For thousands of Maritime baseball fans, it’s a love affair that has spanned generations.
For many, rooting for the Boston Red Sox pre-dates not only the arrival of the Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays, but the arrival of television.
Radio waves drifting up from New England brought Red Sox baseball into the homes of young fans throughout the Maritime provinces.
“I used to listen to it on the radio before it ever came on TV,” says Nick Bonnar of Glace Bay, N.S., remembering his early days of Red Sox fandom in the 1960s.
“I heard a lot about Carl Yastrzemski. I played the outfield like he did. It just went from there.”
Bonnar thinks geography played a big part in getting young fansto root for Beantown. “I think that probably started with people from New Brunswick so close to the border, going to Red Sox games or getting them on TV more than the average fan could.”
“I think that’s a really common experience for a lot of Red Sox fans,” saysauthor Jim Prime. “We could pick up the games quite regularly.”
Prime’s lifelong love of the team also began through the radio airwaves. In the years since, Prime has written more than 20 books on the Red Sox, though he is based in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. The historical connections he sees between his beloved team and the region he calls home go well beyond bats and balls and radio calls.
“Babe Ruth used to come up here to the Maritimes quite often. I think he even did it when he was a member of the Red Sox. Ted Williams came up here to New Brunswick and fished on the Miramichi.”
In 2005, Prime co-founded the Bluenose BoSox Brotherhood, a group of Boston-loving baseball fans. “We had maybe 10 or 12 people at the first meeting,” he recalls, “It just grew from there.”
The group has since held two Nova Scotia Days at Fenway Park in Boston, and has twice brought the World Series trophy to Nova Scotia.
“A lot of Americans have joined our group, and we have a New Brunswick presence and PEI. We don’t turn anyone away. Unless they’re a Yankee fan,” he laughs. “They’re on their own.”
The Brotherhood serves mostly as a way to bring fans in the Maritimes together even during baseball’s off-season. “It’s been a lot of fun,” Prime says. “We have a Facebook site, and people comment. It keeps the winters interesting.”
Tumultuous month for Red Sox
It would be hard to top this winter in terms of “interesting” for the Red Sox and their fans. It’s been a tumultuous few months for the team, which has seen both its manager and one of its most popular and productive players depart.
In January, manager Alex Cora and the Red Sox mutually agreed to part ways after Cora was implicated in the Houston Astros sign-sealing scandal. Cora had been a bench coach for Houston in 2017, the year Major League Baseball now says the Astros engaged in a high-tech sign-stealing scheme that has been the talk of baseball the whole off-season. The scandal has angered many players and fans – who now feel like the Astros’ 2017 World Series win is tainted.
“That took the wind out of my sails,” Prime says of the Cora situation. “I like the purity of the game. I don’t mind getting on second base and stealing signs. That’s part of the game, but when you start using sophisticated electronics to do it on a concerted basis all season long, I can understand why the Dodgers and some of these teams would be very upset.”
It was the Dodgers who were the beneficiaries of the Red Sox’ other big offseason move. In February, star outfielder Mookie Betts and pitcher David Price were dealt to Los Angeles in a blockbuster trade. Betts won MVP honours in the American League in 2018. The Red Sox wanted to shed some payroll to avoid exceeding Major League Baseball’s luxury tax limits that try to prevent teams from overspending.
“I was upset with the Red Sox for not hanging onto him,” Prime says of Betts. ”Even if they had to go over the luxury tax limit.”
“It’ll be tough to replace Betts,” Bonnar laments. “It’s hard to replace one of the best baseball players to play the game.”
Like the promise of better weather, spring seems to provide annual optimism for baseball fans. And although it’s been a winter of turmoil for the Red Sox, diehard fans still have hope for 2020.
“Overall, there’s reason for optimism,” Prime maintains. “But it’s just the general tenor of the way things worked out. I’ve been a fan since 1960, and I don’t like to see things like this happen with teams. It hurts the chemistry of the team.”
For a team with four playoff appearances and two World Series titles in the past seven seasons, expectations are always high for Red Sox fans. “Our people want to win,” Bonnar says. “Anytime I’m in Boston, all they talk about is winning.”
And Bonnar says despite all the changes, winning might happen as soon as this season.
“I wouldn't be surprised if they got to the World Series and won it.”