hmmmmWith Nothing Left to Win, Fans of Red Sox Suddenly Feel a Loss
By PAM BELLUCK: NY Times
BOSTON, Oct. 28 - It didn't take long to go from ecstatic to existential.
Having waited 86 years for a World Series championship, Bostonians found themselves on Thursday swirling with elation, but also scratching their heads.
What are Red Sox fans to do when the angst of being one of the world's greatest underdogs is gone?
"I'm having trouble dealing with it," said Mike Andrews, who played second base for the Red Sox in 1967, when they lost to the Cardinals during one of their many close-but-no-cigar face-offs.
"You're just kind of caught saying, 'What's next?' " said Mr. Andrews, who now leads the Jimmy Fund, a cancer organization in Boston that is the team's principal charity. "I don't want to say it's a letdown. But it's certainly something you let become part of your life and it's gone now, and we need to come up with something new."
Bostonians have never been baskers, and the afterglow of the Red Sox' extraordinary World Series triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals has caught more than a few people without their psychological sunblock.
"I wish I were able to be more relaxed," said Nathan Levin, 98, who remembers the last time the Red Sox won, in 1918, a time when he used to walk five miles to Fenway Park, wait outside the players' entrance, and once got ushered into the ballpark by Babe Ruth himself.
"What it feels like for a 98-year-old man to sit here and watch the Red Sox win it all?" said Mr. Levin, who now yells at the television and second-guesses the manager from his home in West Palm Beach, Fla. "I lived for them all these years. After 1918 and waiting 86 years for this team to do it all again is beyond words for me."
But, he said, "Now it's over, what are we going to do next?"
Even Leslie Epstein, whose son, Theo, is Red Sox general manager, feels the tension inherent in having a championship team in Boston.
"They're going to be heartbroken at not being heartbroken," said Mr. Epstein, a novelist who is chairman of the creative writing department at Boston University. "It's not just a joke. That's what's made us unique. We were the Boston Red Sox that never could win."
Mr. Epstein, who has lived for 26 years in the Red Sox Nation, pointed out that A. Bartlett Giamatti, the former baseball commissioner and avid Red Sox fan, once said that Fenway Park was the place to understand Calvinism in America, to learn that people sometimes fail and that failure can build character.
"There's a crack in Calvinism now," Mr. Epstein said. "Now, we're going to have to find something else. Maybe Bostonians will be secretly wishing for a Kerry loss so they can wail about that."
For the next few days, of course, most fans will be reveling proudly, especially at a giant parade on Saturday that will wind from Fenway Park to City Hall and is expected to draw more than three million people, according to the mayor's office.
And for some the victory can be seen as a harbinger of miracles to come, not just on the ball field.
"Suddenly all things seem possible," said Samantha Power, a Pulitzer Prize-winning expert on genocide at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
"For ordinary people who sort of thought, 'Maybe I'll never get that promotion,' maybe they think now anything can happen," Ms. Power said. But she also recognizes that she and many others will never feel quite the same about the Red Sox and about baseball.
For example, this summer, when Ms. Power traveled to Sudan to learn about the killing in Darfur, she listened to most Red Sox games on the Major League Baseball Web site in the middle of the Sudanese night. Stopping for a night in Paris on her way back, she dashed to an Internet cafe in time to hear the eighth inning of the Red Sox playing the Yankees.
"Would I next year go to an Internet cafe at 4 a.m. to listen to a Yankees-Red Sox game?" Ms. Power said. "I don't think so. The stakes of it just seemed higher because of the underdog role. It just felt bigger then."
And as the writer and baseball aficionado David Halberstam said Thursday, "Some of the magic has probably been snatched away.''
Like the lunar eclipse that turned the moon red and then swallowed it up during the fateful game on Wednesday night, this Red Sox victory strikes some fans as a little supernatural. Everywhere, people are talking about feeling changed, about venturing into uncharted territory.
Richard Berlin, who runs an insurance brokerage firm in Peabody, Mass., cast it in 12-step language.
"It's just like the alcoholic who frees himself from the bonds of drink and says, 'Now I can figure out who I want to be,' " Mr. Berlin said. "We're the Red Sox Nation. Maybe we'll need to be the Prozac Nation, but I hope that's not the case."
Many wonder whether fans will turn into unseemly braggarts, in particular taking the opportunity to lord it over Yankees fans as payback for years of pinstriped abuse.
"A team that loses in some ways is going to be easier to identify with for most Americans than one that wins," Ms. Power said. "Are we going to become that which we can never imagine being? Are we winners now, and does that make us sort of less empathetic, less humble? That's what being on the other side of the jackboot for 86 years leaves people able to do. Yankee fans don't feel for what we've gone through. Are we going to become like them?"
Mr. Epstein does not think the transformation will be too drastic. "With the first ball that goes under the third baseman's glove next year, all will be normal," he said. "It will still be the grumpiest city in America."
Ms. Power sees a chance for a city to lighten up by removing its chip.
"Maybe it will just become about a baseball rivalry instead of a humiliated city," she said. "It could make baseball less about the meaning of life and more about just baseball."
And, she said, almost as if to reassure herself, "that wouldn't be such a bad thing."