by Ann M. Colford & r & As I write this, the 2005 baseball season has been history for less than a week. This year, top honors went to the Chicago White Sox -- the Sox of a Different Color -- another team whose last championship came during the Wilson administration. But as the postseason unfolded, my mind went back to last fall, to the magical mystery tour that was the Boston Red Sox' march to baseball's pinnacle.

It was Oct. 27, 2004 -- a date etched into the minds of Sox faithful across the vast New England diaspora. To recount for those who didn't follow the story last year, Boston came into the playoffs as the American League wildcard after finishing second in the AL East Division to the hated New York Yankees. The Sox won their first series against the Anaheim Angels three games to none. Next came the seven-game series against the Yankees for the league title. After losing the first three games to the Bronx demons, the Sox won four in a row, including the climactic Game Seven in Yankee Stadium, to beat their nemesis and move on to the World Series. There, they pummeled the St. Louis Cardinals in four straight to win their first World Championship since 1918 -- that's 86 years -- breaking the alleged "Curse of the Bambino" and moving out of the doghouse forever.

The victory drew sportswriters and cultural observers to speculate on what would happen to Boston fans now that their team no longer wallowed in the dugout of perennial losers. Even here in Spokane, there are outposts of Red Sox Nation, so I thought I'd compare notes with other Sox fans and see if the world had, indeed, changed over the past year.

"We watched the game at home," recalls Alexander Caruso, owner of the Empyrean coffeehouse on Madison in downtown Spokane and a former Bostonian. "Two outs in the top of the ninth, then a little grounder, to Mientkiewicz at first, and that's the game. I was shocked. No jumping up and down. I was waiting for the bottom of the ninth and the tenth and then the big collapse and losing four straight games. It was crazy. Surreal. I had witnessed something my parents had never seen."

For other fans, the memories go back even further.

"I can remember in '46, when they were playing the Cardinals," says Buck Rogers, development director for the Ministry Institute at Mater Dei Institute. "I listened to it on the radio. That was my first Series -- I was just a kid. But this was unbelievable. Anytime you whip the Yankees, it's good. They were down by three and came back and kicked butt. I mean, who wins eight in a row? Come on!"

Despite their star-crossed past, the Red Sox attract fans who pick up on that intensity and indomitable optimism in the face of such hard luck. Mike Regan of Spokane grew up a Yankees fan during the era of Mantle and Maris, but he changed his stripes after a trip to Fenway Park a few years ago.

"You walk into Fenway, and it's the magic of the place," he says. "It's been a sellout since 1969. The people there are incredible fans. They really are the faithful because they're back year after year, believing. For me, it was the fans' love of the game, that feeling and passion."

Regan became disillusioned with George Steinbrenner's deep-pockets approach to baseball, he says.

"It's not hard to stay with a winning team. Yes, the Yankees have wonderful players, but it's about more than money. It's more than a game. These people [in Boston] really love the game. They go through pain year after year, yet they're back, filling the place up."

The front page of the Boston Globe on Oct. 28, 2004 proclaimed, "New England will never be the same." Certainly many Red Sox fans felt a distinct shift in the Earth's axis, but "never" is a long time. Has the impact lasted?

"Oh, it changes everything in a very real way," Caruso insists. "The fact that they won shows anything can happen. There is no curse, there's no dark cloud. Even this year, it's OK that they lost to Chicago [in the playoffs]. I don't hate the White Sox -- the loss wasn't demoralizing."

Rogers agrees, although he's glad the Yankees got booted from the playoffs, too: "Old George couldn't buy himself a pennant or a series, even with his millions of dollars."

Like the others, Regan pulled for Chicago after they eliminated the Red Sox from the playoffs. "Chicago waited 88 years for a championship, even longer than the Red Sox," he says. "They're the guys that beat the Red Sox, and they're representing the American League."

Still, there's a glow left over from last fall, a glow that will keep the stoves hot for Red Sox fans throughout the long cold winter.

"It's a fairy-tale story," Caruso says. "Sometimes the good guys do win. And it gives you heart. It gives you hope."

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