By Bob Nightengale |
It’s a charming town, filled with rich colonial history, the intellectual might of Harvard, MIT and Tufts, and the home of a famed symphony orchestra, all packed within just 48 square miles of land.
And this is the time of the year where Boston loses its collective mind.
The New York Yankees are coming to town, and Tuesday at Fenway Park – the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball – they’ll play the first of 19 games against the Red Sox.
They’ve been playing against one another for more than 100 years, but this town can’t stand the idea of losing to its bitter rivals, and when they don’t live up to expectations, the Red Sox faithful has a way of making life miserable for you.
It’s easy to group the Red Sox and Yankee together, even throwing in the Philadelphia Phillies’ and Toronto Blue Jays’ fan bases, but no place in baseball is tougher on their own than in Boston.
“I played in Chicago, New York and Boston,’’ said 17-year former outfielder Mike Cameron, “and whoa, Beantown was the roughest. I saw Big Papi [David Ortiz] almost get run out of town. I saw them boo Pedro [Martinez], too. You’ve got to have some pretty thick skin because you’re going to get booed no matter who you are.
“It’s just a whole different experience playing in Boston. It’s almost like a family thing in Boston, they take it so personal. The big thing is how you respond to things. You’ve got to be a stand-up guy to play there. If you’re going to take the money, you better not be hiding, boy.’’
Boston chewed up and spat out Carl Crawford. Same with Pablo Sandoval. Carl Everett. And Adrian Gonzalez. And nearly David Price last year, too.
If you struggle in Boston, you better be accountable. If you lash back, or avoid the confrontation, good luck earning a spot back in their hearts.
“The thing I love about growing up in Boston,’’ said Los Angeles Dodgers starter Rich Hill, who pitched parts of four seasons with the Red Sox, “is that it’s ingrained in you as a Little Leaguer the importance of the Red Sox. And no matter who you are, or how talented you are, they expect 100% effort and honesty.
“If you have a bad game, don’t put it on the weather, the umpires, or other players. And don’t run and hide after a bad game. If you stand up, people appreciate it. If you’re not, you’re going to be whipped by the pen.
“Everything in Boston is magnified, and that’s OK. It’s what makes Boston great.’’
In New York, the media capital of the world, life as a ballplayer is different. Sure, the fans can turn on you, too. Just ask new Yankees DH Giancarlo Stanton, who was lustily booed Sunday after striking out five times for the second time this season. Still, the players will tell you, it’s a completely different feeling in the two markets.
There’s no sense of communal ruin in New York when the Yankees don’t win a World Series. They’re not chanting, “Red Sox suck,’’ in Manhattan during championship parades. You can blend into crowds, unless you happen to be Derek Jeter, catching a show on Broadway without even being noticed.
“Both of those cities could be rough, but I would not go out if I was struggling in Boston, no way,’’ said Johnny Damon, who played four years with the Red Sox and four years with the Yankees, winning a World Series with each one. “In Boston, you feel like you’re in everybody’s living room each night while they’re having dinner. You don’t feel that way in New York.
“I’m just grateful I was able to play in Boston before New York. It made it a smooth transition.’’
Los Angeles Angels outfielder Chris Young, who spent the last two years in Boston, was one of the few who did it in reverse, playing two years in New York, before going straight to Boston.
“It just felt so different,’’ Young says. “When things are going bad, and you walk around town, you’re going to feel it. In New York, when you lost, it hurt in the clubhouse, but you didn’t hear it from the outside as much. In Boston, when things went bad, I felt like the thunderstorms came.
“We won the division two years in a row when I was there, and there were times it felt like we were in last place.’’
The expectations in Boston, even after ending their 86-year drought in 2004 and winning three World Series titles in 10 years, are surreal. The Red Sox won back-to-back AL East titles, but consecutive Division Series exits cost manager John Farrell his job.
Then again, Joe Girardi had the Yankees within one game of the World Series last year, and he was gone, too, with each team hiring rookie managers, Aaron Boone in New York and Alex Cora in Boston, as their replacements.
“It didn’t seem weird or different when I was there,’’ said Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw, who spent the first eight years of his career in the Red Sox organization, “but now that I’m on the other side of it, there’s a huge difference. I can see how guys that come there are shocked.
“Boston is just a very reactionary media market. Extremely reactionary. You got to be really careful there, and if you’re on social media, you better be careful what you search for.’’
It’s why Price, who along with his dog, Astro, used to be one of baseball’s most active players on social media, has almost abandoned it. He has been sensational in his first two starts, pitching 14 scoreless innings, but has yet to tweet since the season started.
“It’s tough, but that’s OK,’’ says Price. “In Boston, they expect to win. It’s the only place where the fans’ expectations to perform are almost higher than the players’.’’
And when they don’t, they’ll certainly hear or read about it.
“We call it the Boston baseball experience,’’ Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy says. “It’s not for everybody. We’re into extremes here. There’s more drama. If you’re going to be thin-skinned, or pay attention to social media, it can devour you.
“In New York, they’re knowledgeable, they’re steep in tradition, and they’re bigger. It’s just not as personal there.’’
Now with the Red Sox (8-1) jumping out to their finest start in franchise history, already leading the Yankees by 3 ½ games, the folks in Boston can’t help but feel giddy.
Who knows, maybe Red Sox fans will find that there’s no real reason to boo Stanton themselves this week considering the Yankee fans already took care of it in his first homestand, booing louder and louder in each of his seven hitless at-bats Sunday, dropping his batting average to .167.
“People get freaked out when they first get here,’’ Yankees veteran starter CC Sabathia says, “but once you’re here, you find out New York is an easy place to play. ’’
Perhaps Stanton will be able to echo the same sentiments one day playing for the Yankees, but for now, Boston may be the refuge he needs just being away from the catcalls and back-page headlines in New York.
“I remember being terrified when I was with the Yankees going to Boston for the first time,’’ Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Curtis Granderson said. “I was thinking, “Oh, God, here we go.’ But I didn’t feel like there was a lot of hate. The fans didn’t do anything crazy.
“It’s like Jeter used to tell us, once the Red Sox won in ’04, things calmed down a little bit, at least from the visiting side. So I think it should be OK for (Stanton) too. It should be neutral for him.’’
And if Stanton happened to be getting off to this kind of start playing for the Red Sox, and the Red Sox were the ones looking up at the Yankees in the standings?
“Let’s just say it would be interesting,’’ Granderson says, “and probably not in such a good way.’’