November 5, 2004 • Volume 13 Number 5

It's hard to say exactly how many BC students showed their Red Sox loyalty - but some faculty members in the Mathematics Department have a few ideas. (Photo courtesy of Renee Latour)

Carrying on a Carmine Hose Celebration

Red Sox championship fever grips Hub - and Boston College, too

On a campus already buzzing over a thrilling win against archrival Notre Dame and the climax of a hard-fought presidential campaign, the Boston Red Sox's long-awaited World Championship provided even more excitement. A look at how members of the Boston College community - at least those without allegiances to the Yankees and Cardinals - shared in the joyful event:

For 16 BC communication majors, the Red Sox run wasn't just an adventure, it was a job.

The students served as interns for the team during the divisional and league championship play-offs and World Series, helping distribute statistics, transcripts of interviews and other information to the vast media throng at Fenway Park, and providing behind-the-scenes assistance for press conferences.

Their work entailed 10-12 hours a day, much of the time spent trekking from one end of Fenway to another, but the students relished the experience. "It was fascinating to watch how the whole media operation works," said Melissa Bruno '05. "I liked being able to observe the writers at work, and see the different styles of the younger ones versus the 'old-timers.'"

Another high point for Bruno, a Belmont native who played baseball in high school, was being present at a press conference given by Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "I was a catcher, so as you can imagine, he's my favorite player."

Thomas Skendarian '05 could have made good money by continuing his concession job at Fenway during the postseason, but he opted to do the internship. "Sitting in on the press conferences, wishing [Sox manager] Terry Francona good luck before a few games, getting to walk around the field are all indescribable," said the Weston native, "especially for someone like myself who has grown up with the Red Sox."

Because their responsibilities were few once the games were underway, the BC interns had a chance to see the action and collect some unforgettable memories.

At the tail-end of Game 4 against the Yankees, with the Sox facing elimination, Skendarian and another student were in the left-field roof stands when Skendarian snagged a foul ball hit by the Yanks' Hideki Matsui - and in so doing, he claims, acquired a good-luck charm that turned the Sox season around.

"I kissed the ball before every pitch to a Red Sox hitter," he recalled. "I helped them tie the score in the ninth. Then later on I got Manny Ramirez on base with a walk, and then with David Ortiz in a 2-1 count, I kissed the ball again and he hit the game winner.

"It worked again in Game 5."

Bruno enjoyed the games, but she also took the time to tend to her schoolwork, spending part of one game doing her Latin translations in the Fenway press box - and taking a good-natured ribbing from some of the sportswriters.

"I did get caught up in the routine," she said, "but then I was sitting in the stands before the first game of the World Series, and the jets did the fly-by overhead and Steven Tyler sang the national anthem, and it hit me: 'Wow, I'm at the World Series!'"

* * *

The Red Sox postseason was full of memorable events, sights and personalities: Curt Schilling and his bloody sock; the heart-stopping comeback against the Yankees; the frenzied follicles of Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez. So how did it compare with the great myths and heroic sagas of old? A special committee of Red Sox fans in the Classical Studies Department mulled the possibilities.

"We came to think that the Sox are beyond heroism, verging more towards recognition as deities," said Assoc. Prof. Charles F. Ahern, the department chairman. "Ancient heroes, for one thing, can be pretty unsavory at times - murdering wives and children, for instance. Then too, and even more to the point, they're often aggressively individualistic - unlike the Sox, they don't play well together.

"The gods, by contrast, form a group, even a team, though they have distinct identities within it. So we wondered about a Red Sox pantheon instead."

Imagine, continued Ahern, "statuary figures carved into a pediment of Faneuil Hall. In the center you could have the Big Three: Zeus/Jupiter, Poseidon/Neptune, and Hades/Pluto, three brothers who govern the whole world among them. Think John Henry, Tom Warner, Larry Lucchino.

"To the left of the Big Three put Hermes/Mercury, genial escort and guide who takes the Sox to the next and greatest level: Theo Epstein. To the right put Hephaistos, the lame-footed god, a craftsman: Curt Schilling - who else?

"Next to the left, Herakles/Hercules, with his big club and a Red Sox 'B' on his lionskin head cover: David Ortiz. Next to the right, Ares/Mars, a temperamental warrior god: Pedro.

"On the outer flanks, put Apollo on the left and Dionysus on the right, the one a calm advisor and accurate archer (Jason Varitek), the other a free spirit enjoying every moment of the ride (Manny Ramirez)."

* * *

In ending their eight-and-a-half decade championship drought, the Red Sox mercifully expunged the so-called Curse of the Bambino, which - as even most non-baseball partisans now know - held that the team's 1918 sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees doomed the Sox to years of futility and heartbreak. To a psychologist like Assoc. Prof. Joseph Tecce, a long-time Sox fan himself, The Curse represented an ideal case study in human behavior at its best, and worst.

There was actually a positive side to The Curse, Tecce says. "Curses are great stress reducers in the short term," he explained. "A major source of stress is disappointment, which is simply an unmet expectation. A curse allows you to prepare for defeat and not be disappointed when it comes. You know you're a Red Sox fan when after winning three straight games in the World Series, you worry about losing the next four games.

"And so in the short-term The Curse insulates you from the psychological pain of once again coming 'this close' but not winning."

But over the long term, Tecce says, The Curse spoiled the fun of being a Red Sox fan, like a perennial chip on the shoulder or dark cloud hovering overhead. "A curse also shifts the onus for Red Sox defeats onto myth rather than reality. The ball rolled through Bill Buckner's legs in the 1986 World Series because his glove wasn't low enough, not because his halo was tarnished or he was blinded in both eyes by a curse. Johnny Pesky may have hesitated and held the ball too long in the 1946 world series, but it was a judgment he made, not a poltergeist restraining his arm.

"Here is where a curse serves as a crutch to blunt the reality of responsibility. Baseball games are won or lost by players, not ghosts."

With The Curse now consigned to the minor leagues of baseball history, Tecce says the psychological prospects for once haunted Sox fans are promising. "Now attention can be turned away from when we will lose again to thoughts of a breaking new baseball records. Dumping The Curse means a fan can be proactive about the Red Sox future instead of looking over a shoulder and worrying about mythical ghosts haunting the team.

"Why worry about the past with a demon," said Tecce, "when you can smile, hold up your head, and look forward to the future with a Damon?"

* * *

One very noticeable result of the improbable baseball postseason was the proliferation of Red Sox hats around the BC campus beginning in mid-October.

This manifestation of Red Sox Pride prompted a call to the Mathematics Department bullpen for some late-inning help. The question: What's the best way to estimate the number of BC students wearing Bosox caps?

According to the Carney Hall crew, doing the math is relatively easy. You could, for example, find a public area such as the Campus Green or Carney Dining Room in McElroy, count the number of Red Sox hats and divide by the total number of people in the given area, then multiply by the BC student population.

The problem, say the mathematicians, would be more in the method.

"The key is to find and study a 'representative sample,'" said Assoc. Prof. Richard Jenson. "You'd want to structure the students participating in the sample to mirror the student population at BC. So, if BC has 23 percent AHANA students, then we'd strive for 23 percent of the students in our sample to be AHANA. Same with women-men split, same with year of graduation, geographical origin and so on.

"Finding a good sample is much, much more complex and difficult than the math involved."

Prof. Jenny Baglivo puts it this way: "Suppose that 300 of 500 students who passed by in the fixed time period had a 'B' hat on. If you could assume that the 500 students who came by that day and at that time represented a random subset of 500 students at Boston College, then you could reasonably estimate that three-fifths of all students were wearing 'B' hats.

"Since students have specific schedules, however, I don't think that you would get a random subset doing it this way.

"But," Baglivo added, "it was fun thinking about it."

Chronicle invites readers to submit their own estimates for the number of BC caps worn on campus during October.

-Compiled by Stephen Gawlik and Sean Smith

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