FORT MYERS, Fla. -- About those shots of Jack Daniel's before the playoff games . . .
"I'm glad you asked," said Kevin Millar as he sat in the Red Sox clubhouse doing the meet-and-greet thing with teammates and a procession of quote-thirsty reporters.
Millar was the one who talked about the Red Sox' 80-proof postseason ritual after the team won the World Series. He said he and some of his teammates engaged in a little nip before each of the final six postseason games, all victories. As the story circulated, it was enlarged beyond all proportion and soon the small ceremonial toast turned into a full-blown toga party with Millar rolling kegs across the clubhouse carpet and breaking guitars over teammates' heads.
"This thing honestly took on a life of its own," he said yesterday, the day before the official reporting date for position players. "This had nothing to do with alcohol. It was as if I said, `OK, we're not gonna shower,' and then we won and we wouldn't shower the next day. It was a symbolic toast, something we did as a unit. But it doesn't matter if it was Gatorade or Jack Daniel's. That's what was unfortunate because it went off like it was about the alcohol and that's not what it was about."
It all started before the sixth game of the American League Championship Series in Yankee Stadium. It was a bitterly cold night and the Sox decided to stay inside until it was time to play. They took batting practice in the cages under the stands.
"The Jack Daniel's was in the clubhouse," said Millar. "It's part of a major league locker room. It was a toast and it turned into: `We won, so we gotta do it tomorrow.' It wasn't everybody. It was just whoever was around. If you were there, you would laugh. It was literally a Gatorade cup of a toast, you can't even dribble a half a cup of water. But it was not about the alcohol. This game is hard enough. You're not playing this game drunk, and that's where the radio shows went off, saying, `You're not a good role model.'
"We knew what went on, but what can you do? The story kept growing and it's like a fishing line, it keeps going and what can I do? You can't stop it. I regret saying it now. When I'm talking, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I probably say things that I shouldn't say. I've gotten myself in trouble that way. It was unfortunate because we'd just won a World Series and things were good and then all of a sudden this black cloud comes in.
"I spoke with Theo [Epstein] and I spoke with [Terry] Francona and they were like, `What's going on here?' I explained to them. They were like, `Zip it,' basically. I apologized. I'm not out there trying to hurt anybody."
Millar is 15-20 pounds heavier than he was at the end of the season. He officially clinched his everyday spot in the 2005 lineup when Doug Mientkiewicz was shipped to the Mets in January.
"It was a rough situation because I was scared I was going to be traded because that's part of the business," Millar said. "I didn't want to leave. I want to play for the Red Sox."
Like everyone else, he was amused when the story surfaced about Mientkiewicz and the baseball from the final out of the Series.
"I called him when that story came out and left him a message and said, `That's me and Ortiz's ball,' " Millar said. "I didn't realize it was such a big national story, but he didn't call me back. Now I know how he's feeling, because that's like what happened to me with the Jack. It was nice not to be part of that story."
Regarding the Yankees, Millar said, "Red Sox Nation has got bragging rights now. No more of those 1918 sayings. And the Yankees have to be bitter. To lose four in a row? Getting swept? That's rough."
All the returning champs talk about how fast the winter went and how difficult it's been to grasp the magnitude of what happened in October.
Parades, videos, quickie books, and Christmas cards with the trophy don't do the job. It's going to take a while before everything sinks in for the 25 men who broke The Curse in Boston.
"Everything happened so fast," said Millar. "I saw Franco Harris last week and he said, `This stuff will not sink in until you retire. What you guys did will not happen again in our lifetime.' We didn't even get a chance to have a team dinner. We won the World Series and had the parade and everybody scattered."
Years from now there no doubt will be reunions. Like the 1967 Red Sox, members of the 2004 team will come back to Fenway, hang out in the 406 Club, slap one another on the back, tell lies, and toast one another deep into the night. They might even share a nip of Jack. For old times sake.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.