It’s officially springtime. We can’t deny it: the flowers are in full bloom, the trees are gaining leaves again, and it’s dribbling a constant stream of irritating but not spectacular rain this holiday weekend. We’ve successfully emerged from yet another winter, scarred, shivering, pale like ghosts but oh so ready to enter a heady few months of bare legs, punting, and cider on ice (or, alternatively, wet jeans, debates about whether or not to turn the heater on, and endless cups of tea). The ice-cream truck is bravely making its rounds again, and I can promise that by June I will be so tired of hearing its little ditty that I’ll start to actually resent the warmth I spent so long dreaming of in darkest January. The sunlight stays until nearly 8 o’clock, and I’ve begun to wander the streets again, with my iPod and a vague but mutable destination.
And it’s baseball season. This has been as impossible to ignore, even from the cozy, television-free rooms of our East Oxford house, as it ever was when I lived so close to Fenway Park that I could hear the shouts of the fans from my bedroom (one summer the boom from a celebratory flyover left me thinking for an instant that a bomb had gone off somewhere). But by baseball season, what I really mean is Red Sox season. I’m starting to think that there’s an unspoken brotherhood of people who lived in Boston and left, who experience at this time of year variations on a strange but similar nostalgia for the hum of those first few games, concurrent with the first few really nice days of the season when everyone leaves their cramped and frigid apartments for the hills of the Boston Common and the people-watching on Newbury street. Sudden throngs, bare-armed for the first time in months, stroll past shoestores full of sandals, gather en masse at JP Licks or Emack and Bolio’s. Near Fenway they start selling “Yankees Suck” infant onesies and “Jeter sucks A Rod” t-shirts with great gusto, and the streets are littered not with patches of urine-stained snow but discarded flyers, programs, plastic cups. In the thick evening air you can hear shouts of glee or of rage, see the white glow of stadium lights. You can smell cheap beer and burgers, and suddenly all you want is a cheap beer and a burger, too.
I never liked baseball any more than a girl should. I was restrained in my enthusiasm for it, sometimes bordering on apathetic. But I confess to feeling a sort of elation, probably more tied to that which was human than that which was sport-related, when the Red Sox won their first world series in over 80 years. I had moved to Boston only a few months previous, so my introduction to the city, really, was the crowds that took to the streets; when we beat the Yankees in the playoffs, subway cars filled with people yelling “Yankees Suck!” in almost military unison, and I still wonder if maybe the green line train didn’t make it to Kenmore on the power of excitement alone. When they won it again a few years later you could actually taste a strange disappointment in the air; Red Sox fans, perhaps a little like England football fans, are attached to their suffering, and the win was too soon, they hadn’t had time yet to finish celebrating the 2004 victory, let alone settle into a rhythm of loss and frustration.
I don’t follow the sport much now; but it follows me. Casual references from other bloggers, on twitter, facebook, all the things that keep us weirdly connected to worlds we thought we’d left, remind me even on this rainy Oxford afternoon of what baseball season in Boston feels like.