Getting to know the Red Sox

Want to be a proper Bostonian? Read this.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Boston! Since Beantown’s professional sports teams are such an integral part of its culture, we’re presenting an insider’s view — history, current state, and future expectations — of each of them. The first installment in the series features... the Red Sox, of course.

To be a passionate fan of any team is, by definition, an emotional experience. You have to care about something over which you have no control and no inherent vested interest. You don’t derive tangible benefits from the team’s victories, but you suffer right along with it when it loses. To MIT students, this probably doesn’t sound like a good use of time, energy, or money; indeed, there are plenty of places where a baseball game is just a place for executives to entertain clients and do business, with the occasional glance at the TV screen. Boston is not one of those places. From April to October, the city is captivated by what happens at Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox. From November to March, regardless of whether the Patriots are in the Super Bowl, the Celtics are shutting down the competition, or the Bruins appear headed for the Stanley Cup, the city is concerned about whether the Red Sox will be ready for the next season.

However you may perceive it, Boston’s collective mood is inextricably linked to the successes and failures of the Red Sox. It’s a guaranteed conversation-starter at any time of the year anywhere in Boston and, for that matter, New England. For the uninitiated, here’s a short guide to what you need to know:

A storied history

In 1903, the Red Sox conquered the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first-ever World Series (to those new to professional baseball in North America, the World Series is contested by the champions of the National and American Leagues). Indeed, there was a time when the Pirates did not torture their fans with losing season after losing season. That championship was the first of many that the Sox would win over a prosperous fifteen year period. However, at the conclusion of the 1918 season, the Sox’s owner sold the team’s best player, Babe Ruth, to the New York Yankees. The outraged Babe claimed that the Red Sox would not win another title within his lifetime, a prediction that came to be called the Curse of the Bambino. The prediction would, in fact, stand the test of time (perhaps this type of curse is what Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert had in mind when he suggested that the LeBron-less Cavs would win a title before the Miami Heat). For the next 86 years, countless baseball legends (Johnny Pesky, Ted Williams, Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski, Dwight Evans) took their talents to Beantown, but none of them came away with a championship ring. Meanwhile, the hated Yankees, first with the Babe and then with stars like Dimaggio, Mantle, Maris, Jackson, and others, won title after title. Improbable errors and botched personnel decisions, rather than general futility and indifference, are generally acknowledged as the reasons for the championship drought. As a new Red Sox fan, count yourself lucky to have been initiated during this new era of excellence (at least, we hope).

Recent past

The end of the championship draught was set in motion with the purchase of the Red Sox by a new ownership group at the conclusion of 2002. John Henry, a successful hedge fund investor, had previously been a part owner of the New York Yankees and, subsequently, a majority owner of the Florida Marlins. The sale of the team to Henry from the heirs of the long-time owner, Tom Yawkey, was full of implications. No less than the future of the Sox’ historic ballpark (opened in 1912) was at stake; while Henry promised to renovate the park, others sought a more modern stadium in the Back Bay. To the dismay of some around Boston, Henry’s bid won, and the rebirth of the franchise began. New marketing efforts led to the start of a sellout streak (every ticket in the stadium has been bought for a given game) that has set records and endures to this day; increased revenue and committed ownership put the Sox on (more) even footing with the Yankees. In 2004, the Red Sox finally vanquished the curse, turning the tables on the Yankees and proceeding to win the World Series. In 2007, they accomplished the same feat with a largely different cast of characters.

State of the Team:

Red Sox fans expect to make the playoffs every year, plain and simple. However, the Red Sox haven’t endured this much bad luck since Mookie Wilson’s groundball rolled under Bill Buckner’s glove, effectively losing the 1986 World Series for the Red Sox. The Red Sox play in the toughest division in the superior league, and because of the critical mass of injuries the Sox have suffered, they currently find themselves out of a playoff spot. They will need a very strong September against top competition to grapple a playoff spot from the Yankees or Rays. Everyone loves the character of this team and few are upset with players or management (I’ll save the subject of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and his “rib injuries” for another day), but we may be left wondering “what if” the Sox had been healthy for the entire season.

Names to know

Dustin Pedroia: Pedroia is notorious for his stature, self-confidence, and the skills to match. He is very endearing to fans, but this endearment is not easily explained to those on the outside. He speaks proudly of the numerous home runs he hit in Little League and promotes his batting practice sessions as “Laser Shows”. He’ll also do seemingly anything to help his team win and has overcome perceived physical limitations to become one of the best second basemen in the league.

Kevin Youkilis: Youkilis is the fiery first baseman who bears the load on offense. Lauded since his college days for his ability to “get on base” by swinging only at select pitches, he has developed into a player with bona fide power and incredible defensive skills. Every move he makes on the field is greeted with a “Yooooouuuuuuk” from the fans. It sounds like he is being booed, but in fact, fans are showing their appreciation for Youk.

Jon Lester: The Red Sox ace of the past few years, he came back from cancer in 2007 to win the clinching game in the 2007 World Series. Along with Clay Buchholz, Lester is a prime example of the Red Sox’s successful investments in young prospects and superb player development process.

Where to find your team

Despite the ongoing sellout streak, tickets have become more accessible over the years. For most games, you can walk up and purchase tickets at the gate. For standing room tickets, expect to pay about $20. Avoid the right field grandstand, where $30 will give you an old seat that faces straight into left field. The upper bleachers ($12) are the cheapest seats in the park but are not advisable if you want to follow the game. I would recommend paying the extra few bucks for the lower bleachers ($28). Catching a game from atop the Green Monster, the fabled left-field wall, is a great experience for a diehard Sox fan but costs upwards of $100. Gates open two hours before the game, and players will take batting practice up until forty-five minutes before the scheduled start. If you are aggressive (or lucky) you might catch a ball or get an autograph from a player during this time. You can find them on television at the New England Sports Network (NESN).

Three thoughts for the diehards 1) Why can’t Daniel Bard throw 162 innings each year? The Red Sox could use a bunch more relievers just like him; maybe Doubront will be the answer next year. 2) Three moments that gave me chills this season: a) Darnell McDonald’s debut (game-tying HR, walk-off single) b) Daniel Nava, the 27 year-old outfielder who never gave up, crushing a grand slam in his first Major League at-batc) Lowell’s homer in his first at-bat after the trade/injury saga

3) Imagine what the fourth-place Blue Jays would do if they were in the National League.