But what about those too young to have been scarred by the heartbreaks of the past? Those for whom Bill Buckner, Bob Gibson, and Bucky Dent are just names in the record books rather than raw reminders of a summer's worth of dreams turned to ashes. As the team enters the final 13 games of the season in a typically nail-biting battle for a postseason berth, are the younger citizens of Red Sox Nation as doom-ridden as their elders? Or can they face the autumn without preparing, down deep, for a Fall?
The answer comes back confidently from 20-year-old Jon Liro in a phrase that sweeps away eons of near misses, might-have-beens, and outright suffering by Sox fans at the hands of a certain team 200 miles to the south. "I kind of tend not to look back," says Liro, a Babson College student from Longmeadow. "I know the history is out there --
a lot of Yankees fans like to bring it up -- but when the Red Sox bring their bats, they may be the best team in the Major Leagues." Ah, youth! Welcome to the generation gap, Red Sox style. Let the baby boomers and senior citizens fret about 85 years of postseason failure; let them bemoan the weekend losses that, heading into last night's game against Tampa Bay, had cut the Sox' lead in the wild-card race to half a game over Seattle. For the apple-cheeked cohort that had not yet come of age when the Sox last reached the World Series in 1986 and who are convinced that this team is special, there is much less reason or room for doubt. To them, dwelling on the past is so . . . 20th century.
Take Jeff Bonnayer, 17, of North Brookfield. In eager anticipation of a world championship, Bonnayer has filled his room with posters of Manny, Nomar, and Co. "They have the capabilities to go to the World Series and win it," he insists. The older generation is "always talking about how much they fail, but most of my friends are fans, and they think they'll do it." Of course, that's easy for him and his friends to say, since, as Bonnayer concedes, "We haven't seen too many bad things."
By contrast, Mike Cosgrove, who is twice Bonnayer's age, has seen plenty of bad things. As he stands on Yawkey Way outside Fenway Park, mere yards from a banner commemorating the Sox' last World Series victory in 1918, the 35-year-old electrician from Boston vividly recalls Oct. 25, 1986. On that fateful day, he was at a friend's house in Roslindale watching the sixth game of the 1986 World Series. The Sox were one strike away from the championship. And then: "We just watched the whole thing unfold," he recalls with a shudder. "We were all celebrating because we essentially had it won. And then Bob Stanley came in and started throwing like a wild man. . . ."
Cosgrove would like to be optimistic about the Sox' chance to win the Series this year. He really would. But like many others with vivid memories of previous postseason failures, he admits that even if the Sox make it to the playoffs, he expects them to fold sooner rather than later. "It's bred in the bone," he laments. "It's so embedded in us as Red Sox fans that it's hard to overcome."
That tendency among older fans to perpetually look back in angst, to expect the worst, is puzzling to younger or newer Red Sox followers. In dozens of interviews, fans 30 and under speak of it in tones of wonderment, as though struggling to decode a tribal ritual. "I listen to the radio once in a while, but I don't like the negativity," says Garrett Tingle, 22, of Cambridge, a teacher's aide at a special-needs preschool who also works as a scorekeeper inside Fenway Park's left-field wall. "I don't want to pigeonhole anyone, but it's probably guys that are mad at other things in their lives."
Lyle Knight, a 30-year-old computer technician who began rooting for the Sox four years ago when he moved from Michigan to Watertown, says he is "a little surprised that people aren't more optimistic. I understand the Curse, but [being optimistic] is the way to break the Curse. This team wasn't here 30 years ago."
As Knight's words suggest, younger fans are fully aware of the Curse of the Bambino: the half-serious, half-joking notion -- which caught on after it was put forward in a 1990 book of that title by the Globe's Dan Shaughnessy and is the subject of an HBO special tonight -- that a curse has hung over the Boston franchise ever since it sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920. There is considerable compassion among younger fans for the suffering of their elders. "My dad gets so into it, and then he gets so upset when they lose," confides Lexi Passetto, 20, of Great Barrington. "Every year he's like, `This is the year.' We're like, `Dad, you have to be careful.' "
Some admit that they're baffled that any franchise could go 85 years without a world championship, and some will even quietly acknowledge that the team's ill-starred history has them cautious about this year. "I'm a fan, and I want to see them go all the way, but I don't think they will," says Kristi Brassard, 25, a landscaper from Townsend.
Adds Corey McGovern, 20, of Warwick, R.I.: "It always happens at the end of the year; they start to choke up. And the Yankees always seem to put it together."
But many other younger fans tend to echo the sentiments expressed by Boston slugger David Ortiz, who declared last week that "people gotta believe in the Sox." (They are less fond of another quote, from George Santayana: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.") They tick off the reasons for optimism: the explosive offensive firepower the Sox have displayed, their never-say-die comebacks, the fact that they're still in the playoff hunt even though ace Pedro Martinez has only 12 wins. "This year, with the lineup they have, they have a chance to go all the way," says Miguel Camargo, 24, of Watertown. To younger fans, the fate that befell earlier teams has nothing to do with the current edition, with fan favorites such as Ortiz, Kevin Millar, and Bill Mueller. "You've got Millar doing the rally karoake thing; you've got guys with corn rows in their hair just for the heck of it," Bonnayer says. "That's chemistry."
Against that feel-good backdrop, the obsession with grim history is, in the words of 21-year-old Rich Roda, "more of an older-person thing." This year's Sox seem to have conquered the skepticism among some young fans. "Whenever I'm ready to give up on them and they seem done, they seem to put together a winning streak," says Eric Rackauskas, 22, a junior at UMass-Boston. After a recent loss to the Yankees, Roda notes, "I expected them to stumble next week, do the usual September thing. But they battled back. If they get in as a wild card, they should be able to beat anyone."
Including . . . the Yankees?
"The Yankees, I think they're done," boldly asserts Mike Muccio, 22, of Northborough. Even though the Yanks held a 5 1/2-game lead over the Sox going into last night's game, Gotham will falter in the postseason, Muccio predicts. "They just don't have it," he says. "They have a lot of holes." Famous last words, perhaps, but Muccio speaks from a dual perspective: Until he was 10 years old, he lived in Manhattan and rooted for the pinstripers before moving to Massachusetts, when he took up the Red Sox cause.
Ron Olson has been carrying that heavy burden a lot longer. At 56, a Red Sox cap on his head, the engineer from West Brookfield speaks proudly of the scorecard he still has from his visit to Fenway Park on Sept. 16, 1965, when Sox hurler Dave Morehead threw a no-hitter. There have been a lot of disappointments since then, but this year Olson is allowing himself to dream of a world championship. He suggests the possibility that even in a Nation where pessimism is not just a birthright but a duty, a little optimism can cross generational lines; that maybe, for once, history can be on Boston's side.
"For the first time in many years, I have totally positive thoughts," says Olson. "I do think there's a grand design, and we're waiting for it to come up our way. And it will."
Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.