Mind over matter? How charms, rituals and childhood habits guide Red Sox fortunes

Last modified: Monday, October 28, 2013

EASTHAMPTON — The Brass Cat bar’s replica of Fenway Park’s famed Green Monster and its hand-controlled scoreboard is more than a way to keep track of Red Sox games. It’s a good luck charm.

“That scoreboard is considered magical,” said co-owner Michael Lavalle. The reproduction, using authentic Fenway green paint, was installed in the bar on Cottage Street just before opening day of the 2004 baseball season. That season, you might recall, ended with the Red Sox beating the St. Louis Cardinals for the World Series title for the first time in 86 years.

Since then, each night there is a game on, whether it is during the regular season or the postseason, a member of the bar’s staff puts the score up on the Monster, inning by inning and run by run, attaching the small Velcro digits, until the final out is made.

Should the Red Sox win the game, especially if it’s one played in October, Lavalle said that employee is obligated to handle the duty again for the next game. Should the Red Sox lose, though, someone else takes over, in hopes that will change the team’s fortunes.

The scoreboard is among several talismans and symbols of superstition evident at the bar, where a section of one wall still bears stains from the champagne sprayed by revelers celebrating that momentous victory nine years ago.

“It’s good luck and it reminds all of us of that wonderfully happy day, when grown men were hugging and crying,” Lavalle said.

Even though the team has won another World Series championship since then, making that two in less than a decade, and is playing for a third, longtime fan Erich “Rick” Janes said the idea that the team will ultimately fail persists. The idea that the Sox would never win a title was ingrained in him by his father all through his boyhood.

“We’re still waiting for something to go wrong,” Janes said. “My superstition is as soon as there’s a big play in the game, I’d turn it off.”

Even now, Janes, 68, said he periodically shuts off the television thinking it might give the Sox a better chance of winning if he’s not watching.

Smith College President Kathleen McCartney is watching all the World Series games from her home and munching popcorn as she does, in large part because that’s the snack she enjoyed when her father, now 91, brought the family to Fenway Park.

“I still make popcorn when I watch the World Series. It’s definitely a ritual,” said McCartney, 57. “We had so much fun there as kids. We ate the popcorn as fast as we could.”

Once the popcorn was gone, they’d use the containers, which resembled megaphones, to amplify their cheers.

McCartney, who grew up in Medford, said she’s been a Red Sox fan her entire life. The team’s loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1967 World Series crushed her spirits.

That made the postseason victories on the way to the title in 2004 extra sweet. She was at the Harvard Graduate School of Education that year when the Red Sox defeated the New York Yankees to advance to the World Series. She gave away Baby Ruth bars to mark the end of what had been called the Curse of the Bambino, a curse die-hard fans believed dated back to 1920, when the legendary Babe Ruth was sold by Boston’s owners to the Yankees. Many believed the Red Sox title drought was the result of that deal.

Each to their own

Many fans who come to Brass Cat bring their own superstitions, Lavalle said. If the team hits a home run while a person is out of the bar taking a smoking break, that patron may have to go outside again the next time the team is batting.

“A lot of the people will go through the same rituals, they’ll wear a certain hat or shirt on game night,” he said.

Stan Ziomek, 89, of Amherst, who started following the Red Sox in the 1930s, said he doesn’t bother with rituals. He has been glued to the television during the World Series games paying close attention to the skills of the pitcher.

“I keep track of the pitcher, how he’s doing, his strikeouts and bases on balls,” Ziomek said.

He claims not to have superstitions. “I just hope they win every year.”

Janes, who started following the Red Sox in 1955, said the lengthy season gives fans ample opportunity to become attached to the players and invested in their performance. He said the poor seasons the team endured when he first started watching drove fans to look for other ways to enjoy the game.

“If you were a Red Sox fan back in that era, the only thing you had to root for was statistics,” said Janes, noting that he would memorize the batting lines of Ted Williams and Jackie Jensen and try to appreciate the nuances of the sport in the 1950s. “Most of my love of baseball is the history of it, the statistics of it.”

Besides the time she spent at games, McCartney said she remembers sitting on the porch with her father and listening to radio broadcasts of the games. She said baseball can bring people together over a common love, even if they don’t root for the same team. For this World Series, she has a friendly dinner bet with a St. Louis Cardinals fan living in Hawaii, who told her he made “chowdah” for dinner during the first game.

A matter of age

Both McCartney and Janes illustrate the generational divide in how Red Sox fans view the team. Younger fans, who have experienced many successful Sox teams over the past decade, are more confident and less apt to fear the team’s potential collapse.

In 2004, as the Red Sox were closing out the Cardinals in a four-game sweep, McCartney brought her father a surprise gift of a bottle of champagne to celebrate on the night of the fourth and final game, but he cautioned her that might ruin their chances of victory.

“He worried I was jinxing the Sox, but of course I didn’t, and the champagne tasted great,” she said. “My father didn’t think the Sox would win the series in his lifetime.”

Janes said his daughter, Erika, doesn’t have the same worries he does. When the Yankees won the pennant on a game-winning home run in the seventh and final game of the 2003 American League Championship Series, she confidently told him that the Red Sox would overcome that heartbreak and win one soon for the long-suffering fans. Today his daughter lives in San Diego, Calif., where she remains an avid Red Sox fan, watching games on television and, when possible, going to games. And Janes said his twin 18-month-old grandchildren, Patrick and Thomas, already are wearing Red Sox gear.

Like others his age, who waited for many years to witness a first world championship, Janes said he still finds the accomplishments hard to believe.

“I’m constantly surprised by their success,” he said. “We’re still confounded and ecstatic about winning.”


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