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ONCE A FAN, ALWAYS...

From The Bennington Banner, Oct. 3, 2007

By Mark E. Rondeau — Staff Writer

As a 40-something Red Sox fan surrounded in the Banner newsroom by Sox fans 10-20 years younger, I sometimes feel like an old man.

If I say something like: “Now, Luis Tiant — there was a money pitcher,” I’m likely to be greeted with silence and slight nods. My colleagues don’t remember what he did for the Red Sox in the 1970s.

It was the same with me 20-plus years ago when an older fan would reminisce about the Impossible Dream season of 1967. The Red Sox made it to the World Series that year after years of bad teams. I would smile at my fellow fan, nod and let him enjoy his memories.

I didn’t remember any of it. I was five in ’67 and a lot more interested in playing with my Matchbox cars and in digging holes in the backyard than in watching baseball.

The first year I really followed the Red Sox was 1972. I experienced then the Sox legacy, stretching back to 1918, of always falling short in the end.

That summer was exciting, with Tiant, twice-released and picked up by the Red Sox, unexpectedly winning 15 games.

But in the race to win the American League East against the Detroit Tigers, aging shortstop Luis Aparicio — elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984 — twice fell down rounding third base during the crucial game of the season and the Sox finished half a game behind. Welcome to the Trail of Tears.

More than three decades of fun and futility followed until on the evening of Oct. 27, 2004 I was standing in the Pitcher’s Mound Pub in North Adams, Mass. The Red Sox led the St. Louis Cardinals three games to none in the World Series and — pinch me — were about the win the World Series. I was there as a stringer for The North Adams Transcript, ready to get fan reaction to this historic occasion.

The well-oiled crowd in the pub greeted the final Cardinal out with screams and chants and delirious jumping up and down.  Next to me a young man in a leg brace pointed his crutches high in the air and was leaping unaided. To hell with journalistic objectivity: I had my tape recorder on but was jumping up and down and cackling with joy like everybody else.

But what do you do after a miracle? I was certain I would never see the Red Sox win the World Series, and they did. For me it took some of the old zing out of being a fan. We destroyed the Yankees, beat the Curse and won the Series. Now what?

I still watch and root. But the last couple seasons, I’ve found the ever-increasing media and marketing hype surrounding the Sox hard to take.

During the spring, for instance, one would have thought that new Sox pitcher Daisuke “Dice-K” Matsuzaka was the second coming of Lefty Grove rather than the serviceable, middle-of-the-rotation pitcher he has turned out to be.

I haven’t officially joined Red Sox Nation — I feel I’m grandfathered in — nor do I care who is elected president of it. I don’t visit Red Sox Web sites. I’m not into Wally, the Rem-Dog or Sox Appeal, and I haven’t even seen a game at Fenway since last century (1999).

But when it gets to this time of year and the Sox are in the playoffs and the Yankees are in the mix, I feel the old excitement. To hell with the hype, the steroids and the salaries, the game on the field is still beautiful and the Red Sox are still my team. Play ball!

The Red Sox take on the Angels tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the first game of the Division Series.
 
(Photo: Dwight Evans, spring training, late 1970s. Now, there was a rightfielder! Mark E. Rondeau) 
 
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