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Catching celebrity

Long-suffering Red Sox Nation hollered, whooped, and cried after the Olde Towne Team finally clinched its first World Series in 86 years -- beating a curse that had held for much of the last century. Kelly Barons screamed right along with them, and then she got a hug from David Ortiz.

Barons, a 19-year-old Red Sox ball girl, made it into the spotlight this summer after she snagged a foul ball drilled down the third-base line during a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The play made ESPN's highlight reel, and the head-turning Lexington High School graduate went on to guest-host ESPN's "Baseball Tonight." It was a combination that made her something of a local celebrity.

But four months later, when the Sox traveled to St. Louis for the World Series, Barons was left behind. Sorry, kid, her bosses told her, the team has room on the plane only for full-time staff; she'd have to sit this one out.

Not so, Barons decided. The only place she'd be sitting was at the game.

So she shelled out $300, jumped on a plane to St. Louis, and hitchhiked to the stadium when she and her friend realized they couldn't afford the $60 taxi fare. Then she parked herself in a seat in the nosebleed section and watched as the curse was reversed.

With three outs left in the final game, she made her way down to a spectator area next to the field. When Keith Foulke grabbed a one-hopper off the bat of Cardinals shortstop Edgar Renteria and underhanded the ball to first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz for the final out, Barons sprinted onto the infield, screaming madly.

"I was just so excited, so happy. I couldn't believe it," she said last week, over coffee in downtown Lexington.

She said she wandered over to the grass in front of the dugout. "Then all of a sudden, I just started crying, I couldn't control it, and David Ortiz [the Red Sox 240-pound designated hitter] came over to me and gives me a hug and said, 'Girl what are you crying for? We just won the World Series.' "

For the players, that meant a $223,620 World Series bonus and a winter to bask in the glory and get fitted for their championship rings. For Barons, it means an off-season spent finishing her second year in the nursing program at Regis College. This semester, her course load will consist of biology, anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and statistics. She expects to be so busy she's not going out for the softball team, where she has been the catcher.

The good news: She will be back at Fenway Park this spring.

In the meantime she has traveled with players and personnel around New England, taking part in the celebrations and parades with the World Series trophy. Mid-December included a trip to Burlington, Vt., with pitcher Bronson Arroyo and a stop in a hospital to visit sick kids.

Barons knows well she has a piece of something special and she doesn't want to it to end. Her passion for nursing has waned as her interest in the game has expanded. She is now considering transferring to a Boston school next year to pursue a degree in sports marketing. It's sort of a backup plan to her real goal: sports broadcasting.

"I'd love to do that," she said. "But it's such a competitive field, I don't know how realistic it is."

In the interim, there is the adoration from Red Sox Nation generated from the championship, the broadcast appearance, and, of course, the million-dollar smile. People approach her once a week or so with a bit of a wide-eyed stare.

"Hey, you're Kelly Barons from the Red Sox," they say. Barons will nod, a little uncomfortably, and then they usually stammer a soft little, "Wow. Hey, that was a great catch."

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