While looking over this year's interleague schedule, I was saddened to see that the Red Sox won't play the Braves this season. Only a few years ago they were each other's "natural" interleague rivals, owing to the time, all but forgotten now, when the Braves played in Boston, and Hub baseball fans had their choice of two teams for which to root.
It seems when the Expos moved to Washington, the East divisions' interleague rivalries got jumbled, and the Sox were the last team standing when the music stopped. Now paired with the Phillies, a team with whom they share no history, the Sox likely won't face Atlanta again until 2013. And thus, a great tradition has been smothered in its infancy: Braves games at Fenway Park.
Believe you me, you don't want to be anywhere near Section 33 of Fenway when the Atlanta Braves are in town. On those nights, that area belongs to the rabid contingent of aging but still loyal Boston Braves Boosters, whose fealty to the Bees has survived fifty years and two franchise re-locations. (Section 33 was chosen because of its ample wheelchair seating and quick access to the park's only elevator.)
The only organized Boston baseball fans who actively despise the Red Sox, the BBB attend every Braves-Sox game to loudly cheer on the National Leaguers, and "really give it to the local nine and their fair-weather fans," according to BBB president Gus Farnsworth. During games they ring cowbells and hold up signs featuring popular Booster slogans like, "If We're Brave, Than What Are You?" and "Any Idiot Can Wear Sox."
I had a chance to attend a Boston Braves Boosters meeting last October in Brookline, a stone's throw away from the Braves' old stomping grounds. They were celebrating both the playoff absence of the Red Sox ("those crimson-hosed Johnny-come-lately upstarts of Boston baseball," as they're colorfully described in the BBB charter), and the Boosters' 57th anniversary. But to be honest, the proceedings felt more like a wake. Two members had passed away the previous month (the Boosters' average age is 89.3), and their secretary had just been hospitalized with "a bad bout of consumption."
Mimicking the efforts of Save Fenway Park, a grassroots organization that lobbied against the destruction of the Red Sox's home, the Boosters hired a local architect (the great-grandson of BBB treasurer Asa Bridwell) to draw up provisional plans for a replica Braves Field–in the exact same spot as the old park. Though the project's momentum has cooled of late, the quixotic Boosters are hopeful their team might someday return to the City on a Hill.
"I think they'll come back. We've got the fans, we've almost got the park. Hell, they'd be crazy not to. They've just got to come back," Farnsworth told me, his voice starting to quiver.
"I'm sure you're right, Gus," I said, quickly turning away. My eyes welled with tears.
"They'll come back."