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JACKIE MACMULLAN

Guest took years to arrive

GOSNOLD -- The final stop for the distinguished and eagerly anticipated guest was a breezy island where the innkeeper is also the police chief, and the year-round population barely exceeds the number of players in the Red Sox clubhouse. Cuttyhunk Island boasts a healthy population of deer, coyote, and rabbit, but if you want a gin and tonic, you better bring your own, and if you want pizza, you best know which unmarked, weathered cottage sells slices out of the basement.

The baseball religion here in the Elizabeth Islands, located off the southwestern tip of Cape Cod, is not unlike the rest of our commonwealth. Grandfathers don weathered blue caps emblazoned with a familiar red B, and granddaughters gleefully roll down the embankment of the Avalon Inn, staining their Johnny Damon T-shirts with green summer scrub.

It is here the World Series trophy completed its tour of 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts yesterday afternoon, fulfilling a promise Sox president Larry Lucchino made when his Boys of Summer ended 86 years of heartbreak last October. ''It seemed like a good idea at the time," Lucchino mused, shortly before he took a helicopter to Gosnold with the coveted hardware.

The town census lists the population in Gosnold as 86 people -- how's that for symbolic symmetry? -- but Cuttyhunk, one of seven islands that make up the town, has just 40 year-round residents. They are small in numbers, but this salty slice of New England still boasts legions of baseball enthusiasts who have passed down the love of their team from generation to generation.

Kate Gemme is 110 years old and a lifelong Red Sox fan. She was moved to tears recently when she caressed the trophy during its tour of the Middleborough Senior Center. Her great-great-grandson Carter Lynch, just 19 months old, mauled the trophy in Gosnold with far less fanfare yesterday, while his mother, Lexi Lynch, beamed.

''My great-grandmother often told me the story of going to Fenway Park and watching Babe Ruth play," said Lynch. ''She can't see that well anymore, but she went to a game recently and met one of the players. I'm not sure who, but he came right over to her and she touched his face."

The good people of Gosnold cherish their privacy, which is why Bruce Willis, Johnny Mathis, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis once strolled the island paths undisturbed. Golf carts are the transportation of choice, with the exception of a smattering of pickup trucks and a bright red fire truck.

Island life is simple, isolated, and breathtaking. Cuttyhunk houses a one-room elementary schoolhouse with just two students -- sisters Brittany and Casey Doran.

''It's like getting homeschooling without all the stress," said their mother, Ginny Doran, a newly elected selectwoman.

Doran devised grand plans to promote the trophy's visit, but quickly realized it wasn't necessary.

''All I had to do was tell one person," she said. ''It spread by word-of-mouth. I didn't even have to put up any posters."

The trophy has been well traveled over the past eight months, visiting schools, town halls, libraries, senior centers, and Little League fields. The trophy popped into the Norman Rockwell Museum (Stockbridge) and clandestinely slipped into Tewksbury State Hospital to lift the spirits of Huntington's Disease patients. There was a trip to Vermont in December, which drew crowds that began lining up at 1 in the morning in frigid temperatures. The trophy stamped its passport in the Dominican Republic, where children saw tangible evidence of the labors of their stars named Ortiz and Martínez.

Some appearances drew thousands of eager fans who waited in line for hours for a snapshot. While folks in Gosnold surely took photos, it unfolded at a far more leisurely pace. It was almost as if they were holding a backyard barbecue for their heralded guest, complete with serenades of ''Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and a town photo culminated by Cuttyhunk's version of ''The Wave." There was no pushing, shoving, jostling, or complaining. These residents blew in and out with the ease of a light summer wind.

Although the trophy's work is officially done, it will not yet be bolted to a permanent resting place at Fenway Park. Lucchino has some unfinished business to settle.

''A few days ago a group from a senior center in East Douglas sent me a homemade video," Lucchino said. ''They said, 'Larry, you told us you'd take the trophy anyplace anyone wanted to see it. We want it here.' They kept chanting things, like 'Who's your daddy?' I didn't have the courage to tell them, 'We've already done Douglas,' so I guess we'll go back there in the next week or so."

It is only a piece of metal, smaller in real life than you'd think, marked with smudges of Red Sox Nation. And yet, it has captivated Massachusetts, a symbol of a triumph eagerly awaited by decades of loyal followers.

Seymour DiMare, who splits his time between Cuttyhunk and Concord, put his arm around the trophy and declared, ''It feels as though Ted [Williams] is right here.

''I met Ted Williams once," DiMare said. ''I was selling papers to save money to go to a sportsman's show where Ted was going to teach casting. I got there so early the place wasn't open yet, so I snuck in.

''I sat and watched him practice. He saw me and said, 'What are you doing here? It's not open yet.' I told him, 'I didn't want to miss you.' "

DiMare told Williams he had saved up $7 to buy his own fishing rod. Williams, he said, picked out one for him and said, ''Keep your money, kid."

''This trophy," DiMare said, ''makes everyone remember the great Ted Williams again."

As the ferry pulled away from Cuttyhunk's lone dock with its most distinguished guest aboard, the island children followed a tradition by jumping into the ocean once the ferry turned and headed back toward the mainland.

''This was a big day," declared John Camera, the innkeeper and police chief.

Today the trophy rests. Yet the guest remains in demand. The trophy is still larger than life, much like the Boys of Summer who brought it home to Massachusetts, and offered to share their joy with each and every one of us.

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