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BRIAN MCGRORY

Nagging doubts

Just one quick question amid the celebratory champagne and the calls of congratulations from old friends: Why doesn't this feel quite as good as it should?

Oh, don't get me wrong. It's great. How could it not be? We're the best in the world. The memories of Boone and Buckner and Dent are now nostalgic, rather than tragic. We are thrown together, every one of us, in a historic event that many of us believed would never take place.

Yet, something nags. Maybe it's me. Probably it's me. But when Keith Foulke made that last flip to Doug Mientkiewicz, the airborne ball seemed to carry not just history and a sense of identity, but a future that I'm not so sure I'm prepared to embrace. Everything changed, never again to be the same.

Part of it, no doubt, is the ease with which it all happened, the stunning anticlimax of playing St. Louis after New York. If a World Series win was this easy, why hadn't we won two dozen of them before?

But there's something else, something more bothersome. Before Wednesday night's win, I was reasonably certain of my place in this world. I was a loser and so were you, tethered to a team that often teased but never triumphed. It defined us, this annual, aching heartbreak. In some odd way, it nourished us. And as much as anything else, it bonded us. We had commonality in complaint.

No place in this world -- outside, perhaps, Chicago -- have sports fans devoted so much to reap so little. Didn't matter. Most of us privately regarded ourselves as better people for it. It's a source of not inconsequential pride that we could lose every autumn, but embrace every spring.

We believed, as colleague Dan Shaughnessy wrote so poignantly early this week, in something we had never before seen: a Red Sox World Series win. In that light, the Nation was almost frighteningly like religion, based entirely on faith. The cement has been defeat.

For years, the team has walked to the threshold of glory, with Carlton Fisk's and Bernie Carbo's Game Six home runs, with 1978 and 1986, with seventh games in each of the prior four World Series appearances, with the Yankees last year.

And now, for the first time in any of our lifetimes, we've crossed to the other side. And who's there to greet us? Are those the Florida Marlins handing us a glass of welcoming champagne? The Anaheim Angels? The Arizona Diamondbacks? Oh, no, we're rubbing elbows with George Steinbrenner?

Are we really, truly, suddenly, just like everybody else? I miss the Cubs already.

This realization caused me to wake up yesterday morning, my first as a World Series champion, feeling a little bit like James Stockdale in that 1992 vice presidential debate when he asked: "Who am I? And why am I here?"

Don't get me wrong. I'm positive this is a good thing. I've rooted for this team my entire life. I've waited for this moment as fervently as anyone I know. My back feels great now that the monkey has fallen to the floor.

And I acknowledge that with a Red Sox win, the world is imbued with possibility rather than inevitability. Pretty soon, you're going to be telling me that the Big Dig is just about done.

Yet, I feel a little bit like a dog whose just been let out of his backyard run. If no one minds, I think I'll just lie on the front porch.

Defeatism has always been my mooring, providing me a sense of place. The newfound freedom is glorious, the future endless, but you'll forgive a bit of apprehension.

Sox CEO Larry Lucchino called yesterday to say everything was going to be just fine in the Nation as the team determinedly marches across a new frontier.

"We are in transition from star-crossed to a different but equally embraceable future," Lucchino said. "Never underestimate the appeal of a winning baseball team in a beautiful park."

A winning team. A world champion team. I keep repeating the amazing words. I am a winner. I am a winner. Now if I could get my voice not to crack.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

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