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Bob Ryan

At least he knows the territory

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / October 26, 2011

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So we move from a Yale guy to an Amherst guy, and in both cases it looks as if Mom and Dad’s money was well spent.

Theo Epstein was quite conversant with the mother tongue, and Ben Cherington had one lengthy spiel yesterday during which he began something like six consecutive sentences by saying, “I am convinced that . . .’’ all in perfect preacher-like rhythm, when he sounded as if he were accepting a nomination for higher office.

Wait a minute while I slap myself upside my BC head. That’s exactly what he was doing. How dense can I be?

For Ben Cherington wasn’t greeting the world for the first time as executive vice president/general manager of any ol’ Brand X major league baseball team. He was being introduced to the world as executive vice president/general manager of the Boston Red Sox, who have been in business since 1901, who operate in a city where professional baseball has been held to a high standard since the first Grant Administration, and who next April will begin celebrating the 100th anniversary season of their ballpark. Someone in the crowd will be the grandchild or great-grandchild of someone who was in attendance when Fenway Park opened for American League play on April 20, 1912.

If baseball isn’t religion hereabouts, it’s very close. And in this particular congregation, the clergy - i.e. the manager and general manager - are held accountable on a daily basis by a ferocious fandom and by a media that itself is held quite accountable by the team’s followers.

Being the Red Sox GM is not a job for just anybody. It has gotten more and more difficult to handle, and it may not be a coincidence that the last four men to occupy the chair hail from Providence, Dalton, Mass., Brookline and, now, Meriden, N.H. It may now require the proper New England DNA to even want such a pressurized job in the first place.

Say hello, therefore, to New Hampshire’s Ben Cherington, born in Meriden, a pitcher for both Lebanon High and Amherst, and the recipient of a master’s degree in Sports Management from UMass-Amherst.

Most of all, he is a certified member of Gammons Youth.

“I grew up rooting for the Red Sox,’’ he said. “It was a very small town. I used to make my mother drive me to get the Sunday Globe. I used my own $2.’’

The translation, for those of you newcomers, is this: He wasn’t buying the Sunday Globe to read the Metro section or Living/Arts. He was doing the exact same thing Theo Epstein was doing in Brookline. He was buying the Sunday Globe to read Peter Gammons’s baseball notes.

Like Epstein, Cherington was 12 when the ball went between Buckner’s legs 25 years ago yesterday. He gets, you know, It.

Beyond that, he has had 13 years to study the landscape and decide whether he is ready to deal with all the things that go with his new title and responsibility. He was front and center for the rough landing of Dan Duquette, who hired him, and the personal trials and tribulations of Epstein, he of the gorilla suit exit from Fenway Park in 2005 and the suffocating personal scrutiny in a town where any hope of privacy was impossible.

To which he now says, “Bring it on!’’

“I’ve thought a lot about this, and I’m really excited,’’ he declared. “My eyes are wide open. There is such an enormous upside.’’

The truth is he’s not Epstein, and, for him, that will be a good thing. Theo never could get away from the folklore surrounding him. A Boy Wonder. Local kid. Son of a renowned scholar and playwright. Grandson and grand-nephew of twin brothers who co-wrote what may be the single most beloved movie in Hollywood history. A performing musician.

Theo was the rock-star GM of an iconic franchise. Cherington is a quiet, low-key guy known to this point only by insiders and by a pop culture subset of fans who know that his ex-wife is TV’s Wendi Nix.

But they have a lot of things in common, one of them being a love of team play.

“One of the reasons I’m excited about this job is because of the people I’m going to work with every day,’’ said Cherington, “and that includes the ballplayers.’’

That, in fact, is one of the things that has most impressed Larry Lucchino.

“I have seen the effect Ben has on the people he works with,’’ said the Red Sox CEO. “He definitely has the respect and admiration of his co-workers.’’

He will be kept busy. He needs to find a manager. He needs to address the free agency situations of David Ortiz and Jonathan Papelbon. He needs to make a decision on Marco Scutaro. He needs to find a right fielder, preferably one who bats righthanded. He needs to bolster the back end of his starting rotation.

In the interest of full disclosure, he took responsibility for Carl Crawford.

“I was one of the strongest proponents of signing Carl,’’ he confessed. “I believed in him, and I believe in him as strongly now as I did then. He was an impact player on both sides of the ball. We saw that time and time again. When he’s comfortable and feeling good, he’s one of the best players in the league.’’

He doesn’t have to worry about John Lackey for at least a year, which is good news. More good news: Daisuke Matsuzaka is off the books by the end of 2012.

Cherington will find out that it is one thing to be a lieutenant and another to be a general. And if he has any illusions about the magnitude of being the GM for this team, Larry Lucchino always will be there to remind him.

“Boston is different,’’ Lucchino pointed out. “The fan base is second to none in its intensity, its knowledge, its loyalty, and its loud voices. It is a very intense crucible. But it’s a double-edged sword, because if you win here, it’s so much sweeter. I wouldn’t trade it.’’

Joe Louis once said of an opponent, “He can run, but he can’t hide.’’ Every Red Sox GM knows the feeling.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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