NOBODY who supports St Mirren and Scotland could ever be accused of being a glory-hunter. But I got lucky with the Boston Red Sox.

It was the summer of 2004 and a hot one in Massachusetts. My wife and I were able to tag on a few days in Boston on the back of a family wedding in Canada and it became impossible not to get swept up in the city’s baseball obsession.

The sports pull-out of the Globe newspaper pushed under the hotel door every morning was rammed with articles about the team. Every bar or restaurant you went into was showing the game on a television somewhere. Some patrons eagerly absorbed every pitch and at-bat. Others just liked the comfort of having it on in as background noise.

The Red Sox were on the road when we were in town but we took the chance to take a tour of their fabled Fenway Park stadium, stood atop the Green Monster, touched the Pesky Pole and sat in the press box that hung right over the baseball diamond. History dripped from every corner.

The Red Sox hadn’t won the World Series since 1918 but the chat around town was that this was going to be their year. They had been saying that for a while, though. Ever since Babe Ruth was traded to the dreaded Yankees, thus sparking the so-called Curse of the Bambino. But this year had a good feel about it.

That was me hooked. Returning home, we signed up for the channel showing the baseball on British TV and continued to follow their progress deep into the wee small hours most nights. And, sure enough, it turned out to be their year. Champions for the first time in 86 years. Talk about timing. I hadn’t really earned the right to celebrate but I did so anyway. Finally, a team that wins things.

We went back the following year to take in a game for my 30th birthday. Social convention dictates it’s frowned upon to drink in the street of a morning but fine to do it within the confines of a sporting arena.

A daytime game at Fenway served as the ideal way to mark the landmark with beers and baseball. Luck ran out at that point with the Red Sox being battered 12-3 by the Oakland Athletics but the experience just added to my growing obsession.

I’ve been a long-distance fan ever since. And so, in this strangest of sporting years, it was great to see Major League Baseball returning to action this week in a season shortened to 60 games from the usual 162. And no fans inside the stadia to watch any of it in person.

Of course, the Covid-

enforced restrictions were not the only hot topic at the start of the new season.

The Black Lives Matter campaign has sparked debate and protest throughout the States on the back of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

And, years on from former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick being effectively ostracized in certain National Football League circles for taking a knee during the national anthem as a protest against perceived racial injustice, other athletes are now showing a willingness to make a stance, too.

Many baseball players made that gesture ahead of the season openers, with Jackie Bradley Jr one of the Red Sox players to get down on one knee before and during the traditional pre-match playing of the anthem.

Their opponents, the Baltimore Orioles, showed greater solidarity, all going down on one knee before the anthem and linking arms during it.

Not everyone is happy about the protests. Scroll through Red Sox social media and you won’t have to wait long to find someone – often wearing a MAGA hat in their profile – unhappy about their club displaying a Black Lives Matter banner. Some have gone as far to say they won’t go back to Fenway again. Armchair fans are threatening to burn their armchairs. It’s all a bit unseemly.

Still, the inevitable backlash from some quarters hopefully won’t stop leading sport stars from continuing to use their status and reputation to highlight causes that deserve wider attention. The get-out used to be that sport and politics – in whatever form – shouldn’t mix but that no longer washes.

Athletes don’t always ask to be role models but it comes with the job alongside the adulation and the big salary. If these public figures with the huge social media following and public spotlight aren’t using their voices to raise awareness, regardless of the issue, then they aren’t using their position to its full capacity.

And they ought to be encouraged, rather than discouraged, by their clubs and governing bodies. St Mirren’s Jon Obika and Rangers’ Jermain Defoe have been among those calling for the SPFL to mark the start of the new season by allowing players to take a knee in support of the BLM movement.

The league has responded by saying it is down to the individual’s perspective, not quite the show of solidarity seen in England but better than nothing. It will be interesting to see how many join their team-mates in making that gesture next weekend. Scottish football is experiencing relentless turbulence like never before but a rare show of togetherness could go a long way.