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THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Sox collapse brings a cold dose of reality to young fans

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By Beth Teitell
Globe Staff / September 30, 2011

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If the Curse of the Bambino is being visited on a new generation of fans, it hasn’t sunk in yet.

Yesterday long-suffering grown-up members of Red Sox Nation found themselves in unhappy, but very familiar, territory. But for children whose short lives have been blessed by two World Series trophies, in 2004 and 2007, the team’s late-season collapse was shocking.

Perhaps Maddie Nagler, 12, a Brookline sixth-grader, put it best.

“It’s not normal,’’ she said as her brother, Jack, 9, nodded in agreement. “You expect them to at least make the playoffs. It’s really upsetting.’’

“I feel bad, because I wanted them to win the World Series,’’ said Larkin Chamberlain, 6, of Newton. “I was surprised they lost.’’

“Usually a loss like this happens in one game,’’ added Simon Leek, 10, a Cambridge fifth-grader, “but they pull it back together in the next, and everything gets better.’’

Everything gets better.

That’s a sentiment spoken like a person who in a mere decade of life has enjoyed not only two World Series trophies but also three Patriots Super Bowl victories, a Celtics NBA championship, and, just a few months ago, a Stanley Cup win by the Bruins. For them, life is one big duck boat parade. Losing? That’s for other cities.

But who can blame the children for their confidence? After all, many of these are fans so young that their parents may not even remember 1978, when Bucky Dent’s three-run homer gave the Yankees the lead in the AL East division playoff game and helped them secure the title. Heck, young fans’ folks might not even remember “Game Six,’’ as it’s known by tortured true believers, when Mookie Wilson’s grounder in the 1986 World Series went through the legs of first baseman Bill Buckner, allowing the Mets to score the winning run.

But kids today, what do they know? “I was very surprised,’’ said Josh Davis, 12, of Newton. “It seemed like they had such a good team.’’

“I don’t think of them as the Yankees,’’ said Liam Scanlon, a fifth-grader, “but this year I had the expectation.’’

Struggling to explain the loss yesterday, Liam seemed to be starting down the road to true fandom. He already had an excuse for the loss: “It may be the curse of the Manny,’’ he said, referring to Manny Ramirez. “They haven’t done anything good since he left [in 2008].’’

If there’s an upside to the meltdown - and Pollyanna herself might not want to think of one - it’s that it can teach our youth to be real Boston fans.

“It adds an element of realism, that we don’t always win,’’ said Liam’s mother, Kathleen Lowney.

Like many other youngsters, Scanlon reels off explanations as well as professional commentators - they didn’t have the pitching; Carl Crawford didn’t perform; they were hurt by injuries - but even if the kids sound like the adults, there is a big difference: They never saw it coming.

Child after child told almost the same story: Sometime in mid-September, or even early September, their parents turned pessimistic.

“My dad thought they weren’t going to make it,’’ said Mark DeCourcey, 10, an Arlington fifth-grader.

“Once they lost five games my dad was, like: ‘They’re done. They’re not going to make it,’ ’’ said 10-year-old Rose O’Connor of Newton. “But I was, like, ‘Oh, they can come back.’ ’’

But as September wore on, Rose realized that pessimism had been called for: The team lost 20 out of 27 games, with the final insult coming Wednesday night against the Baltimore Orioles, when the Sox blew a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning, to lose 4-3.

“My dad was right,’’ she said.

And so, the true believer’s negativity is passed from one generation to the next, along with seemingly boundless loyalty, and the belief that next year will be different.

“I think they’re going to be really good next season,’’ said Nick Karalis, 10, an Arlington fifth-grader. “Next year we’re going to win the World Series.’’

Beth Teitell can be reached at bteitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.

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