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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Ecstasy & Agony of Being a Red Sox Fan: A Review

Being a fan of the Boston Red Sox can be much more than just following the statistics and the standings. Some adherents see their moods and even their very outlooks on life impacted by the baseball team from Beantown. It’s a rite of passage and a birthright for many, and Stanley Harris has outlined his relationship of seven decades with the team in his fan memoir, The Ecstasy & Agony of Being a Red Sox Fan (Critical Choices).

Perhaps more than any other team in professional sports, the Red Sox are known for their polarization when it comes to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. They have provided fans with amazing moments and seasons, while sprinkling in more than a fair share of heart-breaking let-downs. Although the passion can sway dramatically from side to side, fans are generally in it up their necks, win, lose or draw. Accordingly, it only takes a year or a word or two to evoke the best and worst of these memories; 1946, 1967, 1986, 2004, Nomar, The Impossible Dream, The Curse, The Kid, Pedro… The list goes on and on.

Harris takes us through the earliest days of his fandom to the present, detailing how rooting for the team has impacted him. He starts with the 1946 team that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and picks his way through the years- both the lean and the fat. Iconic moments like Bill Buckner letting the ball roll through his legs at first base, and the Carlton Fisk home run in the 1975 World Series are recounted from the other side of the television and field.

The story is told through the lens of Harris’ life, from growing up outside of Boston, to raising a family and living in various parts of the country. Not a “super fan,” he has never had season tickets or shown up to games in face paint, but has maintained a connection to the team since the dawning of his earliest memories. Even when circumstances caused him to stray, he has always returned to the baseball squad that originally captured his loyalties.

An interesting aspect of Ecstasy and Agony is that it is not written from the perspective of a baseball “expert.” Rather, Harris tells his story from his own knowledge base, which comes from attending games, reading newspaper articles and keeping up with his fellow fans. His evaluations of players, front office staff and team results aren’t based on sabermetrics or other traditional methods. His appreciation or disdain comes from his own sensibilities, honed by years of following the Sox.

Although Harris provides statistics and personal memories of teams to help set up his narrative, there are some instances of inaccuracy in those details. However, keeping in mind that this is essentially the life diary of a man’s relationship with the team, if anything it lends to a sense of authenticity of his true fan identity, and separates him from the more encyclopedic analysis of the Red Sox in the past.

The beauty and the horrors of being a Red Sox fan lie in the extreme highs and lows the team can take you. It’s also astounding how entwined a person can get in their connection to 25 men playing a child’s game. These unique qualities of the team from Boston are put on full display by Harris, who has done a commendable job in summarizing what the Red Sox have contributed and taken from his life for so many years.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

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