Boston Red Sox fandom and that trolling Mookie Betts billboard
By Charlotte Wilder
FOX Sports Columnist
Twenty years ago, the area around Fenway Park was a run-down, dilapidated, beautifully grungy stretch between the lush green of the emerald necklace riverway and the stately gardens of Boston’s back bay.
David Ortiz Drive didn’t exist yet, and there were a lot of radio stations along Boylston Street — metal-sided garage doors and gray concrete were graffitied with the stations’ call letters. The Howard Johnson’s sign hadn’t been updated since the ‘70s.
It was the perfect place for the Red Sox and their fans to call home. The team hadn’t won anything in eight decades. Now, four World Series titles later, Fenway is as shiny as the trophies. Big high-rises, Whole Foods and a multi-story Target sit next to the new, hip hotel that replaced the Howard Johnson’s. Now there’s too much hardware, too many nice things.
Boston fans really shouldn’t be allowed to have them.
A billboard recently popped up near the ballpark, near Lansdowne Street and the Cask ‘n Flagon, a bar most Red Sox fans know they’ve been to but can’t remember. The blue banner sits high in the sky, sporting white writing that reads, "Dear Boston, THANK YOU FOR MOOKIE BETTS. Sincerely, Dodger Fans and @pantone294."
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this blight upon the Boston skyline ever since I first saw it, but for those of you who actually have lives, let me give you some background. Then I'll tell you why I’ve become obsessed with this.
@pantone294 is a Dodgers fan club named after the official classification of Dodger Blue. According to the Pantone 294 website, an L.A. fan named Alex Soto started the group in 2009 after he took a party bus of friends and family to a Dodger’s game in San Francisco. Pantone 294 aims to connect "loyal Dodger fans from all over the world in efforts to support our Boys in Blue while they are away from home."
Soto’s latest "effort" appears to be a masterful troll of Boston fans like me.
Except he says it isn’t a troll ...
"It was never meant to trash-talk," Soto told ESPN. "The Red Sox are my favorite AL and second-favorite team overall. I love Boston. It's a beautiful city. Maybe when I'm old I can buy a house out here to retire."
... which makes it an even bigger troll.
Look, I don’t know if Soto is being serious, and that’s where I get tripped up. Because no matter what his intention, he just pulled off the greatest troll on Boston fans since Tom Brady went to Tampa, won another Super Bowl and looked like he was having fun while he did it.
If Soto really wished to thank Boston fans, that was the worst way to do it. All he did was remind everyone of what we no longer have – a generational talent who was traded away for payroll flexibility and then promptly won the World Series. The last time the Sox made a move like that, Boston didn’t win a championship for 86 years.
The Mookie trade (which included David Price) is, of course, old news by now. What isn’t old news is that the team has continued to be sold for parts — Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom sent Andrew "Benny Baseball" Benintendi to the Royals in February, then let Jackie Bradley Jr. leave for the Brewers as a free agent in March. The Red Sox had a great trio of outfielders who brought home a World Series, and they – Betts, Benintendi and Bradley – are now all gone.
And then there’s Brock Holt. I’m not quite emotionally ready to talk about Brock Holt.
Brock Holt (can’t write just Holt — it’s Brock Holt) hit for the cycle in the ALDS and has a small son who wears adorable rec specs *crying emoji*. Brock Holt left during free agency last year, and I’m not over it yet.
I understand that teams go through changes and that the Sox seem particularly fascinated with staying under the luxury tax. I’m not sure why because John Henry is a bajillionaire, he owns multiple sports teams, and I feel like a luxury tax on one of them should be the least of his worries. But then again, I don’t know how to use Excel, and I can’t remember how to do long division, so maybe I shouldn’t be the one to judge a team’s finances.
But I can judge matters of the heart.
And there have been many reasons to be sad about Boston sports this year. I’ve become pretty fascinated with how Boston fans are handling Bad Things. We’re not used to it — when losing a Super Bowl becomes surprising, the way it was in 2018, you know you’re in trouble. And no one in this country besides other New England sports fans feels bad for us at all.
So we have to suffer in silence — or in an article on a national website — with no validation for our emotions. The worst part is that I know we don’t deserve any.
Which is why that stupid billboard feels like someone hit me across the head with it.
From reading Soto’s bio on the Pantone whatever-number-it-is website, I get the sense that this guy truly is as earnest as he seems. He describes himself as a guy from L.A. who is "living out his wildest dreams." That, combined with his tweet saying he simply wanted to thank Boston, leads me to believe he really means it.
I’d love to ask him about all of this, but he won’t respond to my multiple DMs on Twitter. This is probably smart because nothing good ever comes of Twitter DMs. But I digress.
The problem is that the nice things Soto is trying to say are simply more grains of salt in a wound that will never heal. It was also the most brilliant way to get under the skin of New England fans, who are, for the most part, very sarcastic. Lots of us are bitter and jaded because, I mean, have you ever had to shovel your car out from under 3 feet of snow at least four times a year? There’s a reason I moved away, my friends.
What I’m trying to say is that in order to get through cold, dark winters, we become cold and dark ourselves. The Patriots literally convinced a fan base to root for work. Like, to cheer for jobs! The rallying cry was "do your job!" That’s the least fun chant ever!
But I bought into it. Discipline, hard work and focus — not fun — lead to success. I was convinced. So I, and many other fans, celebrated it.
Then Brady goes to Tampa, gets Gronk to join him, gives delightful interviews to Nickelodeon during their kids’ NFL broadcasts, gets publicly drunk on what he called "avocado tequila" and throws the Lombardi Trophy from one motorboat to another.
Then some guy from sunny California puts up a billboard earnestly thanking us for the best player we’ve had since Babe Ruth. I’d rather someone just punch me in the face. As a Boston fan, the only thing worse than getting trolled is getting trolled by someone who’s just trying to be nice.
Whatever. At least if I ever have grandkids, they’ll be alive to watch the Red Sox win their next World Series. In the meantime, Boston fans can stare at that stupid billboard and listen to that Sarah McLachlan song they play during ASPCA commercials.
Mookie — I will remember you.
Charlotte Wilder is a general columnist and co-host of "The People's Sports Podcast" for FOX Sports. She's honored to represent the constantly neglected Boston area in sports media, loves talking to sports fans about their feelings and is happiest eating a hotdog in a ballpark or nachos in a stadium. Follow her on Twitter @TheWilderThings.