"Write a profile of the ultimate Red Sox fan, as described to you by Red Sox fans," he said in an e-mail before Saturday's Game 2. "Rather than just testing them with questions about baseball history or general game knowledge, which they'll likely enjoy talking about (I promise you more people in Boston, per capita, know who Hunter Pence is than people in Houston, but I digress), ask them about what makes for a true Sox fan. They'll mutter vagaries, so you might want to make assumptions in your line of questioning and either let them support or (sometimes vehemently) deny them."
It was too good to resist. Jimmy Fallon's character in "Fever Pitch" tried to explain it all to Drew Barrymore's character, but there is so much more. MLB.com stood outside of the Gate D barricade at Fenway Park with the fans while they waited to be waved into the Yawkey Way street festival by Big League Brian at exactly 6:21 p.m. ET. We talked to them inside the park, behind the plate and out in right and up in the grandstand. One fan even added that you become a Sox fan if you grew up in Northern California but your son plays on the team, as does his son, rookie second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
Here are 20 characteristics that make up a Red Sox fan. Some of these overlap a bit, but this is the profile of the ultimate Red Sox fan in the words of Sox fans:
Obsessive-compulsive. "It's a mental illness, and I don't know whether it's treatable with modern medicine," said Peter Brown, 52, a lawyer from Newton, Mass. "And it's genetic, because it's passed through the generations. And there's no cure." As for the 2004 World Series championship, he said, "The burden has been removed, at least in part. We're no less obsessive, but we don't suffer as intently."
Always has a love story. This particular one was about Paul and Kim Ballam of Chicago. It was his 37th birthday, and she is 36. She grew up in Chicago. He grew up in Boston. "We were married on Labor Day weekend of 2005," Kim said on Yawkey Way. "We made special wedding vows. I said I had to cheer for his Red Sox. He said he had to cheer for my Cubs." Like a true Red Sox fan, Paul added, "We also said all bets were off if we played each other in the World Series." Paul said both fan bases are almost identical, explaining, "It's almost like a culture. It's probably not an accident that 'cult' is in 'culture.' We have so much in common."
History buff. Brown was standing in the aisle behind the field boxes on the first-base side, watching club highights on the big scoreboard. "There's Buckner. Don't look," he said. Then they showed "Yaz's last game in '83. I was there for that one, too." Even if you weren't actually there, you know about them if you're a real Sox fan. In fact, you never really had a choice in the matter.
Respects all other fans. That's because it is one of the nine "ground rules" that are shown on the scoreboard before every home game.
Passes it down. "[I'm] just enjoying the game of baseball," said a 47-year-old fan on Yawkey Way named Jerry, withholding his last name. "Just watching the game. [Kevin] Youkilis on first, [Mike] Lowell on third, [Jonathan] Papelbon to close the game -- [those are some of the things that are] unbelievable just to watch. I remember the first time my father took me. I was 7. It was a life experience that you'll never forget. I was able to get tickets to this game, and I brought my oldest daughter, who's 14. It's her first game. It's an experience she will never forget, just like it was for me."
Never forgets. "Travel from North Carolina like we did," said Steve Jablonski, 49, offering traits along with his wife, Sue, 46. "We're from this area. We moved down to Cary 20 years ago, but we come back, and we'll go to Durham whenever Pawtucket [Boston's Triple-A affiliate] is there. I grew up with the '67 Impossible Dream team, and anybody who was old enough to be there that year had to be a Sox fan for life."
Passionate. Guy Pedroia, a longtime Giants fan, said he now understands it. He is from Woodland, Calif., not far from Sacramento. A reporter was walking up the aisle behind home plate, halfway up the section behind the field seats, and decided to ask one last fan for another trait just to be complete. "My son plays on the team," said Guy, whose son, Dustin, is a favorite for AL Rookie of the Year. "It's pretty fun. After this first year, I can tell you that it's not anything like we're used to in California. ... We're just excited that he got the opportunity to play here. We're rooting for him. We won't go to Cleveland, but we'll be at the World Series."
"Crazy." Courtesy of Joe Froias, 24, of New Bedford, Mass., as Yawkey Way was getting jam-packed and kind of crazy.
Willing to travel. When MLB.com wrote about those Cub caravans during that team's National League Division Series at Phoenix, there were immediately e-mails from Red Sox fans on why no one travels like The Nation. It might be true. Certainly that was demonstrated when Boston fans teemed within St. Louis for the 2004 World Series. "I went to [St. Petersburg, Fla.,] in September of last season," said Christine Froias, 32. "There were more Red Sox fans than Tampa Bay fans." Cleveland, prepare for an invasion. "Even the bugs won't keep us away," her husband, Joe, deadpanned.
Loyal/diehard. Most popular answer. Joe Gaffey, 42, was waiting outside the Gate D entrance with his 8-year-old son Matt, and said, "Before '04, I would have said 'misery.'" Being a Sox fan now means enjoying your much-deserved "reward for all those years," according to Linda Amirault, 50, of Saugus, Mass. Bob Mitchell, 41, of Salisbury, Mass., said, "A diehahd. That's the main thing."
Knowledgeable baseball fan. Danny Vinik. Age 17. Enough said.
Loves the players. You could say this about any fan base. But this one is a given as well. Just consider the "DAMON SUCKS" T-shirt across from us on the Green Line to the Kenmore exit in the afternoon. "You gotta love all the pitchers like I do, and [Jason] Varitek," said Martha Kelly, 42, of Bethlemen, Pa. "I'm one of those who screams at the pitchers as they head out to the bullpen at the start of the game."
Knows the words to "Sweet Caroline." "Where it began/ I can't begin to knowin'/But then I know its growin' strong. ..." Fans sing Neil Diamond's classic in the eighth inning of every home game, and you can find endless renditions on YouTube. It seems like everyone sings it, and there is nothing like the experience of doing that with 35,000-plus, especially at that point in the game. Across the street from the Cask 'n Flagon outside the ballpark, there is a billboard that says "SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!"
Best dressed. "I have a closet filled with customized jerseys," Kelly said. "I have a Manny, a Papelbon, a 'Tek, a Schilling." Joe Froias said this is a crucial trait. "As opposed to the ugly 'NY'," he said. "They look so ugly." Speaking of that ...
Hates the Yankees. Probably the most obvious. "I went out with a Yankees fan," Froias said, "and I knew it wasn't gonna work. My friends didn't want to let her into the house at first."
All walks of life. "It covers the spectrum," Peter Brown said. "College professors to hard-hat guys, everybody."
Loves an old ballpark. "Just coming to Fenway," Mitchell said. "That's what it's all about."
Likes sausage. "You gotta have a sausage here," Sue Jablonski said, so we did, in fact one foot-long at each of the first two games in this series, with a little hot sauce. The cashier who was getting yelled at by her co-worker for not having enough small change was selling it like Emeril, too. "It's fresh-made every morning, and look at these vegetables. They're fresh," she said, proudly, selling one after another.
Gets here early and happy to stay late. Sox fans don't typically show up in the second, third or fourth inning. In fact, after a reporter left Fenway around 1 a.m. after Game 1, a long line was already forming outside of Gate D for next-day ticket sales, despite temperatures that would dip into the 30s overnight. "They always do this," a teenager at the front of that line said while setting up a tent. "And they promise that you can get more than one." As for staying late, see: 2004 ALCS.
Hardy. These are New Englanders, accustomed to harsh winters and some pretty frigid springs and autumns. They certainly wouldn't mind putting on the outerwear for another World Series here. And because of their loyalty, many of them are finally in position to think like that. "You have to love them even when they lose," said Kim Foley, 37, of Bethlehem, Pa. "Stick with them good and bad ... and really ugly."
Her ex-husband is from Boston, and Foley said, "Now I'm a bigger fan than he is. I'm up here all the time."
That's the profile of a Boston Red Sox fan.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.