Several days ago (apologies for my inconsistency of late, btw--I've just started a new job and things have been hectic), a caller to my morning show spoke about the treatment of Kevin Millar during a recent game he'd attended at Fenway. Millar, like Renteria before him, was booed.
"This guy gives 150% every single game," said the caller. Then, fiercely, he barked out over the airwaves to his fellow fans, "Back off."
I can recall writing a similar thing last year, when Millar was receiving a similar reception:
Kevin Millar is the closest you're going to get to a Red Sox fan on the field. So he's not Barry Bonds. When did he ever claim to be? It's up to the prodigies of the team--the Dominican Triumvurate, Schilling, Nomar--to make the "wow" plays. Millar, meanwhile, a Dirt Dog from way back, is the "Cowboy Up!" glue that holds all that talent together.
You want an example of how talent with no guts and no soul gets you nowhere? Just look at the Yankees.
The talent will get you to the doorstep. But it takes a brave dreamer to reach for that brass ring and capture it. It takes more than batting average. If we win it all this year, we will have Kevin Millar to thank, whether or not he ever gets on base again.
And lo and behold--we did win it all last year, and thanks were due to Millar before it was over. And I still mean what I said about him being like a fan on the field. In talking to the press about the Olerud situation, Millar has said things that make my heart just melt--"I'm the first baseman here," he's insisted, like a child with a favorite toy clutching it and hollering, 'Mine!'
I've also heard him say, "That's my monster. That's my wall."
I can relate.
So why do I feel so differently about him so far this season?
This season...last night, when Millar came up with two outs and runners at the corners, I sighed, "inning over." I meant it, too. And yet I watched his at-bat with fierce concentration, as he worked a 3-0 count. "Okay," I kept saying with each pitch. "Okay." I was having flashbacks to a certain BB he earned last year...
Which is when he started swinging, fouling two pitches to the third-base side.
"Kev-uuuun," I moaned at the first one.
"Stop. trying. to. pull. the ball," I said through clenched teeth at the next.
And then what does he do? He pulls the next one, although not very hard, a little dribbler just to the left of the third baseman, and...inning over. Just as I so pessimistically predicted.
The axiom is that fans boo because they want to badly to cheer. That fans bitch about their favorite players the most. That, basically, if I didn't care, I wouldn't mind Millar grounding out to end the inning. That my overriding frustration with him indicates my remaining passion for the Sox and for the game.
But this season, I have to admit, my exasperation panics me. There's all sorts of new context, context that makes me wonder if my feelings are different now than they were before. Perhaps before we could brush aside small annoyances in favor of the Greater Goal. Or we accepted these things more readily as our lot in life. I'm still not sure what the differences are, but there seem to be subtle rifts forming in the fan base I either didn't see or wasn't aware of in the past. People setting up as staunch defenders or harsh critics of this or that player. Sox fans who qualify their allegiance with reservations about this or that player. In other words, while before there were boos and curses and bitching, at this point there seems to be ambivalence far deeper than there was before.
Is this the fabled diminution of Red Sox Nation? Are we dividing and falling? Or are we rebuilding, as both a team and a fan base? Where are we headed? This is uncharted ground. But is this occasional gnawing uncertainty to be expected? What I hate is that I have no way of knowing.