The Sox are rollin', as Kevin Millar would say. They swept the Angels yesterday behind John Lackey, guaranteeing themselves a winning road trip. The pitching faucet, which had been running ice-cold at the beginning of the season, has now reached the 'piping hot' stage. I wish I knew exactly what has changed for each pitcher, whether mechanical, psychological or otherwise, because pitching endlessly fascinates me. This is especially true of Daisuke, who's been nothing short of astonishing his last two starts.
Speaking of fascination, if there's anything that rivets me as much as pitchers, it's articles like the one the Globe ran in its Sunday Ideas section yesterday, called "How teams take over your mind".
The whole piece is well worth a read, but one idea among the many interesting ones it explored stood out to me -- the idea that the losing to begin this season is probably good for us, and actually good for the team in terms of fan support:
...that dreadful opening stretch was the best thing that could have happened to this year’s Red Sox and their fan base. The team everyone had expected to tick off one easy victory after another had proved itself deeply vulnerable. Suddenly, rooting for the Sox would feel like it mattered again.
It may seem bizarre to argue that a team can strengthen its bond with the people who feel invested in its success by getting its butt kicked. But the link between losing and loyalty is less puzzling to experts in the growing field of fan studies, a burgeoning effort in the academy whose practitioners are interested in how sports fans think and why they feel as intensely as they do about their favorite teams.
Rich Campbell, a marketing professor at Sonoma State University, has argued that fans’ self-esteem doesn’t always come from winning: Sometimes they feel more honorable and individualistic if they see themselves as part of an embattled but proud group.
This hit on something I've been trying to express for years: that Red Sox fans have always cared very much about the team winning, but that we did not feel entitled to a championship before we won one, nor were we simply in it for the masochism. As the article continues:
Having a winning record, these researchers have found, is just a small part of what makes franchises like the Sox, or the Celtics, or the Bruins, the objects of intense dedication. Instead, their findings point to a variety of factors that contribute to fanship, including our instinct for tribal affiliation, our desire to participate in tradition, and our hunger for compelling characters and dramatic story lines.
I often tell people that the Red Sox are my favorite soap opera (soap operas are also specifically compared in the article). Winning and losing matter, but they don't ultimately make a difference in whether I watch or not, whether I root or not. And I'd argue that's true for most Sox fans. In fact, I think it's always been true.