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Stephen Morris
           Still (nervous) champions and relishing it

September 25, 2005

By Stephen Morris

Summer is so precious here in the North Country. We cling like rejected lovers to those last moments of buttery sunshine. We glory in the bounty of the summer's harvest. We wallow in the rituals of the Tunbridge Fair, the Milk Bowl and the final strand of summer the World Series.

Vermont holds a special status in the world of baseball. We are a divided state chucks and flatlanders, Red Sox faithful and Yankee fans. As if a state could be red and blue at the same time. Is it coincidence that the state's most famous baseball son, Carlton Fisk, born in Bellows Falls, insists on calling New Hampshire "home?"

Red Sox fans in the Green Mountains are the odd ones. We are like junkies. We can recognize each other by the desperate look in our eyes. A nod speaks 1,000 words. Covert meetings are arranged. Soulful itches are scratched.

"What did you think of last night?"

"What could Shilling have been thinking? An 0-2 pitch across the plate? He had at least two pitches to waste."

"It's a macho thing. The splitter's been his out pitch all season."

"That's fine, but does he have to throw it over the plate? Get him to chase it."

"Pedro was the same way. I thought it was a Latino thing."

"What could he have been thinking?"

The conversations occur in aisles at the grocery story, while filling up at the quick stop or between pick-ups, facing opposite ways, stopped in the middle of a dirt road. My own Red Sox needle swapper is a neighbor who will be identified only as "Donahue." He moved to Vermont from the Boston area many years ago, and he has the proverbial map of Ireland on his face and Southie twang to his voice that marks him as a Red Sox lifer. I don't see him a lot, but when I do, the ritual is always the same, 15 minutes or so of detailed Sox analysis followed by a perfunctory inquiry about the state of the family or maybe the weather. It's been this way for, oh, the past 20 years.

I was driving by Donahue's house last October. He was in his garage, throwing around junk and looking generally disgusted. This I could understand, as the previous night the Red Sox had lost their third straight to the Yankees in the playoffs. More humiliatingly, the score had been 19 to 8.

I rolled down the window and said something along the lines of "Whaddya think?"

"I'm disgusted," said Donahue, "I won't even watch the game tonight. I finally figured out that being a Red Sox fan is like being a battered wife. They'll just keep beating us up until we stand up to them and say 'That's it; I'm not putting up with this any more!' And that's where I'm at. I'm breaking the cycle of abuse. I don't care what happens tonight. I'm done!"

I was too shocked to reply. Donahue "done" being a Red Sox fan? That was like saying "I'm done breathing." You can shave the hair off your head; you can change your appearance; you can change where you live or your political beliefs, but you can't change your DNA and that is where the heart of the Red Sox fan resides. That's why my father lived and died with the Sox (mostly died) and that's why my sons wear the blue, red and white.

I was deeply disturbed by Donahue's declaration. I understood and shared his pain. But to give up? It was Bill Buckner, not the Buddha, who taught me about humility in life. It was Bucky (insert swear) Dent who defined "vale of tears." How can you dismiss a life-long quest, a crusade by saying "I'm done."

But I tried it. I followed Donahue's example. It happened in Game 4 last year. Because I live deep far from the reach of cable, broadband and even WDEV, the only way for me to follow the progress of the Sox is by repeatedly dialing up my Internet provider and logging onto www.Boston.com. After my 15th or so call, with the Sox trailing and Mariano Rivera in the bullpen, I said to no one: "Donahue's right. I'm not going to take this abuse any more. I quit. I'm done." And I went to bed, having turned my back on the Red Sox.

But old habits die hard. So, the next morning the first thing I did was dial in to Boston.com to check the final score, only to learn that the Sox had staged a miracle comeback, one that continued through the next three games against the Yanks, and then four straight over St. Louis. Something had broken The Curse; and while some credit the clutch hitting of Ortiz, Damon and Ramirez or the gutsy pitching of Schilling, Martinez and Lowe, I know that it was really two courageous guys in Vermont who stood up to the bully and said: "We're not going to take it any more." Through our rejection Sox fans everywhere were able to experience the joy of victory.

Of course, Donahue and I were quick to climb back onto the band wagon, especially when the Yankees were vanquished. These days every time we see each other now we close by reminding ourselves that we are still, at least until the end of October, Champions of the World.

published in Montpelier Times Argus on September 25, 2005


Stephen Morris

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