It’s mid-July. I stand in a field, just beside the eucalyptus-lined road, and stare up at a night sky more star-filled than I could ever see in the states. A little way in the distance, the surface of Lake Titicaca is shining with starlight, and the only signs of electricity I can see are pin-points across the water in Peru. Here on the Bolivia side, the power has been knocked out by the snowstorm over the weekend, and won’t be back up for four days.
I’m standing in a field in Bolivia, remote and cold, wrapped in alpaca wool and Gore-Tex….
And I am listening to a Red Sox Game.
I’m an archaeologist who studies the Andean past, and I love all the travel that goes with my work. Beautiful places, fascinating dig sites, and, at 14,000 feet, there are none of those parasites and uber-venomous critters that get my colleagues in jungle areas. But there are downsides, too, and this one is high up on the list: I travel in the summer, and no one watches baseball in Bolivia.
Out in the campo—the Bolivian countryside—there’s no NESN or WEEI. There’s no Gameday page, because there’s no Internet, and there is certainly no MLB Network.
There would be no box scores in the paper even if you could get a current paper out where I was staying, but that hardly matters, ‘cause you can’t. And yet I did listen to the Sox this past summer, and I stayed on top of the Olde Town Team's every move: I bought a cheap cell phone with enough signal to pick up incoming calls from the states, and made good use of it.
My dad was my Joe Castiglione.
Yeah, Dad did my play-by-play throughout this summer’s dig, and my mom even learned to read a box score, just so she could help out too from time to time. Isn’t family a wonderful thing? Especially when they're Sox fans. I’d have missed a full third of the season but for them.
(My last day in Bolivia, heading for the airport, I managed to fall and shatter a bone in my left hand, making typing altogether awkward until just lately, and so I’ve missed almost two months more that I could have been writing about my Sox since I’ve been back. But never mind that: you don’t need ten fingers to watch a game, and I never went more than a day or two without hearing all about them, all summer long.)
When Ortiz returned to his Super Papi persona, I knew about it.
When the Sox got their lead up to five games over New York, I knew. (When they spiraled down to seven games back, I knew that too, but kind of wished I didn’t.)
I knew about Smoltz’s struggles, and Lugo’s release, and I felt bad for Lugo even though I knew it had to happen.
I knew when Tek hurt his shoulder last June, and heard the all-too-depressing details as injury, and general wear and tear, threw his formerly solid season into sharp decline.
I knew when the team landed V-Mart for an offensive boost, and when Wake went on the DL, and when Papi hit a patch of public scandal.
I heard it all. And I got to talk stats all through the season, while the Andean sun bleached my Boston hat to a light dirty blue.
Yet, there is only one thing that no help from home could set right: there was nothing they could do about the Yankees hats.
I’ve heard it complained that bandwagon Boston fans have messed up what it means to love the Bo Sox, that these days the red “B” is turning up coast to coast on heads that haven’t "won the right" through years of heartbreak, fans that don’t know how to suffer. Over-popularity is a real problem from some purists’ points of view.
It’s true that I see those hanging socks logos out here in Berkeley and San Francisco, far more than you might expect. But it seems there’s a limit to Red Sox Nation, and I’ve found it.
I first landed in Lima, Peru, and in Lima I saw Yankees hats.
I took buses from Lima to Jauja, and in Jauja I saw Yankees hats.
I rode more than 30 hours from Peru to Bolivia, and as I got off the bus in La Paz, I saw people in Yankees hats.
Yankees hats! I rode four hours out into the countryside, and there in remote Aymara villages, there I saw Yankees hats.
But the pernicious “NY”?
Friends, there is no escaping. Like every good Evil Empire, the Yankees have sought full scale global domination, and in the backwaters of rural Bolivia, it appeared they have nearly made it.
Still, hope comes from this: that for all those Yankees hats, I’d swear not one in 20 wearing them had ever seen a Yankees game—nor any other Major League game, I’d give good odds. Soccer is the sport down there, and always will be. I wore my Red Sox hat constantly—my own tiny candle in the darkness—and was asked once if the “B” stood for “Berkeley.” Those New York hats were worn much more for style than for any nod to this year’s AL East division champs.
There was one more little fact in which I found some comfort. Driving through more urban areas in Bolivia, where deep running sentiments tend to find their way onto walls and highway medians, there were numerous times I saw this blessed phrase, painted in enormous white letters:
“Yankees Go Home!”
And I saw it, and smiled, and tipped my Boston cap, and kept on driving.