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Decked out in Red Sox gear to celebrate Opening Day at Kings bowling alley in Boston were, from left, Seamus Donnelly, Paul McCann, and Sean Cullinane. Fans flocked to bars around town to watch the Sox first game.
Decked out in Red Sox gear to celebrate Opening Day at Kings bowling alley in Boston were, from left, Seamus Donnelly, Paul McCann, and Sean Cullinane. Fans flocked to bars around town to watch the Sox first game. (Globe Photo / Christina Caturano)

For Sox fans, a new era

Year like no other begins for Sox fans

Cassie Doane, 19, said she planned to inaugurate the new Red Sox season as she normally does, with a few friends gathered around the television. There would be food, drinks, and plenty of shouting at the New York Yankees, she said.

Only one thing is missing. She no longer feels the weight of history hanging over her Sox-cap-wearing head. Like Sox fans everywhere, she can approach the start of a new season without the gnawing, nail-biting sense of destiny unfulfilled that has dogged the Red Sox faithful since, well, 1918.

''The pressure's off because we don't have to listen to that whole curse garbage anymore," Doane said yesterday as she strolled outside Fenway Park with a friend. ''We never have to hear it again -- reverse the curse, 1918, no more of that chanting. It's just over and that's awesome."

Even as they geared up in bars, souvenir shops, and living rooms for the first game of what is sure to be a long and grueling season, Sox fans said they are adjusting to a new perspective on life at the top of the baseball heap. The burden of history has been lifted and they must now carry the banner of champions, a position both privileged and plagued with its own pitfalls.

On the positive side, said Donald Frankowski, 41, a painter who was getting ready to watch the season opener at his friend's apartment in the North End, he can simply enjoy the game as sport. Gone is the sense that he must help avenge the painful losses suffered by generations of Red Sox teams.

''Eighty-six years of being pent up, our desire this year is different," Frankowski said as he lingered under fluttering championship banners hanging on the side of Fenway Park. ''I'm as excited as I've ever been for an Opening Day but it's more a celebration."

Maria Arguelles, 28, his friend who was hosting the game-watching party, sounded a little taken aback by the idea of Red Sox confidence. ''You can't be content with one," Arguelles said. ''You have to get back the championship."

At Gold's Gym across from Fenway Park, Adam Nicot, 19, the lone Yankees fan working behind the counter, said he was struggling with the sense that his team has suddenly become the underdogs in the Major Leagues. All day, he endured the taunting of his co-workers, muscle-bound Red Sox fans all.

''It's actually strange," said Nicot, a Bronx native studying at Boston University. ''It's always been the other way around coming in here. Now we have something to prove. The Yankees used to be on top of the food chain. We've always been the hunted, now we have to do the hunting."

It was all so new for young Nicot. ''Historically, I don't feel that way," he said. ''This is just recently. It's so fresh."

Chris Thompson, 38, one of Nicot's co-workers, said he rather enjoyed the carefree license to taunt. The season may quickly rob fans of their ease, but for now, Thompson said, the pressure falls on the Bronx Bombers to come up with the big plays and clutch hits.

''They have to show us something, for once," Thompson said. ''The Yankees, for once, have to be actually nervous. That's pretty exciting."

Peter Beausoleil, 21, another Gold's Gym employee, cautioned against apathy among Red Sox fans, nurtured on a diet of hope and heartbreak for generations.

''The whole championship is nice, and it's definitely a big weight lifted off our shoulders, but we have a lot of catching up to do," Beausoleil said. ''The Yankees have 26 championships; we have one in the past 87 years."

To be fans of champions is to savor a bit the spoils of victory. But there is a danger in allowing the comfort of victory to turn into complacency, fans said.

Peter Stebenne, 53, said he was concerned that fans of the Red Sox might not be approaching the new season with the requisite sense of passion after popping champagne last year.

''I think they celebrated too much," Stebenne said as he scoured for souvenirs with his son, Keith, 27, along Yawkey Way yesterday. ''I don't think they know what it's like to come back in and be hungry again. I hope they're hungry."

Stebenne, a diehard Sox fan, saw another downside. ''I'm very, very happy we've won the World Series," he said, ''but the problem is that with success comes lack of tickets. I was able to get one ticket for the season."

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