Not Your Father's Red Sox

Fort Myers, Fla. — Unless you're older than Eddie Joost, older than Dom DiMaggio, older than Zsa Zsa Gabor, you've never lived in a world like this.

You've never lived in a world where a baseball season was about to begin and the Boston Red Sox could be described with a word millions of New Englanders were once completely unfamiliar with: Favorites.

Red Sox fans can be found in many of the world's faraway places, but especially in Japan.

They're not your grandfather's Red Sox anymore. They're not your great-grandfather's Red Sox anymore. They're not the tragic, accursed figures of not-so-long-ago anymore.

Winning one World Series didn't change all that. But winning two in four years — yup, that did it.

The Boston Red Sox, as we know them now, are not expected to choke, or gag, or fizzle. They're expected to win. They're built to win. And they're darned sure good enough to win.

"The story has changed now," says Tim Wakefield, now in his 14th season with this team, a man who has witnessed this transformation from the best seat in the house. "It's changed from tragedy every postseason — from: 'They did it again. Blahblahblahblahblah' — to something different."

Something different, huh? Does that describe it?

Repainting your living room — from white to tan — that's "something different."

But watching the Red Sox go from "A Team Doomed by Fate, Curses, Sunken Pianos and Assorted Bucky Bleeping Dent-Type Villains to Never Win a Stinking World Series for the Next 8,000 Centuries" to "Only Franchise in History Not Named the Yankees to Sweep the Series Twice in Four Octobers" — that supersedes "different," doesn't it?

It's kinda like waking up one morning and finding your family just moved to Mars. That's how unfamiliar we are with this universe — a universe where even the Yankees are trying to catch the Red Sox. Where everybody, in fact, is trying to catch the Red Sox — except, possibly, Hank Steinbrenner.

If Hank truly believes there's no such thing as Red Sox Nation, by the way, he needs to get out more. Not only does Red Sox Nation exist, we're pretty sure it's now larger than Bulgaria. And definitely Mauritania.

In this universe, there's apparently not even any such thing as a Red Sox "away" game anymore. We're not sure where all these Red Sox fans in Bradenton and Vero Beach, in Baltimore and Kansas City, in Arlington, Texas, and even the Tokyo Dome come from. But they're there, all right.

They're everywhere. Thousands and thousands of them — dressed in their favorite Red Sox shirts, the ones that say everything from "NOW I CAN DIE IN PEACE" to "I SURVIVED THE SANTANA TRADE." These two World Series victories, these two parades, have unleashed them on the rest of the planet. Loudly. And proudly.

"There's always been a fan base," says Mike Timlin, now in his sixth season in Boston. "You know that. But now that we've won a couple of times, it seems like it's exponentially multiplied."

It isn't just the numbers that have changed, though. It's that now, when all these people leave the house, they don't take their torture chambers with them.

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