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Victory transforms a region's identity

New England danced under an eclipse-reddened moon early today, toasting a baseball championship whose elusiveness since World War I had become a regional badge of futility, worn by four generations.

''I've seen man walk on the moon. I've seen the space shuttle break up in the sky. I've seen great tragedy," said David Kruh of Reading, who wrote the stage musical ''The Curse of the Bambino," about the travails of the Red Sox. ''And now, we have this moment of unadulterated joy. . . . This experience will never happen again."

And New England, where baseball is king, will never be the same.

A region so used to fretting, frustration, and second-guessing is going to need to rethink what it now means to be a Red Sox fan, said Harold S. Kushner, rabbi laureate of Temple Israel in Natick and author of ''When Bad Things Happen to Good People."

''I would like to think that it will make us normal, but will it be as much fun when we're normal?" Kushner asked. ''What will happen to talk radio if people don't call in and say: 'They killed my grandfather. They killed my father. And now they're coming after me.' I think ultimately it will be healthier, but you take all the neurotics out of the world and life won't be as interesting."

Like Kushner, James O. Freedman of Cambridge was near despair just 11 days ago, after the Yankees had pushed the Red Sox to the brink of elimination in the American League Championship Series. Freedman, president emeritus of Dartmouth College, consulted Robert Frost that Sunday, and wondered why the ''arbitrary God" of which Frost wrote held no benevolence for his favorite team.

''My thought when they lost those three against the Yankees was, dammit, there's no more baseball," Freedman said. ''But now, it's as if it was gray and raining and the sun is suddenly shining."

The sweet championship for a storied team, whose rhythms are the region's summertime metronome, pushed amateur headline-writers beyond hyperbole. Pigs Fly. Hell Freezes. The Babe Rolls Over.

No more waiting till next year.

''We'll never have to hope for another victory like this," said Debby Green, 48, of Newton, whose family has held season tickets two rows behind the Red Sox dugout since 1962. ''For this moment, there is just this amazing completeness."

Like many fans, Green earned her Red Sox bona fides at the feet of her father. A Brockton businessman, Jim Green picked up his 11-year-old daughter from school one afternoon in 1967, greeting her with words of magic: ''I'm taking you to Fenway Park to see the World Series."

Green saw Red Sox pitcher Jose Santiago in his first at-bat, homer off Bob Gibson, the Cardinal Hall of Famer. She was hooked.

As the Red Sox sprayed each other with champagne early today, Green remembered her father, who died of cancer in 1999, uttering his last word to salute a stirring Red Sox victory that summer. ''Incredible," he said.

That word also describes a team's connection to a region that still can remember lean years and empty grandstands. Indeed, the team's postseasons of fruitlessness date to the administration of Woodrow Wilson.

Sol Gittleman, a former provost at Tufts University, where he now teaches a course on baseball history, said the World Series triumph is a thrilling punctuation point in the history of a franchise that was sometimes marked by incompetence, racism, selfishness, and stupidity. But for now, he said, that legacy is a dull memory.

''All across New England you can hear the sound of blackboards being erased," Gittleman said. ''All of that pain will disappear. Bill Buckner will feel better today. So will Johnny Pesky. A lot of ghosts have been put to rest. It's over."

If those who walked their sons and daughters up darkened ramps toward an emerald diamond were not around to watch champagne corks fly early today, the generation left behind is the keeper of those special memories.

Workers at Mount Auburn Cemetery said yesterday they began to see tiny Red Sox flags blossom near some headstones at the historic graveyard in Cambridge.

''This is a place where the living and the dead meet," said Janet Heywood, a Mount Auburn vice president. ''It seems appropriate that people would want to invoke the spirit of their ancestors and let them know what's happening with the Red Sox."

Debby Green believes that. Thomas Farragher can be reached at farragher@globe.com.

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