By Dan Rubin
The Boston Red Sox World Series championship in 2004 transformed a franchise and its fan-base. The lovable losers who endured heartbreak after heartbreak, year after year, became the toast of the town, the best of the best, and the indomitable champions. Their players were rock stars, their swagger unmatched, and their run so historic, it was unprecedented.
It was also the last day of the Red Sox I knew and loved. It was the last day of true blue, die-hard Red Sox fans who went to the games and kept scorecards. It became the dawning of a new era, one where the Boston Red Sox threatened to become more of a tourist attraction than an actual sports franchise.
So now, I ask the Boston Bruins to look at the Boston Red Sox and avoid this happening to them.
In 2004, the concept of “Red Sox Nation” hadn’t quite existed. We didn’t call it that, at least. We had legions of Red Sox fans, smarting from the heartbreak of 2003. The offseason was so hot, with both New York and Boston loading up on talent, with a war of words coming from both sides, that sniping took place from everywhere. It ratcheted up the intensity of the 162-game season, as every day seemed to anticipate the two teams meeting in the American League Championship Series. It became a 12-month odyssey drama, where fans from both sides waited with baited breath for the inevitable rematch.
That’s the way it had to be. It was so intense that it engulfed baseball. Every game against any opponent became the Red Sox hating the Yankees and vice-versa. When they played each other, the games were 4-hour marathons that soured our very being, as we obsessed over every pitch and agonized over every at-bat.
When the Red Sox won, we celebrated with the euphoria of the previous 12 months. Never before had one calendar year given us the drama of the previous 100-plus years of baseball. Under the bright lights, Red Sox fans rejoiced with the epic comeback that exorcised our demons, finally and eventually making St. Louis a footnote to the breaking of the Curse.
I occasionally pop in my DVD from that season and go back to that moment. I occasionally think back to the day when I ate and slept with the Red Sox. And I think back to when the team had character, its players were human, and its fan base rich with baseball knowledge and appetite. But, unfortunately, those days are long gone, and I don’t know if we can ever really get back to them.
You see – the Boston Red Sox, now in their 7th season since that championship, morphed from a team of human players and hungry fans to a team of stale players without personality and a fan base that’s morose with “fair-weather-ness.” The Red Sox tickets are ridiculously overpriced, their concessions expensive, and they went from being a cultivation of baseball tradition to a cultivation of the term we all have come to hate – “pink hat.”
A “pink hat fan” is the fan that isn’t afraid to spend $400 or more to enjoy a night at the ballpark. The pink hat fan makes sure to be out extra early from work or go into town extra early for the game. The pink hat fan goes to a bar beforehand and becomes intoxicated at someplace that’s cliché – like The Cask and Flagon. The pink hat fan goes to the game in the 3rd inning, goes to the wrong section, stands in front of about 25 people trying to figure out where the seat is, then eventually sits down in the 4th. During that period, the pink hat fan has gone to the beer line twice, making sure to get the two-beer selling max that Fenway imposes. By the time the 7th inning rolls around, the pink hat is sufficiently hammered, making a fool out of himself or herself, and not paying attention to the game. The pink hat fan, if a female screams her head off for Jacoby Ellsbury or Dustin Pedroia, yet has no idea what position they play, even though it’s on the scoreboard behind their bleacher seat. And the pink hat fan can’t wait for the 8th inning, when he or she can stand up and drunkenly croon “Sweet Caroline.” They’re probably leaving early so they can get a good seat at a bar for postgame shenanigans, stumbling home in the early morning hours before waking up and proclaiming the day before to be the “BEST…DAY…EVAH!”
The pink hat fan is the ultimate enemy to a fan who stuck with his or her team through thick and thin. What’s worse is that you can’t stop the pink hat from infiltrating your fan base because ticket prices don’t know identities. Ticket agencies like Stubhub and Ace Ticket don’t check your fandom at the gate, and the organizations’ ticket box office don’t either. The more people that cram into a game is the better for both the ticket office and the resale agencies, because demand drives ticket prices up, and higher demand drives more demand further up.
Let me explain.
Back in 2000, the average ticket price at Fenway was $28.33. That price was a 17% increase from 1999. This was during the height of the Pedro Martinez era, but it was still during a time when the Red Sox were failing to qualify regularly for the playoffs. By the time the Red Sox unveiled their 2004 champions banner on Opening Day 2005, the average ticket price was up to $44.56. In five years. That’s an almost 65% increase from the 2000 sales price. In 2005, by the way, the Major League average for a ticket price was a shade over $21, and the 2003 World Series Champion Florida Marlins had an average price of $15.55.
Yet the Red Sox kept selling out game after game as people went scouring for tickets. Resale organizations like Ace and Stubhub allowed for legal scalping, and it became common to see ticket prices reach in excess of $150 for a day game against Cleveland. New York Yankee games saw ticket prices climb over the $300 for bleacher seats, as people didn’t put a value on going to a game. It was the place to be seen; the clothing to wear, and the pricing reflected that. But, in the midst of all of this, the die-hard fan, the one who truly wanted to watch the game, got priced out.
From 1990-2001, I went to at least one Red Sox game per season (I have the ticket stubs to prove it). We used to be able to decide that we wanted to go into the game, get tickets the day of at the box office, and enjoy an afternoon at Fenway watching the Red Sox. We did this for the first time when the Texas Rangers were in town, and I vividly remember Roger Clemens pitching against Nolan Ryan. It was a family outing and a way for my dad, who had just stopped working two jobs, to spend time with his family. It became almost a rite of tradition that one day over the summer, we would pile into the car from Cape Cod and make the drive to Fenway to sit in the stadium and watch the Red Sox.
After 2001, though, I stopped going to games. I didn’t attend a Red Sox game again until 2005, when I went as part of a contingent representing the Cape Cod Baseball League. And even then, I got the ticket for free, and the opponent was the Kansas City Royals. I occasionally checked prices for games, but the Fenway box office was usually sold out and the online retailers were far too expensive for my collegiate checkbook.
From that 2005 season, I sensed something was different. And that something became what I’ve noticed every time I’ve gone since that year – the fan base at the game and the atmosphere was totally different. I used to walk up to Yawkey Way, get a sausage, and go into the game. Now Yawkey Way is a Fan-Fest. I used to go into the Twins Enterprises souvenir store to go shopping; now it’s blocked off as part of the Fan-Fest. I used to go to a game and keep the scorecard based off what I saw, cheering the players the whole time. It’s now about High Definition video boards that tell me how to score it, and beer being dumped on me while I’m trying to. And, the worst part of all – the 7th inning stretch and “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” has been replaced with that obnoxious screaming of “Root root root for the RED SOX” and the 8th inning Sweet Caroline drunken karaoke.
So where am I going with all of this? Why am I complaining about going to Fenway Park? And, more importantly – what does this have to do with the Boston Bruins?
Well, I’m venting about the majority of the Red Sox Nation, for one. This whole concept turned into a cash cow that now makes going to a game seem like a carnival more so than a baseball game. And people from out of town want to go to a game for the antics more so than the fact there’s an actual baseball game on display. That makes me thumb my nose, and it really bothers me that I love the game of baseball, and save for once a year when I go to a game and get annoyed by pink hat fans, I’ve been reduced to watching this team on television.
Secondly, I don’t want the Boston Bruins to turn into the pink skate brigade. It follows the pattern – the first championship in forever, an exciting game led by a bunch of characters, and the team that we love reinventing itself. Nothing compares to the 2004 Red Sox, especially in their popularity, but city officials projected the same amount of people to go to the Bruins parade as who went to the Red Sox parade.
I don’t want, in four years, to go to a Bruins game and be repulsed at what I see. I don’t want Zombie Nation to become Sweet Caroline. I don’t want Brad Marchand to become Jacoby Ellsbury. And I don’t want the TD Garden to become like Fenway Park, with overpriced tickets, even further overpriced concessions, and players who don’t have as much character as their predecessors.
The Bruins are champions, and I feel vindicated. Like Red Sox fans in my age group (and in my brothers’ age group), I feel so emotionally relieved and euphoric over the trophy coming home. Daily emails about hockey and hundreds of hockey games later, I feel the same way my dad did in 1970 and 1972. I’m so proud of the Boston Bruins, and I’m so proud to be a Boston Bruins fan-base.
I just don’t want that to change.