10/11/07 6:47 PM ET
Nation confident in Sox
Been there, done that attitude has Boston feeling good
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
"Right here is where I saw grown men and women with pens and baseballs in their hands, treading water," he says on the Charles River, not far from the hatch shell where the Boston Pops played. "They were trying to get to the players. Eighty-six years was a long time to wait."
His stage name is Sgt. Pepperz, because he is the spitting image of John Lennon with his round wire-rim glasses and his lime, orange-trimmed, knee-length satin jacket and his Beatles music on command at his side during this particular "Magical Mystery Duck Tour." His real name is Toirm Miller, a 34-year-old Red Sox diehard who was married on Fenway's right-field roof deck, whose greatest claim to fame is that he captained one of 17 Duck Boats on that day in 2004, and not even Paul Revere did that.
It was a day just like this one, dreary and drizzling under a blanket of gray, except back then it was the most glorious day in the history of the world for a Red Sox fan. There were millions of them lining this route for a parade that was called a Rolling Rally. No one ever thought they would see something like that.
Back then, you expected the worst.
Now, you expect the most.
"It's not the urgency that there was all those years before we won it," Miller says on the eve of the first American League Championship Series in Boston since The Comeback. "It was such a fatalist thing then. Something bad was going to happen. It was going to be '86 all over, Bucky Dent all over. Now it's different. I wouldn't call it an entitlement, but we know we have a good team and we can win."
C.C. Sabathia and the Indians are up next, and first pitch is 7:10 p.m. ET (FOX). Perhaps if Cleveland takes a 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven series, it will feel similar. But it never can be the same again. Not unless these Sox fall short and they never win another world championship for the next eight decades, after most of us are gone.
These Sox took the AL East lead on April 18 and they never lost it. Those rival Yankees had somehow cut their lead to only 1 1/2 games on Sept. 23, but even then, there was a different feeling in Red Sox Nation. The Yankees had been proven human in that 2004 ALCS, the first time a 3-0 series lead was blown in MLB history, and there could never be the same jagged pain in your gut as there was sitting through each of those innings. Boston fans knew they would get in as the Wild Card at the very least, but really they never had that much doubt about getting in this way.
The Sox have home-field advantage as far as possible, and if there is a Game 7 of the World Series and they are in it, then it would be on the night of Nov. 1 at Fenway against either an upstart Arizona or Colorado team that would be almost universally designated as the underdog. The Sox are the only one of the four teams that is loaded with veterans who have "been there," and in fact it is not even close. Youth is served for three teams, and in Boston there is every reason to believe this is the best Red Sox team since, well, the days of Babe Ruth before World War I. Before Duck Boats were made.
"It's a different hunger," Doug Mirabelli says, standing in front of his locker before the Red Sox final pre-ALCS workout on Thursday morning. He has a ring, too. "I think winning in '04 helped for us. Now you know the pressure of winning that first World Series. We have a lot of guys now who know the ups and downs. It's seven one-game series, and we really have to take it that way, just like we did back then."
Mirabelli is asked how much Red Sox Nation has changed. "I think they expect to win now. They're excited, but they expect to win. They really feel this team can do it. It's a different feeling. We were excited to be the team to break the curse, but now that we realize it's been broken, guys are trying to do it again. Ask fans what they think."
That is why MLB.com, at the invitation of recent President of Red Sox Nation candidate Cindy Brown, head of the Boston Duck Tours, fit into one of those same Ducks that the champions fit into back then. You can find Red Sox Nation in pretty much every city in the country, maybe the world. But take this tour and recreate the Rolling Rally, and you can feel again what it was like in 2004, and you remember it again.
"I drove the lead boat," says Gary McNally, 50, better known as Captain Foghorn, or Foggy. "I didn't get any players, I got the confetti machine and the sound system, and most of the confetti that day wound up in my Duck. It was thrilling to be a part of that. I remember how loud the crowd was. My ears were ringing. One guy had a sign and it said, 'My father thanks you from heaven.'"
He also remembers a guy in the crowd "dressed like Waldo."
"The crowd was so enthusiastic. The bridges were just packed with people. One guy jumped in the water and tried to come up. A state trooper on a jet ski came over and grabbed him.
"I'll never forget that night before. My Duck (Red Sox Nathan) was christened that year. We had 17 Ducks staged around Fenway. I thought: 'I'm driving my duck onto the field!' It was like a religious experience, staying with the Ducks that night. I lost my Dad in '96, he was 61, and to see it happen in my lifetime was a good moment."
Yeah. Wicked good.
Good as Sgt. Pepperz when the Longfellow Bridget comes upon the Beantown Pub and the "All-Star burial ground" across the street, with its legendary late inhabitants from John Hancock to Sam Adams. Noting the juxtaposition of the two attractions, Sgt. Pepperz tells his quackers, "It's the only place where you can have a cold Sammy and look at a cold Sammy."
Good as a Yankee joke if you are a Red Sox fan. In fact, one couldn't help but notice on this day before the ALCS that most Sox fans were talking about the losing team from the other AL Division Series just played. "How 'bout those Yankees?" the captain says. "You guys know what the 'NY' stands for on the Yankee hat, right? 'Next year.'"
On my right is a Padres fan who said her team would be here if not for injuries to players like Milton Bradley. In the row behind me are a couple of fans from Cleveland. To my left, a man is wearing the familiar "B" cap. It doesn't really matter what team you follow on a Duck Tour. You are going to feel the Nation.
Only it feels a little different now, like Mirabelli says. To a Sox fan, it feels a little more like a Patriots season, where you expect Tom Brady to throw a TD pass to win the Super Bowl and you expect Jonathan Papelbon to throw the last pitch of the year and then catch Jason Varitek jumping into his arms.
It's not that easy, and Cindy Brown knows it.
For one thing, Boston and Cleveland finished with identical records; the Red Sox won the tiebreaker only by virtue of better head-to-head record during the season. For another thing, well, some old habits in life are hard to break.
"Being a Red Sox fan, you're waiting for the other shoe to drop," she says. "Even if the Red Sox are winning, 8-2, you still don't feel confident. (Josh) Beckett's last outing was the only time lately I didn't feel that way."
In 2004, she always felt that "something will happen." Now, she says, the Nation is eager to see if the team can take care of business. "That year they didn't win their division. Now they have. Now they won't be the underdog. They have to be the leader."
There are 94 Dunkin Donuts in Boston, and 63 of them are in a five-mile radius. One of them has an Osaka Sushi Express within it, at Bowdoin and Cambridge. Beacon Hill is the oldest planned neighborhood in the city, and there you can find 122 Bowdoin Street, which is the address John F. Kennedy still had on his driver's license when he died. "Old Ironsides" -- the U.S.S. Constitution -- does not really have sides made of iron, but rather of live oak from Georgia, sheathed in copper forged by Paul Revere.
These are just some of the facts you will learn if you take the ride of a lifetime that the Boston Red Sox took three years ago. Brown said the Ducks are ready and waiting for Rolling Rally II, should the club wish to use them. "There could be even more fans this time if the weather is nice that day," he says.
After leaving the Ducks, the visitor heads over to Fenway, and stops inside the Red Sox Team Store across the alley. There is a woman with a Sox cap named Betty Albritton, who is up here from Frostproof, Fla.
"I think they'll win this year," she says. "I thought they were gonna choke back then."
Boston vs. Cleveland. Best of seven. Winner goes to the World Series. Foggy, Sgt. Pepperz and everyone else is just waiting once again.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.