Not Your Father's Red Sox

"The big thing that I really get a kick out of," says Wakefield, "is, after we won in '04, I got, 'Thanks for my grandfather,' and it was for all the generations past. But when we won last year, I think that was for the future Red Sox fans. That one was for the future generations of fans who can say they were a part of two World Series, or even younger fans who can say they got to see a World Series when they were young — instead of [chuckle] the folklore."

Ah, that folklore. Does anybody out there miss that folklore? Anybody? Aw, it was mildly entertaining for the first 50 or 60 years, maybe. But it got old. And not just if you were a personal relative of Bill Buckner, either.

You might think 2004 would have dispelled that folklore. But you'd be wrong. When 2005 rolled around, and that Red Sox team was tackling the business of repeating, it found itself surgically attached to the legend of the 2004 Red Sox.

So it went about its business surrounded by documentary crews, authors, historians, the cast of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and every celebrity in America who even owned a Red Sox cap. Which meant mundane stuff like "pickoff drills" wasn't always the No. 1 item on the old agenda.

That's one very sizable reason that this Red Sox team finds itself in such a different place from those 2005 Red Sox, even though both were theoretically trying to accomplish the same thing — repeating.

"It's not a circus here anymore," says Timlin. "There's not 150 media people here, and cameramen taking pictures because it was the first time we'd won in 86 years. Now we can just be normal. We can be a normal team and just go play."

Actually, "normal" isn't the best word to describe this group now, either. The Royals are a "normal" team. The Reds are a "normal" team. The Red Sox are always going to feel like an earthquake rolling through your friendly neighborhood seismic fault.

But as this Red Sox team tackles the challenge of repeating, at least it can do that within the context of a baseball story — as opposed to the context of a profound shift in modern American culture. Those larger plot lines still hover. But this team has perfected the art of how to avoid swerving beyond the white lines of that baseball story.

In one of Boston's few changes since last season, Jacoby Ellsbury takes over as the team's starting center fielder. "We talk to them all the time about how, once the game starts, we've got a baseball game," says manager Terry Francona. "We're baseball players. Some people say we're entertainers. We're not. We're baseball players. If people get entertainment out of it, good. But we're baseball players. And you compete. You don't put on a show."

You can't bring just any old collection of 25 players into a situation like this and expect them to catch onto that, though. This is a unique franchise, centered in a unique market, playing baseball every day with a unique set of story lines swirling in the breeze.

So it's no accident that the core of this team is made up of human beings who have demonstrated they can focus on what really matters.

"These players are very mindful of what's at stake here," says hitting coach Dave Magadan. "They know how much attention we get from the fans and media. But everybody knows what's at stake. So they come here ready to play the second they walk in the door."

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