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Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2004
Iím on limited time here, but just had to make some sort of acknowledgment.

And I know that an entire section of New England this morning must, must already know this. They donít call it the Nation for nothing. I can almost hear a collective in drawing of air for the triumphant howls to come.

But I gotta say. The baseball Red Sox just absolutely have my profound admiration.

How on earth they found the will, the need to win a seventh game against an opponent so large in their way Iíll never know. They touched on something outside of themselves and tapped into an ecstasy of relentless drive and plain old guts. Never seen anything quite like it in my sports watching life.

When I was about 14, my parents and I drove to a little town in northeast Massachusetts called Manchester. My brother happened to be attending seminary there, he and his wife and a baby homesteading in an apartment in town.

And being 14 and a happening sort of lad, there was a genetic need to get out of the apartment and go exploring. You could actually walk down to the ocean, sit on the beach and look at seagrass blown in from Africa or somewhere, or walk completely around and through the town itself. Wasnít a very big place, a very fishing town New England sort of town.

Did I mention I was 14? I was already smoking purloined cigarettes and trying to think up ways to get ahold of a six pack of Pabst. Just your usual surly youth.

At some point I ran out of cigarettes on my ramblings around town and I was in a bit of a funk. I was on my own in a strange town, didnít have a clue as to how I could get anymore. Buying them from a store? I did mention I was 14, right? And believe me, I looked it. But the more I thought about it, and the more desperate I got, the more sense it made. Just hustle my skinny ass in there and if the cashier turned me down, he surely wouldnít ever seen me again. Wouldnít be calling up my Mom and saying ďYou would believe what that kid of yours tried to pull todayĒ or anything like that.

I strolled into a little deli-grocery combo, the kind you never see any more in this age of the megabox. Just a little neighborhood dive, they probably had a pool table in the back and an apartment overhead. That sort of place. Clapboard siding and a screen door kind of place.

I grabbed a bag of candy (sort of a diversionary tactic, you see, you donít just strut up to the counter and order your tobacco outright when youíre 14) and studied the magazine rack for a minute, eyeballing my quarry behind the counter. And the proprietor who guarded same. A tall Episcopalian, likely every bit of seventy, complete with rimless glasses and an apron.

Jesus, I was going to try to pass myself off as an adult to Ichabod Crane.

Remember, I was desperate here. Those of you who donít smoke, bless your hearts. Those of you who do, well, you probably know exactly what Iím talking about. Like as not youíve got your own story at 14.

But as nervous as I was, I noticed something that gave me that little bit of hope. Ichabod had a baseball cap on his balding noggin. A Red Sox hat.

So I tossed the candy on the counter and tried to appear disinterested, or cool, or cold (it happened to be winter, and it happened to be New England) in my big hunting jacket. Ichabod BoSox rang me up on the ancient register and inquired, in a voice that dripped clam chowder, ďThat be all for you sir?Ē

I dropped my voice about an octave and a half and grunted, ďPack of Marlboros.Ē

And to my eternal delight, he whipped astern and snagged a pack, gnarled fingers and all, saying ďPackage of Marlboros, yes sir.Ē As if it was the most natural thing on earth. Bagged them up for me even. Gave me my change and wished me a good day.

I donít think Iíve ever seen a Red Sox hat to this day and not thought, even fleetingly, of the way that ancient one looked, in his ancient grocery, with a hat cocked jauntily on a grizzled head, peering politely down at his customer and being downright courtly as he passed over a package of Marlboros. It was just one of those moments. I donít remember most of what happened last week. But I remember moments with a clarity that suspends belief.

If that moment made me into a lifelong Red Sox fan, so be it. Doesnít diminish their accomplishment. Or explain my fixation on them. Or cigarettes, for that matter.

Iím gonna go hunt up my hat just now, the one with the big red B on it. Cheers.

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