Married to the Red Sox

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Rick Wilking / Reuters

Members of the Boston Red Sox celebrate after they defeated the Colorado Rockies in Game 4 to win Major League Baseball's World Series in Denver, Oct. 28, 2007.

Every time I uncap a beer — and I do so often from April to October, televised baseball being the primary pastime where I live in New England — the bottle opener plays the radio call of the Red Sox 2004 World Series win. The opener has an electronic chip inside that makes removing a cap almost operatic, the way Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez does when running the bases — throwing off his helmet as if it were filled with angry hornets.

My wife's Uncle Pinky has the same bottle opener, and it went off spontaneously in a kitchen drawer this summer, so that a disoriented Pinky — roused from sleep at 3 o'clock in the morning — thought Red Sox announcer Joe Castiglione had broken into his house. And here's the thing: Pinky was disappointed to learn that he hadn't.

Four years and two world championships ago, I married into an extended family of Red Sox sickos, each of whom would relish the Red Sox radio guy invading his home in the middle of the night to describe, in a fevered delivery, a bouncer back to the mound.

My wife's 92-year-old grandma has an ancient Sox bobblehead that can be made to nod for minutes on end, like one of George Steinbrenner's yes men.

When the Sox clinched the American League East in September, my sister-in-law called to say that Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon's bare butt had just made a cameo appearance on live TV during the team's clubhouse celebration. ("How was it?" asked my wife, and her sister replied, "Not bad.")

It's the only crack these people will ever acknowledge in a Sox player. As a Minnesotan exiled to this East Coast Elba, I was at best an agnostic in Red Sox Nation — a non-believer who found the franchise and its fans a little too precious. The local liquor stores carry "Schilling Chardonnay" and "Manny Being Merlot." In my days as a sportswriter, I had nosed the bouquet of many a Sox player, and never thought of pairing one with Brie.

None of which really mattered until my wife and I had children, born into captivity like panda bears. Now my two-year-old daughter has three Sox caps — pink, lavender and shamrocked models — despite having, as I tried to argue, just the one head.

One afternoon this summer, when my wife changed our 1-year-old and decried her "big poopy," our 2-year-old said from the next room: "Mom, it's Big Papi." Which is when I began trying, for the sake of the children, to embrace the Red Sox, whose clutch-hitting slugger, Big Papi, is impossible to dislike.

I'm still not comfortable with historians and Harvard professors declaiming in documentaries about their love of the Olde Towne Team. And the Sox themselves have been so slovenly — helmets covered in pine tar, caps caked in resin, their sweatshirt-loving manager never seen in his uniform top — even Oscar Madison is embarrassed.

But my half-Cuban, half-Polish father-in-law — he's one part que pasa, one part kielbasa — loves their cancer-surviving, Castro-despising, Cuban-American third baseman, Mike Lowell. And I can see why. He's as humble a World Series MVP as there has ever been.

My wife has a ball signed by former Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, which she keeps under glass like the Hope diamond. In Boston, baseball is all about hope, and one ancient diamond. And so my wife is still waiting for a reply to the fan letter she mailed to Fisk, care of Fenway Park, in 1977.

Me? My favorite Sox are the Dropkick Murphys, the Celtic punk band who played their ass-kicking anthem, "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," on the Fenway grass before Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, accompanied by teenaged Irish step dancers. After the Sox 11-2 annihilation of the Indians that night, Papelbon stripped down and did his own Irish step-dancing in the infield: Riverdance in underpants.

And it occurred to me then that for my daughters, Siobhan and Maeve —with their shamrocked Sox gear and their unpronounceable Gaelic names —this is home.

My father-in-law was raised in New Britain, Conn., smack on the Munson-Nixon line that divides fans of the Yankees (and ex-catcher Thurman Munson) from fans of the Red Sox (and ex-rightfielder Trot Nixon).

He threw in with the Sox and raised his family in Southwick, Mass., not far from where I'm now raising my family, in a town where every other trick-or-treater this week — as is the case every year — was dreadlocked like Manny Ramirez.

The Red Sox have literally been knocking on my door for four years now. It's time I let them in.