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Red Sox fan divorces Yankee husband, citing irreconcilable obnoxiousness

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“There is a moment in every relationship when one of the parties senses its imminent demise. There’s a moment of incredible clarity when your stomach drops with a heavy sense of dread, and you feel like control is slipping through your fingertips even as you try to hold on.”
– Allison Winn Scotch, The Department of Lost & Found

The secret to any successful marriage is learning to overcome challenges. For couples entwined in deep ideological disagreement, the need to resist holding grudges and bringing up the past (and sometimes ugly present) is of utmost importance.

Nobody knows this better than Joanna Sheffield, lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox.

Through the brutal dog days of “The Curse of the Bambino” to the glorious peak of World Series redemption, this 46-year old Norwich, Conn., housewife has spent the last 22 years focusing her marriage squarely on the positive.

“I married an imperfect person – and so did he,” she says of husband Rob, son of a New York Yankee fan, a lifelong fan himself and father of their two children. “We’ve had our ups and downs,” Joanna admits.

While they’ve dealt with the setbacks and pain of difficult seasons before, this year has been particularly stressful with the Red Sox never in contention and the Yankees continuing a seemingly annual quest for a spot in the playoffs.

“It’s been frustrating and I never seem to hear the end of it,” she says, “but this year was worse than usual” — pointing to a last place American League East finish by the Red Sox, despite Major League Baseball’s third-highest payroll.

“You have to put a smile on the negative, sweep snide comments aside and overlook the mockery and ribbing because it’s usually done in fun,” she said. “The span of a 162-game schedule dictates that a bad day not interfere with the next, that’s always been key — as a fan and with our relationship.”

The moment of incredible clarity

Through the storied history of these two iconic franchises, the Sheffield union remained strong. “Until one day in late August, Rob came down the hall — iPhone in hand — laughing hysterically,” Joanna recalls. “I asked him what was so funny, he told me the Red Sox were just traded to the Dodgers.” [referring to the nine-player deal which sent four-time All-Star Adrian Gonzalez, pitcher Josh Beckett, outfielder Carl Crawford and utilityman Nick Punto to Los Angeles in exchange for first baseman James Loney and four prospects -- shedding the Red Sox franchise of approximately $260 million in payroll obligations over the remainder of the decade but leaving designated hitter David Ortiz as the lone remaining representative of both the 2004 and 2007 World Series teams].

It hurt, Joanna said, and she admits the sadness of the team’s 2012 failures caught her by surprise. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, Joanna felt alone.

“The team is virtually unrecognizable now. Melancon, Ciriaco, Nava, Lavarnway, Valencia, Lin, Iglesias — are you kidding me? I don’t know who these people are,” she says. “I have a hard enough time enjoying a game knowing Kevin Youkilis is in a White Sox uniformthat’s just wrong – the last thing I need is to be reminded of where we are in the standings. I know where we are in the standings and I try to forget.”

After a few days to let it settle, Joanna says she called a divorce attorney.

Husband Rob countered by seeking custody of the children and the family’s black lab, aptly named “Fenway.” Lawyers for the couple say divorce proceedings have been heated and, at times, volatile.

“That’s my dog too,” Rob said, “we’ve had him for 12 years. To put that in perspective, the Yankees have made the postseason 17 of the last 18 seasons, so that’s quite a long time. But this is a deeply personal time and we hope everyone will respect our privacy while the Yankees set their pitching rotation for the playoffs and the Red Sox will most likely be looking for a replacement for (manager) Bobby Valentine. What a horrible decision that was, huge mistake.”

Joanna’s attorney paints an unflattering portrait, as Rob became unrelenting in what is described as a “reckless desire to kick Ms. Sheffield while she was down.” Stats and embellishments touting New York Yankees success, carelessly flung through various rooms of the house and serving as a wedge in what was once a satisfying marriage.

So brutal was the verbal abuse, the divorce deposition cites a Labor Day weekend incident when Joanna was folding laundry and Rob dropped the name “Bucky Dent” into a conversation for no reason whatsoever.

“He forced it,” she said. “There was no call for that.”

Rob tells a different story, saying that after the Red Sox won the second of two World Series titles in 2007, it was Joanna and Boston fans who became obnoxious.

“Talk about your bandwagon fans. Vanity license plates, patio flags, door mats, key chains, hats, clothing. Red Sox everything — and pink, what’s with all the pink? The green St. Patrick’s Day stuff, I can understand,” he said. “Where was all this silly crap when they were losing? Nobody wanted a part of it then. They finally win, what, once, twice — whatever — they finally win a title and now everyone wants to show they’re not a loser. Well, guess what? Look at the standings. Where’s your pink hat now?”

Sports psychologist B.J. Murphy explains a fundamental difference between the two fan bases lies in a difference in expectations.

“Yankee fans feed on victory and are uncomfortable, to the point of not knowing how to handle losing. Finding the process unfamiliar, they tend less to internalize failure, overlooking the value of the learning experience because they assume it’s only temporary,” he said. “Red Sox fans are all about the learning experience, all too familiar with the frustration and toils of defeat, therefore the confidence gained from winning once becomes far more gratifying than doing so 27 times. It’s very much a quality over quantity argument.”

Joanna agrees. “Try waiting 80-plus years between titles and thinking that maybe — maybe — this might be the year. Then when you finally win, it means something — 2004 was everything. The kids were too young to understand but I wanted them in front of the TV when it happened, mainly because my father and grandfather never got to see it. I never thought I would.”

Three outs from being swept in the 2004 AL Championship Series, Boston began an improbable comeback, defeating the Yankees in four straight to become the first team in major league history to overcome a 3-0 postseason series deficit. The Red Sox went on to “reverse The Curse,” sweeping St. Louis to clinch the team’s first championship in 86 years.

Memories of Bill Buckner, Aaron Boone and, yes, Bucky Dent, erased in an instant. Viewed as the greatest post-season collapse in sports history, the balance of American League power shifted from the Bronx to Yawkey Way and inside divided homes, such as the Sheffield’s, a geological fault had broken new ground. The events of the 2012 season seemingly restored the Bronx Bombers as the “Evil Empire” and the fiercest rivalry in sports is renewed, as strong as ever.

“It’s disappointing, I imagine, when your team doesn’t do well,” Rob suggests. “I suppose that’s not very enjoyable but Joanna brought a lot of this on herself. She carries a lot of negative emotion that brought us to this point. She’s angry about most anything, she’s still mad about the Babe Ruth trade.”

“I’m not mad about the Babe Ruth trade, what’s wrong with him? He said that?” Joanna countered. “That was, like, a hundred years ago. I sometimes don’t understand why I ever married that guy. I’m sorry, but that’s borderline psychotic.

“Great, you’ve won 27 world championships. Congratulations, you’ve made the easiest choice a person can make as a sports fan in America,” she added. “Being a Yankee fan is hardly a character-building decision and I want more for my children. Four titles in five years during the late 90′s? I don’t want my kids raised like that, thinking success is automatic because you’ve been outspending your opponents since the dawn of free agency.”

As the 2012 season comes to a close, the Sheffields are only beginning what’s shaping out to be a lengthy process involving custody hearings and court proceedings. Battles on the field give way to decisions made by judges which will alter the lives of each member of the family. As any attorney will affirm, divorce is not a game and there usually are no winners.

Proving the difficulty the couple faces at the outset of this arduous journey, Joanna shows a text sent to her by Rob on September 28, shortly after the separation became permanent. The brief message notes simply that it was the one-year anniversary of Boston’s elimination from the 2011 postseason, having blown a nine-game lead in September, the worst collapse in baseball history.

Rob ended the text, “Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today.”

To which Joanna texted back, “Yes, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

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© 2012, Soapy Johnson. All rights reserved.

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