting these cheers from the crowd of phonies. One pitch later, I'm looking up as Manny Ramirez's 499th career home run comes right to me, and I reach my hands out and snag it. It's the first home run ball I've ever caught. I love Manny Ramirez the player. But I hate what this home run has done to my crowd, my stadium. The crowd roars as the opposing team ties the game at 3-3.
That night, I learned there's only one thing that can shut up Red Sox "Nation." There's one thing that can give you the rare opportunity to see these fans remove their Red Sox shirts with Jacoby Ellsbury's name and number on it revealing a Mariners shirt underneath. As an aside, if you're trying to prove you've been a long-time fan of the Red Sox wearing a rookie's name and number isn't a good way to throw off the bandwagon scent. On this night though, the few true Mariner fans in attendance got to see what turns these "die-hard" Red Sox fans into the boring, trend following folks from Mill Creek that they really are.
We saw a win.
Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin had allowed runners at first and third base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, still a 3-3 tie. Jose Lopez strode to the plate and laced Mike Timlin's best pitch--the suck pitch at this point in his career--into left field, scoring Wladimir Balentien from third base and ending the game in a 4-3 victory for the Mariners. The few Mariners fans in attendance whipped into a frenzy. There's nothing like being the worst team in the league and beating one of the best. But the best part was seeing many of these Red Sox fans also jumping and celebrating the Mariners victory, until they realized that they were being disloyal to their fake allegiance.
There's every reason in the world to hate Red Sox "Nation." Even after silencing them, I still couldn't imagine hating a group of people any more than I hate bandwagon Red Sox fans. However, there's nothing like beating their bandwagon team right in front of them. There's nothing like watching a sports-ignorant trend follower walk away with a frown on their face on their way to a bad night. There's nothing quite as fun as seeing sadness in the eyes of a member of the Red Sox Bandwagon.