Volume 3, Number 8
My Uncle and Me
By Dean Shutt
My favorite baseball team is the Boston Red Sox. Regular readers are well aware of this of course and it really isn't the point of this column to tell you who my favorite baseball team is. The point is to perhaps illustrate what having a favorite team means. I think it's important to look at this with all of the hue and cry in professional sports about selling off players and teams moving cities recently. Many of my favorite teams have been chosen for the skimpiest of reasons. I chose the Colts because I liked the uniforms. I picked the New York Rangers because they were ahead of my best friend's favorite team in the standings at the time. The Red Sox were a different matter altogether.
I have been a Sox fan since the mid-seventies, pretty much since they were beaten by the Reds in the World Series. At the time I was around nine years old and living in Pennsylvania where I was born and raised. I was not a big baseball fan, mainly because I detested the local teams and they were the only ones I ever had a chance to see. The local teams were the Phillies or the Yankees or the Mets or sometimes the Pirates. The local papers covered the Phils and the Yanks almost exclusively and this was long before ESPN and the internet made it possible to follow your team no matter where they are located.
In the summers my family would travel to Massachusetts to visit my Mother's family. They lived in a little town called Westfield which is out in the middle of the state. We would stay with my Uncle Frank and Aunt Esther, who were actually my Mom's Aunt and Uncle, they had raised my Mom so I guess they were more like my Grandparents than anything else. We kids called them Aunt and Uncle for reasons of simplicity I suppose. Of all of my extended relatives, Uncle Frank was always my favorite. He was one of those people that just understood kids and always treated us like people, not like curiosities like so many adults do.
During the warm summer Massachusetts evenings, my Uncle Frank and I would sit in front of their old Black and White TV or the radio and follow the Red Sox, Uncle Frank's favorite team. Being an eager to please child, I made the Sox my favorite team as well, never knowing what lay in store for me as Red Sox fan. Uncle Frank never told me about the years of futility, the close calls that had ended inevitably in pain season after season. I suppose he didn't want to ruin it for me, this was in the Seventies after all, when the Sox were threatening for the title seemingly every year and there was no point in telling a nine year old that his favorite baseball team has no chance whatsoever of winning the World Series. Or maybe he was just a Red Sox fan and managed to overlook his better judgement each and every season regardless of the facts. Lord knows I can identify with that.
After a few years I was solidly a member of the Red Sox Nation. Even though all of my friends were Phillies fans or worse yet, Yankee followers, I stuck by my Sox and my Uncle Frank. For his 70th birthday I saved up my money and I bought my Uncle a Red Sox Jersey. It was a practice jersey, blue with red lettering and he really seemed to like it. To this day I don't think I have ever given a better gift than that one.
When I was in my teens my Uncle Frank passed away. I couldn't make it to his funeral in Massachusetts but my Mom and Dad went. When they came back they gave me a package that they said Uncle Frank wanted me to have, it was the jersey that I had gotten him for his birthday all those years ago. I still have that jersey, it's faded and it doesn't fit and I never wear it anymore. I have had to save it more than once from well meaning women that wanted to clean my closets for me. I suppose the reason I keep it is that someday I hope to have a son that might want it. I won't force the Red Sox on him, but if he chooses to suffer along with me I will be grateful for the company, just like my Uncle was.
So that is why I am a Red Sox fan. It doesn't matter to me where they play or who they trade or where they finish in the standings. When I cheer for the Red Sox I'm also honoring my Uncle Frank's memory. Because I know that I can turn on the TV or the radio or even the web and I can tune into a Red Sox game and I am nine years old, before the cynicism, before the disappointment, cheering on the Olde Town Team with my favorite Uncle. That's a whole lot more important than a World Series title.