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Sox fan's words led to the birth of a nation

One day you're squeezing yourself into a seat in Section 17 at Fenway Park like any other citizen of Red Sox Nation. The next day you're discovering that you're to the Nation what Genghis Khan was to the Mongolian Empire. In other words, you founded it.

My secret was so little known that I didn't know it myself. It took Globe sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy, a cottage industry when it comes to Soxabilia, to break the news in his newest book, ''Reversing the Curse." (You can look it up: Page 70.) And it took the local Web fanzine Boston Dirt Dogs to also report it five months ago.

Since no one should ever doubt the veracity of a journalist or the World Wide Web, the story must be true: I coined the term ''Red Sox Nation." It was not Shaughnessy, who is often credited with concocting the name but voluntarily revealed otherwise. And it certainly was not the Red Sox, who charge folks $9.95 to join a slice of promotional pie called ''Red Sox Nation." Not incidentally, Boston Dirt Dogs reported in its April story that Major League Baseball had exerted enough pressure on a tiny website called RedSoxNation.com to kill it. Yet the URL lives on: Try clicking your way to RedSoxNation.com now and you'll automatically arrive at the official Red Sox website. Surprise.

But I have little to complain about, given the fact that the revelation of my Founding Fathership comes as news to me. I wrote more than 2,000 feature stories for the Globe between 1969 and 2001, and what I remember most about that time is looking for parking spaces. I wish I could say I also remember coining ''Red Sox Nation," but I don't. A lot of prose has gone under the bridge.

I learned of my dubious distinction only this week. It was Shaughnessy's daughter, Kate, a student in a class I teach at Boston University, who mentioned it to me. I was flabbergasted. No longer would my obituary merely declare my journalistic motto, ''I write 'em, they run 'em." Now I'll be remembered as Founder of Red Sox Nation. The term has become ''part of the language," Shaughnessy writes in ''Reversing the Curse." Good grief.

Shaughnessy tells me the discovery was made via a Globe library computer search while he was writing ''Reverse the Curse." A second, broader search confirms this scholarship. ''I get a lot of credit for the term," Shaughnessy says, citing his 1996 book, ''At Fenway: Dispatches From Red Sox Nation." ''I'll take credit for the phrase 'Curse of the Bambino' [the title of yet another Shaughnessy book, this one published in 1990], but not for this. You were the guy."

Thanks, I think. For better or worse, I indeed referred to Red Sox Nation on Oct. 20, 1986. The story was about the southwestern Connecticut border war between Sox fans and New York Mets fans during the locally infamous '86 World Series. It was set largely in Milford, Conn., which may explain why I'd forgotten. Exit 40 off I-95 seems such an unlikely place for the birth of a nation.

In any case, this was a decade before Shaughnessy's ''At Fenway," and nearly 20 years before the Red Sox -- bless their merchandising hearts -- declared that there is an ''official" Red Sox Nation and started charging money for the privilege of being a card-carrying resident. And while I'm ambivalent about the contribution I've made to local lore, I do wonder this: Why didn't I think of that?

But at least the citizens of Red Sox Nation -- dues-paying or otherwise -- now know that their Fourth of July is the Twentieth of October. And if any of their celebrations require a guest speaker, I suggest they consider the Founding Father himself. After all, I'm available. As soon as I get an agent.

Meanwhile, I think the Sox owe me something for appropriating the name I coined, even if the coinage had slipped my mind. After giving the matter much consideration, I've decided I'll settle this matter amicably in return for either (a) four very good tickets to Opening Day 2006, (b) the honor of throwing out the first ball at any home game, or (c) lunch with Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino.

On second thought, forget the lunch with Lucchino. A hot dog and a beer will do just fine.

Nathan Cobb is a former Globe staff writer. He retired in 2001.

Mapping out a nation

Nathan Cobb coined the phrase ''Red Sox nation" in an Oct. 20, 1986, Globe story headlined ''Baseball border war: In Milford, Conn., geography brings Sox and Mets fans cheek to jowl." It came halfway through the story:

Still, Mike Zapla of Bridgeport was worried. A 29-year-old carpenter and earnest Red Sox fan, Zapla had driven 10 miles north in search of safe numbers. ''It's mostly Mets fans in Bridgeport," he lamented, then fretted: ''Maybe I should have driven even farther north." He looked around the packed bar, with its 46-inch overhead television screen and its three strategically placed smaller sets. The fan ratio looked to be about 60 to 40 in favor of the Mets, maybe even slightly less. ''Nah, this is all right," Zapla decided, realizing he had reached the border.

Why a different boundary from the one that separates Yankee country from Red Sox nation? One theory states that the Mets, born just two dozen years ago, have not had time to penetrate farther into central Connecticut. A second argues that such Yankees players of the past as Joe DiMaggio and Tony Lazzeri still engender ethnic loyalties deep within the state's urban pockets. Whatever the reason, Yankee fans were laying low here Saturday night. Torn by two hatreds, they seemed unsure whom to loathe. ''I'm afraid I might have too much to drink and actually start rooting for one of these teams," snarled Frank Nagy, a Bridgeport electrician, as he tilted a long-neck bottle to his lips."

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