Red Sox making a push to become 'America's Team'
For decades, courtesy of the slickest marketing campaign known to mankind (or at least professional sports), the Dallas Cowboys anointed themselves as America's Team, but that didn't necessarily make it so. The Yankees held that distinction then, and they still do. I mean, they are the "Yankees," which is as red, white and blue as you can get.
If that isn't enough, the Yankees' logo features a bat holding up Uncle Sam's top hat of stars and stripes. We're also talking about the franchise of Babe Ruth, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle. Nothing is more patriotic than that -- except for maybe Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Reggie Jackson, or maybe Don Mattingly, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.
Even so, the Cowboys and Yankees watched the shaky Braves of the 1970s do what was considered ridiculous at the time by claiming they really were "America's Team." It worked. With help from Dale Murphy and Ted Turner's superstation, Braves officials made much of the nation hug their mostly inferior product for years. They did so through a nice TV audience, which contributed to the growth of their out-of-town fan base.
The same went for the Cubs, especially since they had the combination of their own superstation and a guy named Harry Caray.
So here were are now, with the Braves and the Cubs spending season after season joining the Yankees among the biggest draws on the road in the Major Leagues. The Red Sox are there, too -- big time. In fact, there are several reasons to make you wonder if the Red Sox have surpassed the Braves, the Cubs and the Yankees as America's definitive team.
I'm still thinking.
Here's why I'm not giving a quick answer: The Yankees are still the Yankees in so many ways, but the Red Sox haven't stopped being the Red Sox, and that has become a lovely thing. They've gone the last decade having every centimeter of Fenway Park packed for home games. They've also exorcised The Curse of the Bambino during that stretch, along the way to three World Series championships. Among those titles was last year's miracle out of nowhere. It stemmed from the Boston Strong cry that rallied the nation around the Red Sox after the Boston Marathon bombings.
The Red Sox became America's 2013 Team, if nothing else.
As for this season, the Red Sox have been ordinary or less courtesy of shaky pitching and their clutch hitting vanishing from the middle of their battling order for long stretches. But that hasn't kept the masses from rushing to the nearest ticket booth whenever the Red Sox come to town. As a result, the best friend of some Boston players on the road has been room service.
"I went outside our hotel for about 20 minutes, and there were so many fans around, I had to hurry to get back inside the room," said David Ortiz, talking about his experience in Atlanta earlier this week, when Red Sox Nation converted everything around Hank Aaron Drive leading to Turner Field into the Southern version of Yawkey Way.
I'll put this into perspective: I've lived in Atlanta since the mid-1980s, and I've seen this highly transient city turn the home venues for the Braves, Falcons and Hawks into friendly confines for more than a few opposing teams on a consistent basis. Several years ago, the Georgia Dome was invaded by Cheeseheads during a playoff game against the Green Bay Packers. Philips Arena is stuffed with Lakers and Knicks fans whenever those teams visit. Turner Field also has been a hotbed for those partisan to the Cardinals, along with the Cubs and the Yankees, of course.
The Red Sox? Wow. When they came to Atlanta earlier this week for a two-game series, I've never seen that much yelling, clapping and stomping for a visiting team in anybody's home ballpark or arena.
"On the road, I've never seen anything like that either," said Dustin Pedroia, who has witnessed a lot involving this franchise since he began starring at second base for the Red Sox eight years ago. But this was different, with thousands of people wearing Red Sox jerseys and screaming whenever anybody among the visitors just threatened to do something interesting.
"I mean, it was loud," Pedroia continueed. "The whole atmosphere was great. It was a good time."
Especially for Ortiz. The Red Sox fans chanted Big Papi's name throughout Turner Field for much of the game, and when he ripped a crucial home run over the center-field fence in the series opener, they lost their mind.
Ortiz laughed, saying, "Our fans. What can you say? They follow us wherever we go to support us, and that's because the Red Sox have a lot of history."
So do other teams, but there is just something about the Red Sox, especially these particular Red Sox. Take it from catcher David Ross, who has spent a dozen years in the Major Leagues with stints for the Braves, Reds, Padres, Pirates and Dodgers before re-joining the Red Sox this season.
"The cool thing is," Ross said, "after being with a bunch of different teams, I see the difference here, and when you win the World Series as much as they have [over the past 10 years], that always gets you a few extra fans, and David Ortiz is one of baseball's biggest ambassadors. Who doesn't want to see Big Papi? He has three World Series rings, and Pedroia has two. Rarely do we play a road game where there isn't a good amount of Red Sox fans there."
Sounds like America's Team.
"I don't know about all of that," said Ortiz, laughing, probably thinking about the Red Sox's Evil Empire, the one in pinstripes.
The one that remains America's Team.