BROOKLINE - When Kristine Lilly of the US Women's World Cup soccer team strikes the ball, the guys at Brookline Fire Station No. 5 cheer.
It doesn't matter where Lilly plays, be it Foxborough, Korea, or China. The firefighters tune into Lilly on a small TV set in their dispatch office or the back room between fire calls and training drills. After she won an Olympic gold medal in 2004, the guys at Station 5 huddled around her for a group photograph, which now hangs in their firehouse.
To these guys, Lilly - who is married to Brookline firefighter David Heavey - isn't just another athlete. She's a member of their family. True to the brotherhood of a firehouse, they support the player wearing number 13.
"We watch all the soccer games," says firefighter Glenn Vitorino, who works with Heavey at the brick-faced firehouse in Coolidge Corner. "She's just a phenomenal player. She has a great mind for the game. She knows where she is going, and she knows where she wants to put the ball. She's a great person, and there is nothing better than seeing someone on TV that you know."
For most of New England, it is the height of Red Sox season and the beginning of Patriots season. For Fire Station 5 in Brookline, though, the Women's World Cup team is just as important. Lilly, 36, captains the team, which is competing in China this month for the World Cup.
Lilly is in China with Heavey for the games this week, but back home - she lives across the street from the firehouse - her extended family of firefighters keeps track of her and her team's progress.
"When she is on TV, I would say every guy [here] is watching," says firefighter Mike Kelleher, who watched her team's win over Nigeria the other morning. "We all want to see Kristine play."
A New York City native who was reared in Wilton, Conn., Lilly has been playing with the national team since 1987, when she was 16. The sole remaining player from the 1991 team, she has made 331 international appearances and has competed in 90 percent of the team's games. With the retirement of Mia Hamm, Lilly has become the most visible female soccer player in the United States.
She moved to Brookline in 2001 when she joined the Boston Breakers professional soccer team. She met Heavey one day in September 2003 while walking her golden retriever, Scribner, along Babcock Street. As the couple dated, she became a regular at the firehouse, telling the guys about her international matches. When she's not traveling for games, she stops by almost daily.
"She comes by, she walks by, and she hangs," says Vitorino, who attended her wedding last October. "She is so friendly. She talks to us not like a superstar, just like a regular person. We consider her part of our family."
Firefighter Rob MacGregor also watched Lilly and her team beat Nigeria this week as he manned the station, and he plans to watch this morning during the team's match against England.
"She's here all the time. She is definitely part of the family," he says. "We don't actually gather around [to watch her]. We have work to do. We just check in on the game whenever we can. We are proud of the whole team."
Kelleher watched the same game with some of the guys in his own firehouse, Fire Station 1 in Brookline Village. He says she's an honorary member of his station house too, even though she doesn't drop by there as much.
"In a game that requires you to be at the highest level of fitness, she seems to have a nonstop motor. She seems to be always going," says Kelleher, who is a childhood friend of Heavey. Kelleher says some of the guys have gone to see Lilly play when there's a game in town.
"When you spend so much time together and one of your own and their family is involved in something, everyone gets behind it," he says.
Johnny Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.