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Jennifer Millner of Clermont, Fla., who became engaged to her husband on the field at Fenway Park last year, cheered as the Red Sox scored at Tropicana Field.
Jennifer Millner of Clermont, Fla., who became engaged to her husband on the field at Fenway Park last year, cheered as the Red Sox scored at Tropicana Field. (Matt May/ Getty Images for the Boston Globe)

Faraway faithful

Across US, it sounds like Red Sox nation

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Wearing a crisp white Red Sox jersey and a dusty blue Boston cap, Bill Adams sat a few rows from third base at Tropicana Field. He has never lived in New England. He has been in Fenway Park only once. And he was the first on his feet when David Ortiz sliced a triple.

"Yeah, Big Papi," he hollered, thrusting fists in the air and turning to high-five his older brother. "Holy moly!"

A font of team trivia, he knew before the statistics flashed on the scoreboard that it was the first triple Ortiz had hit all year, shouting to his brother Mark over the cheering crowd: "How often do you see that?"

In row after row, Tampa Bay Devil Rays fans were outnumbered and outshouted this week by a sea of Red Sox faithful that howled the familiar Fenway litany of encouragement. Some fans were like Bill Adams, who despite living 1,300 miles from Boston in Cocoa, Fla., is a card-carrying member of Red Sox Nation and was eager to show off a personalized ID the team sent him for ponying up $15 to join.

Augmented by expatriate New Englanders and those who tag along on road trips, Boston fans are packing distant stadiums so often and in such numbers that they've turned the Red Sox into the de facto home team in places such as St. Petersburg.

In the three seasons since the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, the team has drawn crowds averaging more than 25,700 to the indoor stadium here, where the Devil Rays typically pull in about 16,300 for a home game. Tampa is an extreme example, but Boston fans often are more vocal than the locals at ballparks in Baltimore, Toronto, San Francisco, and Anaheim, Calif., too. The Red Sox lead the Major Leagues in average attendance at away games this year.

The Florida crowds were somewhat smaller this week -- school started Monday, the first day of the Devil Rays series -- but their impact goes beyond the cries of "Let's Go, Red Sox" that echoed in the air-conditioned domed stadium.

Carlos Peña, who once played for Haverhill High School and Northeastern, starts at first base for Tampa Bay. In the locker room after Tuesday's game, he talked about being on base during a home game against Boston earlier this season when nearly every seat was filled.

A teammate hit a shot down the third-base line and "the place erupted," Peña said, so he figured the ball got past Manny Ramirez in left field. But as Peña rounded second, he realized the crowd was cheering because Ramirez caught the ball -- not because he missed it. Peña hustled back to first, barely beating the throw.

The lesson: "We know not to read anything by the noise the crowd makes when we play Boston," he said. "It's crazy. They're one of those teams that has worldwide fans."

And some fans simply go where their team goes. Mike Walsh of Allston, a food vendor at Fenway Park, flew south to attend all three games this week and to visit an uncle in Clearwater, Fla.

"Tickets are so cheap here," he said, leaning forward in a $13 seat partway up the third deck behind home plate. "If you can find people to stay with, you can turn it into a family vacation."

Then there are transplanted fans such as Tim Toomey, who moved from Arlington to St. Petersburg in January after retiring from the Army.

"Boston fans kind of take over the ballpark," he said of the Red Sox road trips to trips to Tampa Bay. "I've been to every one this year -- it's a lot cheaper than Fenway Park."

With his military discount Toomey pays $11 to sit in a corner of the Power Alley Pub's balcony overlooking center field.

And fans who have tired of the expensive lot fees near Fenway Park were pleasantly surprised to learn that Tampa Bay is offering free parking to the first 7,000 vehicles at each of this year's home games.

"I couldn't believe it when I first drove in," said Randy Millner of Clermont, Fla., who lived in Abington years ago. He and his wife, Jennifer, got engaged on the field at Fenway Park last year.

While the World Series victory in 2004 and the team's success this season have heightened interest in the team, Boston fans have always been a presence on the road. Indeed, history suggests that Red Sox Nation was Red Sox Nation before the Red Sox were the Red Sox.

Several hundred members of the Royal Rooters -- an informal club of boisterous Boston fans -- traveled to Pittsburgh in 1903 when the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates played the first World Series, according to the book "Red Sox Century." Using the tune to "Tessie," a song from a popular musical, the fans wrote new lyrics to annoy the Pirates and sang it at the away games. They kept it up when the Americans returned to Boston and won the championship.

"They would sing that damn song over and over and over again," said Roger Abrams, a professor at Northeastern University School of Law and the author of "The First World Series and the Baseball Fanatics of 1903." The song is still in use and was updated in 2004 by the Dropkick Murphys.

"The Boston fans have always been involved," said Abrams, who was scholar in residence last year at the Baseball Hall of Fame. "It may make a difference. On the other hand, it's a game of chances and nothing the fans can do can change that."

But they try in each stadium and in nearly every state in the country. A team promotion to elect a Red Sox Nation president has drawn entries from 45 states, said Dr. Charles Steinberg, executive vice president for public affairs.

"We have received more than a thousand nominations for president," he said. "There's someone in Kansas who wants to be president of Red Sox Nation. Someone from Nebraska. Someone from Tennessee."

And a whole lot of someones in Tropicana Field. Did their cheering this week help Tim Wakefield on the mound or Mike Lowell at the plate?

"It means a lot," Wakefield said in the locker room Monday after pitching a shutout.

"I don't know if it gives you an advantage, but it makes you feel good," said Lowell, the Red Sox third baseman, standing nearby. "It's never bad to have people cheering for you on the road."