The thing about rooting for a team located on the other side of the country is that whatever your level of enthusiasm, it is met with – at best – casual indifference.
For even the most avid sports fan, I can get about 30 seconds into a conversation about the Red Sox before I see eyes start to glaze over.
And that’s OK. It comes part and parcel with being a long-distance fan.
But the natural conclusion to that thought is that in the event you actually get to go see your team play in person, you’ll likely do so surrounded by those wishing the worst for your best nine.
And again, that’s OK.
It’s just part of the deal.
I had been a Red Sox fan for roughly 10 years by the time I first got to see them play live.
I’ve written before that my first opportunity to see them was at real, live Fenway Park — before I was even a fan. I was at the Berklee College of Music during the summer of 1997, they were handing out free tickets to games, and the guy who was supposed to bring the tickets for the game I’d signed up for never showed.
My wonderful wife, back in 2007 on our first wedding anniversary, sought to remedy that story.
She purchased a pair of tickets to the Red Sox vs. A’s and planned a short getaway to the Bay area for what she’d dubbed “the Babymoon.”
She was seven months pregnant and it was to be our final “hurrah” before charging headlong into the responsibilities and fatigueries of parenthood.
We stayed the first night in Pacifica, Calif., which is located along the coastline just southwest of San Francisco – the most bizarre, perfect little place. You cross the Bay Bridge, navigate a couple quick changes, and suddenly descend (often through a shroud of thick fog – or maybe that’s just been out luck) into a small town that would seem at first better-suited on the shores of Coastal Oregon or Washington rather than five minutes outside of one of the nation’s big cities.
Quite secluded beaches of course, charcoal sand washed over repeatedly with ivory and turquoise surf.
That evening — it was a Sunday that we’d driven up — we watched the Red Sox fall in a heartbreaker on Sunday night baseball to the Yankees.
It was a four-hour marathon of a game that had started at 8 p.m., local time on the opposite coast of the country in Boston, and ended as Alex Rodriguez dashed my hopes with a ninth-inning, two-out, solo home run off of Jonathan Papelbon.
As the game had drawn on (and it really was a good game – Boston scored all five of its runs in the bottom of the fifth to come back from a 4-0 deficit. But then the Yankees tied it in the eighth, and you already know the ending), a pit began to grow in my stomach.
It was midnight in Boston. The Sox were due in Oakland the following afternoon. They’d expended a lot of effort coming back and then trying to hang on during that Sunday night game.
The team that showed up on Monday likely wasn’t going to be the one I’d been watching all season.
They’d be tired. And worn.
There was a pretty good chance I wouldn’t even see some of their best players (and there were a lot to see that year with the aforementioned Papelbon, a rookie Dustin Pedroia, Mike Lowell and Daisuke Matsuzaka all having joined David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Kevin Youkilis and Manny Ramirez in the lineup.) though that assumption wound up proving false — all of the above, save for Dice-K.
On gameday, my bride and I drove the Hayward Bridge into Pleasanton, located south of Oakland. We checked into another hotel, which was a few blocks down from a BART station.
We rode the BART in to the ballpark with a surprising (to me, at least) number of Sox fans, many of whom began chanting “Let’s Go Red Sox” on the train, much to the chagrin of the passengers clad in green and gold.
We got to see David Ortiz hit a home run, and the Red Sox wound up putting together a dramatic ninth-inning comeback to send the game into extra innings before Oakland walked things off in the 11th.
It was a loss, and that stunk.
But the Sox went on to win the division, the pennant and the World Series – I distinctly remember holding my month-old daughter on the couch while the team celebrated the series win over the Rockies.
When you have a young family and basically one shot per year to see the club, things tend to not line up.
Scheduling conflicts with dance recitals, or school, or work – or the budget simply won’t allow for it.
It’s just hard for a long distance fan.
And before we knew it, 10 more years had passed.
Heading into this season, my wife and I arranged a Friday-Saturday getaway to go watch Boston take on the A’s on May 19.
In the weeks leading up to the game, I paid close attention to Boston’s starting rotation and about a week out it became clear that Chris Sale, who has been superlative to this already very promising season, would be on the mound for our game.
The day of, we made a mad Friday afternoon dash out of our small Nevada valley, along Highway 88 through Stockton, past all the windmills and into the Bay area.
We arrived at our hotel in Pleasanton – once again just a block down from a BART station, roughly 50 minutes for the scheduled first pitched. (Random side note — completely unknown to us before our arrival, the Sheraton we stayed at used to be a Doubletree where my family and I stayed in the mid-90s while visiting family in the area. It was a weird moment of deja vu.
We checked into our room, offloaded our bags and walked quickly to the station, arriving on the platform with three minutes to spare until our train’s arrival.
The train ride in, once again, was heavily populated with Sox fans – though this year not as vocal.
Security, understandably, was much tighter than the last time we’d been, and we wound up sitting down in our seats one out into the game.
We were the only Sox fans in our section, surrounded by A’s fans who mostly tolerated our presence – though as the game went on and their beverages kicked in, they kicked in with more-or-less good-natured ribbing and taunts angled our direction.
We’re pretty mellow, though, and didn’t take the bait.
After that, everyone seemed fairly content to just watch the game.
Chris Sale, for the record, is incredible.
He’s quick, powerful, efficient and makes his violent delivery look somehow effortless. His stuff is virtually untouchable and he works with a near surgical precision.
He repeatedly mowed through Oakland’s lineup, notching his eighth-consecutive 10-strikeout game.
Mitch Moreland hit a towering home run, Mookie Betts made a couple of nice catches, and Jackie Bradley Jr. … well, what can you really say?
Our section was so busy celebrating their “win” at the end of nine innings that they missed his home-run-robbing catch entirely.
After several seconds of leaping and cheering, there was a slow, collective awkward realization that the game wasn’t over. Then they basically adopted this exact look:
Of course, Oakland wound up ending the game on a walkoff home run from Mark Canha in the 10th inning.
On the quiet train ride back to the hotel, I had the (somewhat embarrassingly delayed) realization, “Hey, this is pretty much a carbon copy of how this went the last time.”
Here’s hoping the season plays out the same way.
Some particulars, if you ever do the Oakland circuit as you follow the Sox around the country:
We love Pleasanton. The proximity of the BART stations allow for a smooth trip to and from the ballpark and the cost of the train tickets are less than parking your car at the park. And you don’t have to deal with gridlock on your way out.
Say what you will about Oakland’s old ballpark, the seats have great views and you just don’t pay a whole lot of money to sit relatively close to the game. The fans are passionate there, but not unwelcoming.
- We got sodas in souvenir cups, which we then brought home for our children as gifts. We’re cheap and that’s how we roll.
We did this trip in reverse from our first trip – driving the Bay Bridge early Saturday morning after the game to Pacifica. We found a great and new (to us) breakfast place outside the Best Western Lighthouse Inn – Breakers Breakfast, Brunch & Lunch — with an incredible view of the Pacific Ocean, a carafe of hot coffee at every table and a pretty mean hot link sausage scramble. My wife did the chicken fried steak & eggs and it too was great.
We’re talking about next year potentially trying to follow the Red Sox a little further away from home.
Time (and budgeting) will tell.