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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Friday, September 26, 2003  
Pilgrims' Progress

Give this man a Sox pennant. Credit

Get your David Ortiz Cowboy Up tee-shirts here! Is this the year the cowboy hat replaces the self-doubting Puritan's sugarloaf?

A writer (I believe it was Martin F. Nolan) has suggested the Red Sox' original name of Pilgrims better conveys the team's eternal questing in the face of New England Calvinist preordained failure.

Tom Fitzpatrick of Salem reflects on the local tradition of baseball as character-building exercise:

Being a Red Sox fan is a penance, rather like wearing a hairshirt. It is irksome at times, especially during September and October. It is an acquired taste that very few but true New Englanders can acquire. The personal fortitude required to withstand constant disappointment is not something folks from just anywhere are blessed with. Rather, like the New England weather, the fortunes of the Olde Towne Team are something to be endured. One needs a very healthy dose of stoicism to remain sane while watching the Red Sox over the years.

And as Samuel Johnson was fond of pointing out, "There are more things in life to be endured, than to be enjoyed." The Red Sox fate has, unswervingly since Woodrow Wilson was president, been something to be endured. The number of times that they have managed to find a way to be defeated since 1918 truly beggars the imagination.

But New England has something to enjoy this morning. We should all enjoy it while we can. Sic transit gloria mundi.

The pilgrim theme has been struck over the years. To mark the 1930 Tercentenary of Boston both the Red Sox and Braves wore on their uniform sleeves a Pilgrim Hat patch, revived by the Cooperstown Ballcap Co in this souvenir hat. In their very first years (1901-02), the Boston Americans were called the Plymouth Rocks and the Puritans. As late as the '60s and '70s, the Sox were sometimes referred to by capsule writers in the annual Sporting News baseball guide as the Pilgrims, as the Phillies were nicknamed the Quakers. I could swear a Willard Mullin-style caricature of a musket-toting pilgrim in red socks was used promotionally by the club in the early 1970s. (If anyone can confirm this, I'd like to get my hands on one of the cartoons.)

A travel piece on Massachusetts' Plimoth Plantation in the Sunday Times of London this past July intertwined Pilgrims with baseball:

"'Excuse me sonny," said the man with the lime-green sports coat. "Do you know how the Red Sox did last night?" The pilgrim, who had been ploughing a steady line through Plimouth Plantation's 17th-century herb garden, shouldered his wooden hoe and adopted a puzzled look. "I am sorry sir," he said in a strange nasal West Country accent. "But I have no knowledge of this Red Sox of which you speak."

"Hell, you're good son," said the tourist. "Hey Dottie, come over here and take a picture of me with this guy."

America loves reliving its history. Throughout the country there are heritage farms, forts, Wild West towns and Indian villages where staff dress up in period costume and act out life as it was lived 300 years ago. The granddaddy of them all is the pilgrim village at Plimouth Plantation on the road from Boston to Cape Cod, a short hoe down from where the brethren are reputed to have first set foot on American soil. Here, professional pilgrims tend to their animals, build houses and work their farms while all the time talking to their visitors in an array of 1627 accents.

Most tourists listen rapt to their descriptions of daily life, but there are always one or two intent on catching the actors out with questions about sport or the US presidents. As you'd expect, Plimouth's pilgrims are well-trained to handle these situations. Even when a 747 splits the sky leaving a trail of vapour behind it, they barely blink. "Why, it must be some kind of bird unique to these parts, master," they say before getting back to churning cheese.

Historical accuracy goes hand in hand with political correctness and further down the trail at Hobbamock's Wampanoag Indian Homesite I came across native Americans all too eager to let me know they were there first and what sort of impact the pilgrims had on their lives. "Ah yes," said our friend with the sports coat. "But do you know how the Red Sox got on last night?" "They lost it in the ninth." "No kidding?"


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