THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

‘Next year’ starts tonight

Some fans no longer see Evil in the Empire

By David Filipov
Globe Staff / April 4, 2010

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Imagine a world where Boston and New York fans commingle peacefully, express respect for each other’s baseball teams, and together look forward to a sporting season of gentlemanly tilts.

Not our planet, right?

Wrong.

As the Red Sox kick off the season tonight against the Yankees in an Opening Day — make that Opening Evening — showdown, the anger that once permeated the rivalry seems to be lacking. Those two World Series titles appear to have taken their toll. Complacency has taken root among citizens of Red Sox Nation. Interviews with a dozen or so of the faithful, squinting into unaccustomed sunshine as they made their way about Boston, suggested that living to see the Evil Empire crash and burn is no longer every Sox fan’s raison d’être.

“It’s kind of died down,’’ said Lauren May of Quincy, as she strolled Castle Island last week. Added her friend, Michael O’Malley, “I feel like when they won the second time it wasn’t as big a deal.’’

May and O’Malley are like many Sox fans: They partied in ’04 when the Olde Towne Team won it all and broke The Curse, but have mellowed out since then.

“I can see why people who grew up in New York love their city,’’ said Sam Clarke, whose job, as an employee of a company that offers Freedom Trail tours, is to show outsiders why we love ours. “Everyone can get along.’’

Come again? Think about it, Nation. Last year’s season ended with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada dancing on the mound of Yankee Stadium after winning the title — the title that we had come to think of as ours. The Sox were supposed to be the team of the decade, a pillar of Boston’s claim to the designation “Titletown.’’

This year should be all about payback, said Michael Finch, a Red Sox fan since the 1950s, and a Yankee antagonist in more ways than one (he plays a Red Coat for a tour company). But he has noticed that the recent success of the Red Sox has spoiled the Fenway faithful.

“Bitterness in defeat made us who we are, and that is diminished,’’ Finch said.

Defeat, and the annual autumn needling we took from Yankee fans forged our anti-Gotham animus.

That, too, has ebbed.

“I think the Red Sox have a solid team,’’ said Eric Califano, a Yankees fan from Belmont. “They ought to do well this year.’’

How did it feel, Califano was asked, when the Red Sox stole the American League Championship Series from the Pinstripes in 2004 on the way to Boston’s first title in 86 years?

“I was happy for them,’’ Califano smiled.

Madness.

Even the players seem inclined to temper the rivalry. That was the implication of a recent photo that appeared on Boston.com, in which Jeter and Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis seemed to be socializing pleasantly at second base. As for the pennant race, that is something people expect to matter in October. Everyone believes that the two teams will meet in the ALCS, Califano said, adding “That ought to be a real good series.’’

There are, of course, reasons why the Red Sox are generating less buzz than in recent years. The team of idiots and larger-than-life characters is a distant memory. This edition is by comparison a businesslike ensemble of professionals.

“The Red Sox are boring now,’’ opined talk show host Dale Arnold Friday on WEEI sports radio. “There’s no drama.’’

A stream of callers and texters chimed in with their agreement.

Fine. Still, there had to be someone who lives and dies with this rivalry and is willing to say it.

Francisco Vasquez and his friend Marisha Ayala seemed likely candidates, as they sunned themselves on a bench on Boston Common. He wore the hat with the distinctive Gothic “B.’’ They had come all the way from Los Angeles to sit in the bleachers tonight. Rabid, if far-flung, members of the Nation, right?

“I’m a baseball fan,’’ Vasquez said. “I came for Easter. I wanted to spend it somewhere nice and there is no place more romantic than Boston.’’

It took a while to find that rabid Red Sox fan of yore, but we did. John Riley of West Roxbury, Sox enthusiast since 1967, will not be at the game, but he will be glued to his TV, as he is for every game. Does he like New York?

“I don’t,’’ Riley said.

Do the Yankees, uh, stink?

“Yes! Yes! Yes!,’’ Riley said, swiping his hand in the air. “YES!’’

All was right with the world.

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