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MARTIN F. NOLAN

Not my father's Red Sox

HE GREW UP in a Maine mill town, but in 1918, after World War I and his honorable discharge from the Army, my father headed to Boston. The city's job market drew him, as did its cultural life, plus the reigning World Champion Boston Red Sox and their star southpaw pitcher, George Herman Ruth.

Neil Nolan started rooting for the Red Sox in 1919. At Fenway Park, or beside a Philco radio in a Roxbury kitchen, in front of a TV in a Dorchester parlor, his hopes would swell and shrivel. After Bucky Dent's fly ball drifted over the wall in 1978, my father said to me: "Marty, my boy, I don't think the Sox are going to make it again in my lifetime. And I'm not too sure about yours."

At 87 he went to the Grandstand in the Sky, the year before you-know-what went through you-know-whose legs. His experience has oft moved me to observe, "The Red Sox killed my father, and they're coming after me." David Halberstam quoted this testament of filial devotion in "The Teammates," his bigger-than-baseball story of Dick Flavin and my other heroes from the Truman era. Strangers on the streets of distant cities have since shaken my hand, affirming the sentiment.

Halberstam is the Thucydides of the Athens-Sparta saga known as Red Sox-Yankees because of his "Summer of '49." Focusing on Boston's managerial decisions was a definite change of pace for the author who wrote "The Best and the Brightest." When David asked what the name Denny Galehouse meant to me, I sputtered fearsome oaths, recalled physical pain, and recited Denny's unimpressive stats after manager Joe McCarthy chose him to start the 1948 playoff game against the Cleveland Indians. (Picture Terry Francona, saying "B.K. Kim's my man for this job.") The 1949 season ended at Yankee Stadium when Jerry Coleman blooped a single in front of Red Sox right fielder Al Zarilla. This tantalizingly last-minute pattern festered for decades. But on a magical Sunday night so long and so short a time ago, Bill Mueller's single scoring Dave Roberts began to disperse the Stygian gloom.

The result is a happy ending saluted worldwide, for Red Sox Nation has long been a global phenomenon. I think of Dr. Tommy Durant healing refugees in the most desolate and dangerous corners of the world, his Red Sox cap a badge of cheerful hope. My brother Joe served the Navy for 30 years in two wars, always in touch with the feats of Frank Malzone, Clyde Vollmer, and Willie Tasby. In Tucson or Tblisi, in Boise or Beirut, I have lunged for the local paper or the International Herald Trib to scan the box scores.

So this global victory is for Neil and Joe Nolan, Doc Durant, Nancy McDermott, George V. Higgins, Ted Williams, Jackie Jensen, Tony Conigliaro, and all the others now gone who waited and waited. We have trudged through the alphabet, from names starting with Z -- Zarilla, Zauchin, Zupcic -- to those ending with one -- Martinez, Ortiz, Ramirez.

The Red Sox have supposedly been New England's team because they have met the low expectations of a Calvinist climate that toughened the Pilgrims and those who followed. November is now no longer a grim tale by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This winter of discontent is made glorious summer by the defeat of New York. After a sweep of an excellent St. Louis Cardinals team, few can subscribe to that old Irish saying: "If it were raining soup, we'd be outside with forks instead of spoons."

Another team characteristic has been its literary cachet, at least since John Updike christened Fenway the "lyric little bandbox" in The New Yorker while immortalizing Teddy Ballgame's final at-bat in 1960.

Literary folk, thoughtful, concerned, and often Manhattan-based, have warned us many times that a World Series victory would dissipate all of that exquisitely poignant suffering and impose the painful price of ordinariness. I am in receipt of a solicitous note from an eminent legal scholar who's also a Yankee fan. "What will the city of Boston and Red Sox fans have to live for?" he asks. "What will be left of the essential motivating force that has shaped the modern character of the entire region?"

At last we have an answer. Let's try it the other way. Take the poignant pain and stuff it. Let's see how we like winning. If we like it, let's win again.

Martin F. Nolan, a former Globe reporter, is a Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

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