'Our Red Sox,' Still?

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When last I visited with you in this electronic space to chat about our Red Sox, they had just dispatched the Cardinals in summary fashion and had claimed the world championship that had eluded them for 86 years. I had just come off a second straight year chasing a hyper-harrowing seven-game ALCS against the Yankees, witnessing the wild shifts of fate from the cheap seats (well, not so cheap). And then, with the World Series win—with blessed deliverance—I was feeling pretty euphoric about all things Bosox. When friends would inevitably ask, "Aren't you going to miss the waiting? The angst? How can you live in a world where the Red Sox aren't snake-bitten also-rans?" I would quickly reply: "Don't be silly. This is the way it should be. This is the new normal."

Little did I realize just how thoroughly life would, in fact, change for us lifelong Red Sox fans. We were newly fashionable, for one thing—people wrote books about us, people made movies about us, people wanted to talk to us. We had lots and lots of brand new friends. I learned, not long after Doug Mientkiewicz caught the toss from Keith Foulke to finish off the Cards—a ball that Doug would spend much of the off-season trying to keep as his own, a ball now in the possession of the Red Sox (and Doug is, via trade, now a Met; make of that what you will)—I learned a new definition of the term "backpacker." It's not in Webster's and I doubt it will be soon, but it's has useful application in the New World Order.

My friend, Jane, explained it to me. We were talking at a special convening—coven?—of the BLOHARDS (Benevolent Loyal Order of Honorable and Ancient Red Sox Diehard Sufferers of New York), which is a 40-year-old behind-enemy-lines fraternity with a suddenly burgeoning membership. The conclave had been organized in a rush by club founder and grand poobah Jim Powers, and publicized on our website by Jim Shea. Powers had been contacted, in the aftermath of the glorious occasion, by the Boston brass to see if the BLOHARDS would like to gaze upon, and pose with, the championship trophy. This dazzling hardware was to begin its triumphal procession in Providence on Thursday, and needed to be back in Foxboro to be trotted out at the Pats game by Curt Schilling and Johnny Damon on Sunday night, but Dr. Charles Steinberg, the Sox' impresario without peer, could escort it to Gotham for a Friday p.m. audience—if so desired. The BLOHARDS, two hundred strong on this November night, so desired. Of course Jane and I were among the faithful.

"Isn't it grand," I said to her as I sipped Jack Daniels.

" 'Tis," she said. She's a WASP from Wellesley, but was into her third red wine, and some deep-in-the-bones Hibernian poetry was surfacing. "I wish Bo could see this."

"How is Bo?" I asked about my godson, who had just begun his freshman year at Wake Forest, where he was hoping against hope for a walk-on nod from the terrific baseball program there. Bo had been at two or three of the recent post-season games, as had his mom, and was a true-blue Red Sox devotee.

"He's great," Jane said. "I drove down to see him over the weekend. We had a great time. He took me out to the quad at one point and it was totally filled with toilet paper. He explained that they 'paper the quad' whenever there's a big win, like against Duke in football. I asked is they had beat Duke and he said, 'Mom, this was for the Red Sox.'

" 'They're backpackers, Mom.' "

A backpacker in this sense is, apparently, a Johnny-come-lately, a front-runner, a fair-weather fan. They live in Swampscott and Matapan and Cheshire, Vermont, and Rumford, Maine, and Fairfield, Connecticut, and even, apparently, in the American South. From what I've seen on the streets of Manhattan in the last four months—unless the bright-red-B cap is some new fashion statement, they are proliferating in New York City, too—seriously beyond the DMZ.

"They're backpackers." Bo sneered the explanation to his mother with a fierce disdain.

I don't mind them near so much as Bo seems to. Chipper as I am about affaires du Sox these days, I welcome all into the fold. But, yes, Bo's certainly right: There are fans now sporting scarlet hose who, only yesterday, were loyalists of the Tribe, or the fish, or even—as I've just speculated—the Yanks. It's good to be king, and it's good to be a winner, and it's good to travel along with the kings and winners.

My off-season progressed from that BLOHARDS session to weeks of monitoring the maneuverings around the Hot Stove. If you to ask me, things didn't go so well for our side. We didn't get Pavano, we didn't get Radke, we didn't get Hudson. We let Derek depart without so much as a fare-thee-well, and lost Martinez to the Mets—which mightn't have been such a bad thing, no matter how he performs in Queens. (The bet here is that he'll be swell for a year or two, especially against those NL lineups, but by year five he'll be cooked to a crisp. And he'll begin to act up in year three, as is his wont.) Gabe Kapler certainly deserved to play every day somewhere, and if that somewhere needed to be Japan, well, then, good for you, Gabe, and thanks for the memories. Orlando Cabrera brought flash to the field and fun to the clubhouse, and we'll learn down the road whether we made the right move at short. All these new pitchers—Clement, Miller, Mantei, our old whipping boy Wells—weren't they all dinged up, only yesterday? Our pitching roster could be the in-patient list at a Newton-Wellesley rehab clinic by July.

But, hey, young Theo had brought us a title after 86 years without, and so: Trust in Theo. In Bill We Trust, for Mr. Belichick delivered unto us a third Super Bowl win in four campaigns during the recent Sox' off-season, and so In Bill We Trust—and, now, In Theo We Must.

That sure was exciting: The third Super Bowl win, Brady and Brewski and Two-way Brown in exultation. But as I say, for many of us New England-born-and-bred, it came in what is largely considered the Red Sox' off-season. Our Golden Boy quarterback, who's starring this weekend on Saturday Night Live (we own New York at the moment), complained to his dad that the Pats could be in the middle of a seven-game win streak, and the Globe would lead with a bit about the Sox moving the 40th man on their winter roster.

Johnny Damon got married in the off-season and the AC-DC front man sang at the wedding. It was very glitzy; Johnny has moved over from SI to People magazine and the cover of EW. He said he wants to be an actor one day, and no one doubts he will be. The Sox as World Champions are kind of the anti-Pats—Tom Terrific and a bunch of hardworking lunch-pail teammates. The Sox are cartoon characters and superheroes. Ortiz, Ramirez, Schilling: larger than life in personality and, in Curt's case, with an ego to match. Damon's everyone's darling. Varitek is like a Cooperstown statue of "Catcher" and, now, "Captain" too. Arroyo, who starred as a hard-rock singer at Peter Gammons' annual charity fundraiser in Boston in January—Arroyo and his cornrows, and now he's got a CD of Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots covers coming out in July. Theo himself was on guitar that night: a Yalie GM rock star.

Everyone around this team is somebody. "Do you think," I mused to a friend as the Sox bandwagon kept gaining steam through January and February, the SI Sportsmen of the Year Award in the satchel, Schilling on FOX every night giving opinions on every issue from the Republican Party's the way to go to why the Steelers should cream the Patriots in Pittsburgh. (Curt bugged me more than a time or two during the off-season.) "Do you think that we're turning into one of those national teams? Like the Cowboys or Lakers or Yankees? I wonder how the Sox are playing to the folks in Kansas.

"Or is it still a New England thing?"

There was no clear answer to the question in spring training, though there were further hints. The Queer Eye for the Straight Guy guys visited Fort Myers, and remade Johnny, Bronson and three or four others (show to air in June.) That was the biggest news out of the camp, though a few smaller items were interesting: The Sox were dedicated to remaining forevermore in Fenway (great!) even as future renovations added seats here and there, and ticket prices—already baseball's highest—continued to escalate. Schilling wouldn't be ready for the opener in Yankee Stadium and Wells would start in his place. The rotation would set up so that Tim Wakefield, the 10-year vet—longest tenure on the team—would pitch the home opener at the Fens, on the mid-April day when the Sox would receive their rings. This pleased me no end. I feel proud like a parent (and fearful like a parent) whenever Wakefield toes the rubber and prepares to lob that flutterball of his. He's my favorite on the team, and has been for some time. More on Tim shortly.

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