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Theo Epstein
Boy wonder living childhood dream in backyard

By Corey Gottlieb /

At Pino's Pizzeria in Brookline, Mass., $5 can get you a fountain root beer and two pepperoni slices the size of your head.

More than mere tradition, Pino's is both manna and mainstay for the suburb's adolescent cohort, its booths overflowing with the chirps of Friday-night angst.

Ask Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein about Pino's -- or Sealey's Lunch, or Eagle's Deli -- and you can be sure he knows just what to order. A town resident from age 5 through his high school graduation in 1991, Epstein's identification with Brookline is a fact unaffected by his current title.

"You hear stories about Theo, and you think, 'Wow, this guy is so ... normal,'" said Renauld Lucas, a former Brookline High baseball player who lives a block from the Epstein family apartment. "It's rare to know how someone like that grew up and feel like you've been there, too."

Where Epstein has been is not, in fact, where anyone has gone before: At 28, he became the youngest GM in Major League history, and he has since infused the position with an electric-guitar-playing, gorilla-suit-wearing, blazer-and-jeans eclecticism never before known in the front office.

"This is no longer your father's Oldsmobile," team president Larry Lucchino said when the club hired Epstein in 2002.

But behind the new-car exterior, there remains the kid from Parkman Street, that skinny seventh-grader who wore the maroon and white at Lawrence Elementary and toed the rubber at Warren Field. Anything but affected, the Theo of today bears a striking resemblance to his childhood persona; unassuming and quietly brilliant, he is akin to the boy who feigned reading in his bedroom while listening to Red Sox games over practically inaudible radio waves.

That boy still belongs to a family tied inextricably to its Coolidge Corner roots.

Leslie Epstein, Theo's father, runs the creative writing department at Boston University, not a three-minute walk from his Brookline residence. A lifelong Red Sox fan, Leslie has a light-hearted candor that belies his Rhodes Scholar credential.

Age: 34

New York, N.Y.

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"What if he wins the World Series this year?" the professor was quoted as having asked when his son got the job. "What does he do next? Become a Jewish pope?"

While a Vatican ascension is unlikely for any of the Epsteins, Irene, Theo's mother, and Sandy Gradman, his aunt, are considered near saintly in the neighborhood. The twin sisters are co-owners of "The Studio," a women's clothing shop that opened 29 years ago on Harvard Street in Brookline and became a hotbed for local activism after Sandy was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2001.

"I think people appreciate the idea of 'people who sell clothes' doing something," Irene has said. "You just have to do something, and we felt we could."

And they are not the only set of twins doing something for the Brookline community. Paul Epstein, 60 seconds Theo's elder brother, has been a social worker and girls' soccer coach at the high school for the past seven years.

"[Paul] is really the conscience of our family," Theo told the Boston Globe.

Which makes Theo ... what, exactly? Boy genius? Prodigal son?

If his Brookline brethren have any say in it, two-time World Series champion would be a satisfactory label.

Corey Gottlieb is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.