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Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

The pain in Red Sox nation

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WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- Marty Nolan, the gifted Boston journalist and lifelong baseball fan, spoke for generations when he wrote, "The Red Sox killed my father, and now they're coming after me."

In Yankee Stadium at 12:14 a.m. on October 17, 2003, as one of 56,279, I saw it happen once again. When New York Yankee Aaron Boone, hitting nowhere near his own weight at an anemic .125, bashed an 11th-inning homerun to defeat the Boston Red Sox in the seventh and final game of the American League Championship Series, the Evil Empire crushed Red Sox Nation.

To be a Red Sox fan is to understand what it must be like to be the abused partner in a bad relationship. To have your complete -- but never uncritical -- love go totally unrequited. "This time, things will be different and better, Your Honor. We just know they'll never again hurt us like they did."

How committed are we? For each of the last six seasons, the Red Sox, with the highest ticket prices in baseball, have set a new total attendance record. In every one of those six years, the Yankees have finished in first place and the Red Sox in second place.

The underdog is supposedly a cherished icon in American history and lore: David, the runt shepherd boy, vanquishing Goliath, the giant Philistine powerhouse; a rag-tag band of farmers and tradesmen vanquishing the world dominant British Empire's army to win independence for a new nation; Gary Cooper as the lonely sheriff in "High Noon," abandoned by his fearful neighbors and left to single-handedly take on a brutal gang of outlaws.

If all of this is true, where did all those obscenity spewing, Red Sox-loathing Yankee fans come from? The Yankees are the quintessential overdogs. Since a faithless Red Sox owner, shortly after World War I, sold the best left-handed pitcher in baseball, Babe Ruth, to New York, the Yankees have been champions of the American League 39 times and World Series champions 26 times. In that same period, the Red Sox have won four league championships and zero world championships.

To root for the Yankees, the richest and most powerful baseball franchise, is like rooting for Microsoft. While this year's Red Sox were conspicuous for the camaraderie and closeness of the teammates, the Yankees, too, are like family. The Macbeths, the Borgias and the Mansons.

The capital of Red Sox Nation is Boston, our most political of cities. The team's fans are the offspring of a shotgun marriage between Puritan Protestants and the Catholic Irish.

The Puritans, with their unswerving belief in original sin, surrendered political control, but not social and economic primacy, to the Catholic refugees from famine and British-sanctioned persecution. Instead of a happy tune and a clever quip, these Boston Irish brought with them a grim fatalism, which taught that the grief and injustice endured in this world would eventually be rewarded in the next.

There you have the emotional DNA as well as the historical imperative of the Red Sox fan. The New England Puritans, with their suspicion of and aversion to public pleasure, and the Boston Irish, sustained in their consolation that life's inevitable pain is but temporary, may have agreed on very little politically. But both agreed on the Red Sox, whom they loved and whom both groups expected to lose.

But don't the longsuffering and devoted fans of the Chicago Cubs -- after 58 years without a World Series appearance -- have it just as bad? The Red Sox fan would use a political analogy to explain the differences.

Pulling for the Cubs is a lot like having cheered for long-shot, third-party presidential candidates -- the admirable Norman Thomas, the valiant John Anderson or the mercurial Ross Perot. Your favorite only briefly had any realistic expectation of victory.

The political equivalent of the Red Sox fan is to have lived and died with Republican Gerry Ford in 1976 or Democrat Al Gore in 2000 -- both went to the bottom of the ninth only to lose in historic heartbreakers.

So in the next few days, if you do run into a Red Sox fan, please take the time to be kind and considerate. Because in the final analysis, a losing tradition does not make this latest defeat any less painful.

Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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