If you’ve been in Maine for any length of time, you’re aware of the sharp (and sharper the further north you go) division between natives and everyone else (generally referred to as flatlanders or PFA’s). Sometimes it gets a bit dicey, but most of the time it’s more of a snarky phenomenon.
I’m not native, although I’ve been here since 1949, long enough to get a pretty good idea of the social and cultural landscape. There are certain aspects of it that stick in my mind much better than others. First up is how intriguing town meetings were when I was a kid. My parents went every year when we were small, returning with what I have to believe in hindsight, were greatly embellished stories of salty conversations and occasional fisticuffs. There was just enough reality from time to time that it wasn’t difficult to imagine some of the wilder stories being true. Those were the days when democrats were about as common as wheat pennies are now and being republican didn’t make you a fruitcake demagogue like some we read about on a daily basis. Can you imagine one person today swaying an entire room full of voters to eliminate sub-primary because his daughter didn’t like it and cried every day? It happened the year I was to start school, so I got an extra year to run loose on Sennebec Hill Farm.
The first day of deer season was similar. Teachers didn’t think anything about high schoolers skipping that first Monday in November. Although you hear it less and less every year, the most common greeting between two males over the age of 15 back then was “Got your deer yet?” On one occasion shortly after I returned from college in Arizona and was asked this question, I gave in to an urge I’d had for years, blurting out “Nope, I shot one that belonged to a flatlander from Agawam, Massachusetts and he’s some upset.” That was met with dead silence for a moment, followed by a very odd look and a one word reply, “Ayuh.”
One of the most persistent and visible icons on the native cultural landscape are the Boston Red Sox. Growing up, it was pretty much a given that you’d be a die hard Sox fan, able to tell who was on the team at any given time and willing to suffer the endless abuse from fans of the evil empire, more commonly known as the New York Yamkees. Every town had a few and when booze flowed freely, things often got hot and heavy between the two groups. While there were fans of other baseball teams, but they were so few and far between, nobody gave them much of a thought. None of the other New England sports teams could come close to generating the passion and loyalty that the Boys of Fenway generated year after year, despite not having won a world series since 1918. I learned early on, as did so many other Mainers, what being a real Sox fan meant. It meant torture from flatlanders, especially those from New York. It meant eternal hope every spring and it meant a slow slide through depression into acceptance that a championship wasn’t in our future every October. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a shared experience that was kept flickering all winter around stoves and cribbage boards as fans debated trades and the possibility that their favorite player just might have a breakout year and carry the team to a world series.
While we waited patiently, we cheered and loved a colorful cast of characters. I was fortunate to see Yaz patrol left field in person a few times before he retired. I identified with the Spaceman and was awed by the way El Tiante would look skyward as he prepared to pitch and nailed the outside corner time after time. I was part of the great wave of anger and frustration when the top brass screwed up and the Gold Dust Twins left town. Heck, I still have my Wade Boggs Fan Club membership card tucked away in a drawer.
The internet has changed fandom like it has altered so many aspects of our lives. Remember the awesome promise of Sam Horn? While Sam never lived up to his hype, he left Red Sox fans with one of the coolest resources a baseball junkie could ever want. Familiar with of any of the following? BAPIP, PECOTA, OPS, slash line, FIP, xFIP, UZR, VORP or WAR? They’re all acronyms freely bandied about on the SOSH site (http://sonsofsamhorn.net/). Folks, this is where the greatest concentration of Red Sox fanaticism and knowledge anywhere in the universe hangs out. Curt Schilling used to post regularly when he was an active player as did Theo Epstein when he was the team’s general manager. If a player gets injured, there are several physicians representing a number of medical specialties willing to give their best guess regarding the severity or the length of time on the disabled list.
There are two main board on the site, one dealing with the major league club and one covering the seven minor league affiliates (Pawtucket, Portland, Salem, Greenville, Lowell, The Gulf Coast Rookie Team and the Dominican Summer League). I tend to check in on a daily basis once spring training begins. That gives me a regular update regarding who is looking promising and who is struggling. When the annual amateur draft approaches, I check in more frequently. There’s no better place to learn who the Sox stars of the future might be and what their strengths are. On draft day and the day or two following, I check in hourly to see how accurate the more experienced board members’ predictions are. Having insight into new draftees as well as keeping tabs on progress of prior year signees adds an entire new dimension to being a fan. Beware: the comments and dialogue between board members can be pretty prickly at times and is far from politically correct, BUT, there’s a ton of knowledge represented by long time members of SOSH and if you go there regularly, you’ll not only understand all those acronyms, you’ll start to impress your more casual fan friends. Right now is a fun time to lurk on the board because of the upcoming July 31st trade deadline. Posters will include a lot of links to columns by knowledgeable sports writers around the country as well as tweets from that same group relating to any and all trade rumors.
The other portion of the board deals with the seven minor league clubs. A couple dedicated board members post links to each day’s games, list the start times and the scheduled pitchers. Right below all this is one of my favorite links, one which takes you to a page showing box scores and game summaries for all seven teams. When draft day passes, those same members create a color-coded chart listing each player drafted, what level they played at (high school, junior college, college or non-US player), their position and what their signing bonus was. This year, they signed 31 of the 40 players drafted. A neat sub-board is called “Adopt A Prospect” and various members of SOSH will ‘adopt’ a new draftee and post updates regarding their progress through the system.
There are three players you should be really excited about if you are a Sox fan. Jackie Bradley Junior started the season on the major league roster and is likely to be the center fielder of the future. Xander Bogaerts is perhaps the most talented player the Sox have had in their minor league system in twenty years. Expect to see him come September when major league rosters expand. Right behind him is Garren Cecchini. All he’s done is hit the heck out of the ball at every level. If you want to see him in person, he’d currently playing 3rd base for the Portland Sea Dogs.
So, if you are any sort of a Red Sox fan and haven’t been to the Sons of Sam Horn site, you’re in for a treat and just might become as big a sports news junkie as I am.