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Touching All the Bases

C'mon, Let's Stop Scolding Red Sox Fans Who Don't Care As Much As They Did A Decade Ago

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In my, I don't know, I guess it's the last half-decade or so as a columnist and media reporter, I think I've made my short list of gripes with the shrillest of sports media abundantly clear:

It ticks me off when I'm told it's time to move on from something that was so good. I'll enjoy this in my own time, guy. Related, enough with the quest to rain on every parade before the Duck Boats even start their engines. The quest by some in the media to make something not quite as good as you want it to be or not as fun as you remember it is borderline pathological around here.

Stop trying to make me feel like I lost something, OK?

It ticks me off when hypothetical worst-case scenarios are discussed ad nauseam before final conclusions and outcomes are close to being drawn and decided.

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Stop trying to make me feel like I lost something in advance, OK?

It ticks me off when inauthentic contrarian takes prove lucrative and profile-enhancing.

Stop trying to make me feel like I never had something in the first place, OK?

And it really ticks me off when it's suggested that there's something wrong with caring less about sports now than you did at another stage in your life, especially, say, May 28, 2004, or October 27, 2004, or whatever the date happens to be?

I mean, of course most people are going to care less about the Red Sox than they did a decade ago. That was the pinnacle, the fulfillment, the catharsis for generations, the confirmation that the reward was worth the time and commitment put into following this team -- hell, it was better than the dream and worth the wait.

That championship in 2004 was something we waited for but were never sure would arrive. That it came with an unfathomable four-straight-victory exorcism of the Yankees, who had delivered the most crushing heartbreak yet just the previous October, made the satisfaction all the sweeter.

Maybe some among us do love the team now as much as they did then. If so, kudos to you for your unyielding passion. I admire that. For me, it changed, the passion waned ever so slightly, and there's no shame in that.

I don't feel like something -- some stupid identity as lovable losers -- was personally lost. I feel like something was won. .

Hell, you know what was lost? An easy narrative of pure repetitive misery.

Who gives a damn if you care a little less? Isn't that how it's supposed to be? And whose business is that anyway? Isn't that natural as you get older, gain more responsibility, and with it more perspective?

Time passes. Life changes. Things and people that you never had or knew before become your world. At least, that's how I thought it was supposed to work, even when baseball was everything, when it meant so much that it affected my mood.

I fell for the Sox in '78, when I was 8. Given how that ended, it's a wonder I was back for more in '79, but when you're hooked, you're hooked, especially if it builds your bond with your old man.

My most vivid memories of baseball that season are Jim Ed Rice crushing homers into the net over that plain, hazily-lit green wall, Butch Hobson diving around third base and airmailing throws ... and that Yaz popup settling into Graig Nettles's glove as I sat next to my knowing dad on the old brownish-plaid couch.

"How do they feel right now?,'' I asked him, because that's what 8-year-olds trying to gather their newly crushed emotions wonder about.

"Like ----,'' he said.

I was officially indoctrinated.

Like ----.

That's how I felt -- how we all felt, right? -- on the night of October 25, 1986, when Gary Carter singled, and Kevin Mitchell singled, and Ray Knight singled and ... well, Mookie's slow roller up along first, and you knew it was over with one more game to play, one more shot at redemption.

I was 16 then, plunked on the same old brownish-plaid couch alone, choking the life out of a bottle of cheapo champagne my mom said I could pop if the Sox won.

I had no idea how to pop it anyway. Neither, obviously, did the Sox. In the aftermath, I sat there, number and stiller than any booze would ever make me. I have no clue what became of that bottle, but I damn sure wished I had it in '04.

Man, there were so many aggravations big and small along the way, from that age-8 rookie year and the cruel ending ... to my mid-20s when I'd go home from my first newspaper job for dinner and come back angry that the Red Sox were running Morgan Burkhart and Izzy Alcantara out there ... to my age-33 season, which ended with Aaron Bleeping Boone's arm raised and the saddest look imaginable on Tim Wakefield's face and the lingering after thought that if this fearless, stacked Red Sox team couldn't win, none ever would, and what the hell was I doing this for anyway?

Each year, the wait prolonged, and the doubt that a championship would never arrive in our lifetime metastasized a little more.

Then they won. They won. They won! In an unfathomable way, with a loaded, unified team that included the two most charismatic superstars of my lifetime: Pedro Martinez, and a distant second, Manny Ramirez.

It can never be like it was then. Last season, with the bearded band of brothers, is as close as it will get, and yet the third championship in a decade is not the same as the first in '86 years. And that's OK. The 2004 World Series was the culmination of everything, and it's why it was such a joy to see them again last night at the 10th anniversary celebration at Fenway.

It's easy to say that you can't believe it's been 10 years. But then you see them. Many -- but not Manny -- are wearing their age. Pedro, who so deserved to win here, his personality as electrifying as his repertoire in his unmatched heyday. Curt Schilling, fighting cancer, cut a poignant figure. Only David Ortiz remains active, a brilliant postseason slugger then, last autumn, and always.

It was a joy to be reminded of how much it means to them as they get farther away from that October. It's fun seeing the victory through their eyes, just as it's fun now to see Red Sox victories through other eyes.

My daughter was seven months old in October 2004, a peek-cheeked, blue-eyed, blanket-swaddled lump that I scooped out of the crib to "watch" all heaven break loose when Edgar Renteria grounded to Keith Foulke that night in St. Louis. Now, she's 10 and lovely and sarcastic and already on to my sentimental pushover ways; I have no chance.

Yet just the other night, when the Sox were in Atlanta trying to remember how to win again, I felt a jolt of pride when she hollered to me while messing with her hair in the bathroom, "Hey, did the Red Sox just tie it up? Did Papi hit a home run?" The Red Sox are already a part of our bond.

My son, he's seven and hasn't discovered baseball yet. His obsession is exactly what mine was in '77: Star Wars. Someday, I'm sure, he'll know about that other Evil Empire, the one Larry Lucchino tweaked during the height of the rivalry and our angst. For now, though, we have our separate and distinct obsessions. I am his father, but he is his own sweet boy.

"You love baseball as much I love Star Wars,'' he told me happily the other day while looking with surprising curiosity at all of the '78 Topps baseball cards that decorate a wall in my home office.

I'm not sure I do now. The kid loves Luke and Leia. But when I was just past his age, and for so many years beyond, I did. And that's why 2004 matters so much.

Ten years ago, when the Red Sox won the World Series, it was the culmination of everything. I'd call it once in a lifetime, but it was more than that. It was 86 years. I was once in several lifetimes. It was personal, and it was unifying, and it brought generations together.

One of the reasons it was jolting to see how some players have aged is because they are still so vivid in our minds a decade after their incredible feat, the dream both possible and realized.

You don't trump delirium. You don't duplicate a dream come true. But you remember it, cherish it, and celebrate it on all the proper occasions. (Eight years? Not quite right, but hey, great to see you guys.) You relive it with those who were there with you, and you regale those younger with how wonderful it was.

And the best part is, there's no need to exaggerate. The real story surpasses all fiction. The 2004 Red Sox were as good as it gets, as good as it will ever be. That is not cause to ponder whether you "care" as much as you used to. It's cause to remember the days when you couldn't possibly care any more than you did, and the October when all of it -- everything along the way -- was proven worthwhile.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go. Heading to the game with my dad tonight, right after I promise future Fenway amends to my daughter for not having a third ticket this time. Don't you tell me it's supposed to be any other way.