Red Sox fans from the Vineyard to Presque Isle, Me., celebrated a second World Series championship in four years this past Sunday as the hometown nine defeated the upstart but ultimately vulnerable Colorado Rockies in a four-game sweep of the fall classic.
It wasn’t long ago that Red Sox Nation was a Third World country ravaged each fall when the team coughed up division leads, faded from contention or endured painful postseason losses at the hands of villains with names like Bucky, Buckner and Boone.
To borrow from writer and Sox fan John Updike, the previous relationship between team and fans was no mere summer romance: it was a marriage composed of spats, mutual disappointments and a mellowing hoard of shared memories.
But with their World Series win in 2004 and now their second a scant three seasons later, the Red Sox find themselves in the strange position of being the model franchise for major league baseball. Where once the Sox were more the kid brother fighting for respect, they are now the leader of the gang; where once other teams kicked sand in the Sox face, they are now the bully of the block.
Across the Island this past week, Island fans celebrated in this brave new world where no Red Sox fan under the age of four goes without multiple world titles. Signs of the fandom were everywhere over the past two weeks: Sox hats in town hall in Tisbury, Manny and Big Papi jerseys on the streets, bleary-eyed employees recovering from long nights spent in front of the television.
Red Sox gear flew off the shelves at local sporting good stores, while beer and liquor sales spiked dramatically for all the playoff games. “The Red Sox in the playoffs are good for beer drinking and good for business,” said one package store employee.
Afternoon Cape Air flights from the Vineyard to Boston during the World Series games at Fenway Park were filled to capacity last week, forcing airline officials to put on extra service they quickly dubbed the Red Sox Express.
At Reliable Market in Oak Bluffs, owner and Red Sox fan Bobby Pacheco served as an information booth for his customers throughout the playoffs, patiently answering questions about the game’s starters, weather conditions, injuries and starting line-ups.
But this year the Red Sox was markedly different than three years ago, when fans still worried about the Curse of the Bambino and hung on every pitch with the pressures of years of long summers and short Octobers.
“This was even better [than 2004] because at least I could enjoy this one,” said longtime fan and Oak Bluffs resident Bill Potter. “Three years ago I wondered how they were going to screw it up . . . but this year I could actually sit back and enjoy it.”
Mr. Potter said he wasn’t even slightly deterred when the Sox fell behind 3-1 in the American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians. Mr. Potter saw five games in the series against Cleveland, and was at game four in Jacob’s Field when the Sox fell behind by two games.
“I wasn’t worried at all,” he said brashly. “We had [Josh] Beckett pitching game five and everyone knew we weren’t going to lose at home [in games six and seven]. We had them the whole way.”
Although Mr. Potter missed the nimble outing by Beckett in game five, he did score tickets to game seven at Fenway three nights later.
After the Sox beat the Indians and were celebrating on the field, a funny thing happened. When star closer Jonathan Papelbon went to left fielder Manny Ramirez, he pulled off his teammate’s cap and hurled it about six rows back of the stands where Mr. Potter was sitting with his buddies.
A melee ensued, but when the dust cleared Mr. Potter had wrested away the hat from other determined fans. And the kicker is that Manny Ramirez just happens to be the favorite player of his five-year-old daughter Chesca. “I knew I had to [get the hat] for Chesca; it was fate,” he said.
Young Chesca has since brought the hat into school for show and tell, and it will be now be kept among a growing collection of memorabilia in the Potter home that includes three Manny Ramirez autographs and a baseball thrown into the stands by Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo during game four of the championship series.
Mr. Potter said he has fought the urge to wear the hat himself.
“It’s Chesca’s hat . . . it’s got her DNA on it already. She saw her first game at Fenway when she was only year-and-a-half when she saw Nomar [Garciaparra] hit a home run; she’s definitely a Red Sox fan,” he said.
Another Island resident with a connection to the World Series is Edgartown resident Linda Jackson, who purchased a sectional couch from Jordan’s Furniture last spring during a promotion that promised a full rebate of their purchase price paid if the Red Sox won the 2007 World Series.
Ms. Jackson said she largely forgot about the promotion until August when the Red Sox lead in the American League East hovered near 10 games. When the Sox won their division she was confident the rebate was as good as hers, although her husband Paul Hudson was less certain. “He was a little more cynical but I felt that sectional was as good as ours,” she said.
When the Sox finally sewed up the series on Sunday, the couple found themselves basking in a piece of the Sox spotlight.
“People were calling us to congratulate almost like we won the series. It was a little surreal,” she said.
Many Islanders agreed this second World Series title was a bit surreal. During game seven of the American League Championship last Sunday at the Wharf Pub in Edgartown, one Sox fan stared in disbelief as Cleveland’s Kenny Lofton held up at third on a base hit when it was obvious he could have scored easily.
“That wouldn’t have happened before [the Sox won] in 2004,” he said.
When Cleveland hit into a double play two pitches later to strand Lofton at third and preserve a one-run lead for the Sox, the same fan commented: “We get all the breaks now. It’s like we have this reversed curse power over other teams.”
Chilmark resident Philip Derick, who works in the public relations department for the Red Sox, agrees it is a new era for Red Sox Nation.
“The 2004 championship was about getting rid of 86 years of angst . . . this year was about enjoying the ride in comfort,” he said.
Mr. Derick rode in the Red Sox victory parade through Boston on Tuesday in a float for the team’s front-office personnel. While he said the fans in the Hub were excited during the recent parade, the event was not as cathartic as it was in 2004.
“But they were just as loud and just as enthusiastic and it was just as meaningful,” he said.