On Saturday morning, the Red Sox held their third World Series parade in 10 years, the eighth championship celebration the city of Boston has hosted since Y2K, and if we’re breaking down the highlights of this most recent rolling rally it obviously starts with the trophy’s visit to the marathon finish line. Just that image and everything it stands for.
Next, there’s the memory of David Ortiz hopping off his Duck Boat and jogging across the marathon finish line. Sure, there are probably thousands of Kenyans who can backpedal the entire course faster than Papi covered the home stretch, but let’s see those Kenyans hit a curveball. AMIRITE?
There’s also Jake Peavy buying his Duck Boat. Like, literally purchasing the beast from the Duck Boat company and presumably shipping it home to Alabama, where it will be fitted with gun racks and harpoon sheaths and be transformed into the most unstoppable amphibious hunting vehicle the South has ever seen.
And we can’t forget Mike Napoli, who delivered a drunken post-parade performance as clutch and memorable as his ALCS bomb off Justin Verlander. Napoli will be sleeping Saturday off for a while, which is fine because his B.A.C. won’t be street legal until at least Wednesday.
But for all the lasting memories that Saturday’s parade delivered, I only want to talk about one of them: A kid and the sign (pictured above) that emerged as one of the defining images of the whole Red Sox celebration:
11 years old
There were all sorts of reactions to the sign, which went viral before the Duck Boats even made it onto the route. Some people laughed. Some just shook their head. The word "spoiled" was thrown around more freely than an annoyed grunt at a Bill Belichick press conference. But my favorite response was from CSN producer Adam Hart, who tweeted what the whole world was secretly thinking:
“What an a------.”
Little buddy (or little buddy’s parents), if you’re reading this, don’t take that as an insult. You’re an a------ in the most endearing way possible. You should be proud of it, embrace it, because we’re all proud of you. In fact, we love you. The whole city does. We’re insanely jealous of your youth and all the parades that have come with it, but the truth is that you’re a hero. You’re the product of everything this city has been fortunate enough to experience in your lifetime. For better or worse and everything in between, you’re the new face of Boston sports.
By my count, there are currently three separate generations of Boston fans in existence. Naturally, there’s some overlap at certain ages between certain people, but in general, it breaks down like this:
First, there’s the oldest group. Let’s say anyone older than 40. Maybe even 35 or 37. Before the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI, this group had known what it was like to experience a professional sports championship but had long since started to wonder if they’d ever see one again. They’d been through hell with the Red Sox. They could barely remember the Stanley Cups of the early 70s and had lost touch with the Celtics of the 80s, and in many cases, with the Bruins and Celtics in general. Meanwhile, they only knew the Patriots as sometime pretenders and a lower-class NFL franchise. My dad was born in 1946. My uncle was born in 1945. They’re in this group.
For them, in a way, the initial memories of winning only made the losing harder to swallow. It left them jaded, nearly dead to so many of great things that draw us to sports in the first place. With the Red Sox, specifically, this group was straight downtrodden, whether that was a product of 1946, 1967, 1975, 1978, 1986 or all of the above. And they wore it from opening day through whenever another Sox season ended too soon.
The second generation was born into that. This group spans every Boston fan between, say, 25 and 40 years old. Maybe from 20-35. Either way, I’m firmly in this category. I was born in 1980, and have no memory of the 1986 NBA Finals. My only memory of the 1986 World Series is a random TV screen shot of the Game 2 pitching match up between Roger Clemens and Ron Darling.
Between the ages of six and 22, the formative ages of any sports fans life, I witnessed zero titles. Only three teams even played for a championship — the ‘88 and ‘90 Bruins, and the ’96 Pats — and all three were incredibly overmatched. After the summer of 1988, there were only five other occasions when a Boston team even played for the conference championship. The Bruins did it back-to-back in ’91 and ’92, but were steamrolled by the back-to-back Penguins on both tries. The Sox made it to the ALCS three times. In ’88 and ’90 they ran into the powerhouse A’s. In ’99, it was the Yankees. They lost those three series by a combined game count of 12-1.
Before 2002, this middle generation didn’t know the first thing about winning. Or losing for that matter. The teams were never even good enough to break our heart.
The Patriots first Super Bowl win defined redemption for this generation. It meant more to us than it ever could have for the older crew. You can say the opposite for what happened in October of 2003. The depths to which Aaron Boone’s home run scarred this second group were far more significant than it was for older fans. This was the moment that taught the next generation what it really meant to be a Red Sox fan. And even if we only had to live with that torment for one season, it was long enough to appreciate the 2004 title for what it truly was.
But over the more than 15 years before that, the concept of a championship wasn’t real. And that was obviously magnified by the influence of that older generation. Especially as it related to the Sox, underachieving seasons and depressing losses weren’t met with optimism. It wasn’t “Keep your head up. They’ll get’em next time.” Instead, it was more like “Get used to kid. This is your life.” This was the life of a Boston sports fan.
For that reason, it’s no surprise that one of my personal highlights from this past weekend was a conversation that I had with my uncle. Other than my dad, he was my biggest influence as a fledgling Boston sports fan. And seeing how my dad is originally from New Jersey, my uncle was my true connection to the plight of Red Sox Nation. I’ve spent more time talking about the Sox with him than with anyone else in my life. And it’s not even close.
This most recent conversation took place on Saturday at Fenway Park. At the time, we were the only two people in the entire stadium. We sat on the first base line, about halfway between first and home; two or three rows back in the loge section. It was a beautiful day. Absolutely perfect. We were completely comfortable in shorts and t-shirts, with our legs kicked up on the empty seats in front of us. And for about 10 minutes, we just sat there, looking out onto the field, and talking about the season. How incredible it was. How far this team had come. What it used to be like. How something so foreign, almost haunting, had now become commonplace.
“You know,” I told him. “I was thinking about you the other day. Can you believe what happened to these guys? That Papi still had so much left. That Lester emerged as one of the best pitchers to ever wear the uniform. That Lackey’s contract actually worked out!”
“I know,” he laughed. “It’s too much.”
My uncle died in 2010. Which is to say, the whole thing was a dream. I would have told you that at the start if not for the fact that you would’ve stopped reading because there’s literally nothing more boring than listening to another person talk about their dreams. It’s worse than updates on fantasy football. But it’s too late now. You already read it. And I won’t go into anymore detail, expect to say that this was honestly one of the realest and deepest dreams I’ve ever had. I’m not a religious person. I’m not even that much of a spiritual person. But I genuinely believe this conversation happened. The Red Sox winning the World Series had that effect on me.
There are bonds and deep-seeded emotions that existed before 2004, that will always be there. As a result, even the third time around, the significance of the Sox winning it all isn’t lost on the middle generation. We’ll never forget how bad we had it, and will never be allowed to forget how bad our parents and uncles and the rest of that eldest group did.
For the youngest generation of Boston sports fans, 10-year-olds to 15 and even 20-year-olds, the Red Sox winning the World Series is just what the Red Sox do. It’s what Boston does. Like I said, between the summer of 1986 and Feb 3, 2002 — more than 15 years! — Boston teams played for (and lost) five world championships and played in only six additional conference championships (obviously, all losses). Between February of 2002 and November 4, 2013 — not even 12 years — they’ve won eight titles. They’ve made it to four other Finals (Note: Plus, the Revs made it to four on their own). On top of that, Boston teams have played for a conference title an additional six times. And this is all the youngest generations knows.
So, try as the first two groups might to relay the details of what it was like in our personalized version of the "old" days, there’s really no point. It’s like that old story about walking five miles to school every morning, up hill both ways in the freezing cold. It’s a waste of breath. They don’t get. And they shouldn’t be expected to. How could they?
They will. Eventually, they’ll come down to Earth. They’ll go through some stuff, they’ll gain some perspective. At that point, they’ll appreciate this era for everything that it was, independently and in the big picture, and we’ll all be one big happy, miserable family again. Just in time for the next generation to come along and fail to grasp how things used to be.
But until then, or at least for now, who cares how things used to be?
Who wants to talk about the past? The past sucked.
The present is amazing. And ultimately, the only perspective this new generation of Boston fans need is the knowledge that winning titles is a ton of fun. There’s no need to get preachy. Let them enjoy it while they can. Let them be a------s.
Because the truth is, regardless of how long any of us have been alive, to anyone who doesn’t live in Boston, we’re all a------s.
And as at least two thirds of the fan base can attest, that’s so much better than being the toilet paper.
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