Spike and Hendu

So I get the “how did you become a Red Sox fan” question often, being as I was born in Moscow, Idaho and waged most of my teenage riot in the Spokane Valley. The quick answer is Spike and Hendu. The long answer is as follows:

The Inland Northwest during the late sixties and early seventies was a deep shade of Dodger Blue. The Spokane Indians had been Los Angeles’s AAA farm club since 1958, so naturally every snot-nosed brat’s default team was the Dodgers. Things didn’t change much in 1977 when the expansion Mariners played their inaugural season in Seattle. Even two years later, as the Mariners partnered with Spokane’s minor league team—unceremoniously dropped by the Dodgers in 1971—a following didn’t take hold locally. There was a good degree of pessimism surrounding the future of the Mariners, as it was only ten years earlier that the Pilots carpetbagged their way through a single season in Seattle before moving on to Milwaukee to become the Brewers. Not to mention that for most of the decade Spokane had become a transfer point for a supply chain of minor league “talent” for, first the Rangers, then the aforementioned Brewers.

While my memories are clearly colored by youth and pubescent irrationality, that brief three-year period in which the Indians were the Mariners AAA farm club were seminal. Genuine talent seemed to be coming up through the system. Ballplayers like Jim Maler, Dave Edler and Kim Allen, while rarely making a lasting impression on the other side of the Cascades, were stars at “the Fairgrounds”. Which, naturally, is when Dave Henderson showed up. An outfielder with a distinct swagger and enduring gap-toothed grin, Hendu was badass in that unique, early-eighties way that Miami Vice was badass, or the Sugar Hill Gang, or Tron. Don’t ask me to explain it.

In 1982, Hendu made the big league club and quickly made an impact. Following Henderson’s departure, Spokane was again dumped as a AAA affiliate, but it seemed to matter much less, at least to me. By that time I was finally developing a partiality for the Mariners, in spite of the ownership’s soon-to-be-legendary cheapskate tendencies. On August 19th 1986, in the middle of another last-place season, GM Dick Balderson pulled off the first of what would become routine salary dumps. Henderson and shortstop Spike Owen—only a few months after being named team captain—were traded to the Boston Red Sox for Rey Quinones and cash. It was Henderson’s free agent year and, as would become an annual tradition, the Mariners weren’t going to pay him.

There I was. The leaves were about to change, the evening air carried with it that crisp bite, and I was feeling cheated. Seeing no indications that the Mariners would be anywhere near the postseason within the foreseeable future, I found myself breaking one of the cardinal rules of serious fandom: rooting for the name on the back of the jersey. The American League Championship Series paired the Red Sox against the California Angels. Spike Owen promptly hit .429 and Hendu was responsible for one of the most dramatic moments in ALCS history when he drove a two-out, two-strike split-fingered fastball from Donnie Moore into the Anaheim Stadium left field seats in game 5. This is what it felt like to cheer on a winner. Shit, I was all in. The Angels never recovered from the game 5 loss. They dropped the last two at Fenway and I finally had a rooting interest in a World Series. Of course, it had to be that World Series, the 1986 World Series… the less said about that, the better.

But that really is the crux of the thing. The lurching, bipolar thrill ride of victory and defeat during the fall of 1986 was both a crucible and harbinger of future angst. Granted, I’m far from the first person to reach this conclusion, but back in the pre-2004 (or pre-2007 for that matter) days, there was very little choice in becoming a Red Sox fan. Regardless of how you may have gotten there, once you were in, you’re in for life.

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