ROCKLAND - For years, lifelong Red Sox fans wanted their team to win the World Series so they could finally go to the grave in peace. Now, they can do it encased in the team's logo as well.
Yes, the officially licensed Red Sox casket has arrived. The team logo is embroidered on the soft velvet of the lining and pillow, each of which is as white as a home uniform on Opening Day. The logo also appears on the exterior of the casket, which is made of high-gloss 18-gauge steel accented with baseball bat-style wood, tassels, and polished chrome - more Cadillac than bullpen car, headed for the hereafter.
"It's really a beautiful thing," said Dan Biggins, 28, co-director of Magoun-Biggins Funeral Home in Rockland, which recently took delivery of the first Sox casket, serial number 0001. "It's really neat."
The casket is manufactured by Eternal Image, a Michigan company started about five years ago on the notion that branded funeral products could make money and fill an overlooked need. The founder, who hatched the idea after looking unsuccessfully on the Internet for a 1967 Ford Mustang casket for himself, spent the next few years persuading well-known brands - including the Vatican Library, the American Kennel Club, and Star Trek - to enter licensing agreements.
Major League Baseball products are Eternal Image's bestsellers. The company introduced its ballclub urns early last year; the team-logo caskets will become available to the wider market this month. (Magoun-Biggins, owned by avid Sox fans, had been promised the first.) Not surprisingly, the Yankees and Red Sox urns have been locked in a close race for the sales lead - ahead of all other teams and products.
"That's very respectable, especially up against the Vatican," said Clint Mytych, 27, founder and president of Eternal Image. Through the end of the company's fiscal second quarter in 2008, about 330 Yankees urns had been sold, and about 325 for the Sox, Mytych said.
The company's die-cast urns for cremated remains include a home-plate base and a baseball in a clear dome that can be signed by family and friends. The suggested retail price is $799. The caskets carry a suggested retail price of $4,499.
Mytych first displayed prototypes of a Red Sox casket and a Detroit Tigers casket at the annual convention of the National Funeral Directors Association last fall in Las Vegas, hiring Sparky Anderson, the septuagenarian former Detroit manager, to man the booth.
"As soon as we saw it, we knew we wanted it," said Bob Biggins, Dan's father and co-director of Magoun-Biggins. "We fell in love with it."
At 51, the elder Biggins is like a lot of New Englanders his age, able to rattle off the lineup for Boston's pennant-winning "Impossible Dream" team of 1967. He is also attuned to memorial and burial trends and mores, and his funeral home straddles the traditional and the new, which includes special services and tailored caskets.
"It's important in the midst of someone's mourning that we're able to help them focus on all the wonderful things about a person's life," said Bob Biggins, who is a former president of both the national and Massachusetts associations of funeral directors.
Sometimes that's as simple as dressing the deceased in a favorite flannel shirt or showing a video slide show. It has also meant embroidering images into casket linings, setting up an indoor campsite at the service for a cancer victim who loved to camp with his children, and leading the procession for a late ice cream vendor with the man's ice cream truck, with Popsicles for everyone at the cemetery.
But until now, father and son have been unable to do anything formal with a Sox logo - for lack of licensing, not lack of interest. Around the Magoun-Biggins office table, families planning funerals routinely mention a passionate attachment to the Red Sox in sketching biographies of those they are mourning. The Bigginses, in turn, have prepared the recently departed for viewing in their favorite Sox jackets and arranged displays with memorabilia and souvenirs, including pictures and ticket stubs from as far back as 1918.
After they took delivery of the Sox casket in late October, they made a "pre-need" sale the same week. A family preparing for the death of a terminally ill father chose it immediately.
"They looked at that casket, and they said, 'That's for our Dad.' They didn't even look at anything else," said Bob Biggins, who offers the Red Sox casket for about $3,000, making it a mid-range selection.
For years, Red Sox fans have been able to buy an array of branded items beyond traditional T-shirts and pennants, including dog leashes, baby bibs, and golf balls. The interest in this latest marketing venture is another sign of the team's popularity, Sox spokeswoman Susan Goodenow said: "It just really demonstrates the passion of our fan base."
The club supports the idea of the licensed caskets, but the decision was made at the league level, where Major League Baseball controls the licenses for all 30 teams. Revenue from the caskets, and other licensed products, is shared throughout the league.
Before Eternal Image approached, the league had received periodic requests from teams - with the Red Sox among the leaders - asking whether caskets or urns were available, said Howard Smith, senior vice president of licensing for Major League Baseball.
League officials considered that some might criticize team-branded caskets as too commercial. But fan interest made the decision easy, Smith said.
"This had nothing to do with the money. I can't even quote you a figure of how much money we've made from this license," Smith said in a phone interview from New York.
Eternal Image "is doing the same thing we're doing," Smith added. "They want to take care of the long-term fan."
Eric Moskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.