New Hampshire Fans Still Believe in the Red Sox

Even after a dismal year, devoted NH fans dare to believe



Mark Wholey proposing to his then-girlfriend (and now wife of nine years) Kelli back in 2004 on the pitcher's mound at their beloved Fenway Park.
Photo courtesy of the Wholey family

Is the romance gone?

Nine years ago, when no one could imagine that every Red Sox fan on the planet would soon get his or her grubby fingerprints on not one, but two World Series trophies, Nashua firefighter Mark Wholey took his girlfriend Kelli on a tour of Fenway Park.

The home team was 2,000 miles away at Coors Field, where they pounded the Colorado Rockies 11-0. Mark and Kelli got to watch the grounds crew instead. Unexpectedly, the tour guide pulled the couple aside and asked them if they were interested in walking out onto the field. Once on the dirt, they were told that the pitcher's mound was fair game too.

Mark then dropped to one knee and pulled out a ring while the scoreboard flashed "Kelli, Will You Marry Me?" The rest of the tourists cheered like Manny and Big Papi had just clubbed back-to-back dingers. The proposal was later immortalized in the book "Faithful," Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan's chronicle of the 2004 season.

"I was so happy that the park was empty and that we had those few minutes to ourselves," reflects Kelli. "I've seen so many people get engaged during a game and it's much more of a high-pressure situation. Not that I would have ever said 'No' if Mark had done it the other way."

Fast forward to 2013. Mark and Kelli just celebrated their eighth wedding anniversary in February and as parents of a 6-year-old boy and 3-year-old girl, they now need a babysitter so they can attend this year's Opening Day. Their beloved Red Sox need their passion now more than ever.

How horrendous was 2012's nosedive into the AL East cellar? It can't only be measured by their pathetic 69-93 record, .426 winning percentage (worst performance since 1965 when the team was 62-100) or laughable 26 game deficit behind the hated New York Yankees. It's become a matter of trust.

Perception is reality and the image of Bobby Valentine's Red Sox was a team that stopped trying and even stopped caring. That's not a disgruntled fan's view. It's the current perspective of the Red Sox marketing department. Print and web ads for 2013 season tickets feature the determined faces of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz with the slogans "162 Chances to Restore the Faith" and "What's Broken Can Be Fixed." Given that contrition campaigns are rare - maybe even nonexistent - in professional sports, the ballclub is sending the message that it is not taking its die-hard fans for granted.

Principal Dan LaFleur's office features a photo mural of Game 1 of the 2004 World Series with Curt Schilling pitching against Edgar Renteria and ballpark seats.
Photo by Jarrod McCabe

Raising Tomorrow's Fan Base

For lifelong enthusiasts like the Wholeys, loyalty runs deeper than the disappointment, ecstasy or apathy over any one season. Beyond the surreal nostalgia of being on that mound, they cherish Fenway Park as an annual pilgrimage. "Win or lose," Kelli says, "there's just something magical about being there. Yes, last year was annoying, but we're never giving up on them."

At the Ernest P. Barka Elementary School in Derry, there isn't a student who doesn't know where Principal Dan LaFleur stands in this baseball crisis. An entire wall in his office is covered with a photo mural of Game 1 of the 2004 World Series with Curt Schilling pitching against Edgar Renteria. As an added touch, he installed baseball stadium seats that he bought during a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

All of these props set the stage for his weekly "Student of the Week" ceremonies. One nominee from each of his grade K-5 classrooms is celebrated for good grades or positive attitudes by being photographed in front of Faux Fenway.

"Naturally, no one is forced to pose," LaFleur says. "We have some Yankees fans among us and we always teach tolerance here and respect for a difference in opinion. Last year's losing season also was a teaching opportunity. To be a Red Sox fan, you have to have perseverance. You can't win all the time."

Wally the Green Monster, the cuddly Red Sox mascot, visited the Derry school two years ago to promote literacy programs. LaFleur experienced his own "Field of Dreams" moment this January, participating in Red Sox open auditions for a new PA announcer to replace the late Carl Beane. The principal's recorded tryout was later shared on his school's PA system during morning announcements.

"I have not come down off Cloud 9 yet," LaFleur says. "I could see the lit-up Citgo sign and the field was dark. My eyes were closed and I was picturing the ballpark as full and that this was a playoff game in October."

Ten-year-old Nick Norris isn't hopeful about the team's chances this year (he predicts a third or fourth place finish for the 2013 season), but he loves the Sox all the same.
Photo by Jarrod McCabe

Over in Portsmouth, the principal has a kindred spirit in 10-year-old Nick Norris, who has a Green Monster wall in his bedroom with a changeable scoreboard. Over the past few seasons, the fourth grader has created his own "sports sections," live stat sheets of games in progress. Unfortunately for his readers, night games seldom get covered because of an 8:15 p.m. bedtime.

Norris is a fan of Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury for the same reason: "They make
diving catches and I like seeing diving catches." He has dressed as both players over the past
two Halloweens.

The 10-year-old has mixed reviews about last year's high-profile front office moves. Thumbs up for getting rid of pitcher Josh Beckett, who "was not being a good teammate," and thumbs down for trading firstbaseman Adrian Gonzales, "probably the best hitter on the team." His sobering 2013 prediction: third or fourth place.

NH Sox Pride

Rebuilding the Red Sox dynasty - or at least a perennial contender - now rests squarely on the shoulders of New Hampshire native Ben Cherington, the team's new general manager. The collapse began under GM Theo Epstein's watch in the fall of 2011, but avalanched during his rookie year at the helm.

Cherington, who grew up in Meriden and was a standout pitcher for Lebanon High School (Class of '92), isn't trying to pass the buck.

"I've said it before, it's a collective failure, but I take more responsibility than anyone for it," he told MLB.com. "Last year, we were a long way from living up to what we should be on the field and off the field. It's up to us to make the Red Sox what they should be again."

Hall of Fame catcher Carlton “Pudge” Fisk's number is retired at Fenway
Photo courtesy of carltonfisk.com

When reminiscing about the most exciting highlights of Red Sox history, New Hampshire fans quickly point to Hall of Fame catcher Carlton "Pudge" Fisk's upbringing in tiny Charlestown. The man most famous for his home run theatrics waving the ball fair in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series actually had teenage ambitions of playing for the Boston Celtics. Fisk led the 1963 Charlestown High School Forts to a 25-0 championship basketball season.

Three decades earlier, Nashua's George "Birdie" Tebbetts was a two-time All-Star catcher for Boston from 1947-1950. Despite hitting .310 in his last Sox season, he was sold to the Cleveland Indians after publicly calling two teammates "juvenile delinquents and moronic malcontents." Apparently, peace in the clubhouse was valued higher than stats that year.

Rounding out our state's magnetism for Red Sox backstops is Gary Allenson, a California native who was just named the new manager of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the minor league AA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. Nicknamed "Muggsy" from his college days, Allenson was the Sox backup catcher from 1979-1984, playing behind Carlton Fisk and Rich Gedman.

"This year is going to be a reunion of sorts," he says. "I hope to have a bunch of Red Sox fantasy camp players come bug me while I'm managing in Manchester. Year after year, you get to know some of these campers pretty well. I consider them friends."

Although they are the farm team for the rival Blue Jays, Fisher Cats games also provide one of the more convenient venues for fans to get a sneak preview of future Red Sox whenever the Portland Sea Dogs come to town. Over the past few years, Manchester has hosted soon-to-be Sox stars such as Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Josh Reddick, Felix Doubront and Will Middlebrooks.

In 2007 Manchester fans got a rise out of Fisher Cats manager Bob Masse for giving Buchholz a standing ovation. Masse called the cheers "absolutely disgraceful."

"We're not playing the Boston Red Sox. It's Manchester against Portland," he told the Union Leader. "There's not a park in the world that would have given him a standing ovation for throwing six innings for one run and 11 strikeouts. I guess I will never understand how you can root for the Fisher Cats when we don't play Portland and root for them when we do play them."

For Fisher Cats general manager Rick Brenner, the occasional dual allegiances aren't so troubling.

"People may come here as a Red Sox fan, but hopefully they leave here a Red Sox fan and a Fisher Cats fan," he says. "You can be the biggest Boston fan in the world but still be happy when some of these young players make it big on the Blue Jays or another team. I liken it to rooting for someone you went to high school with. Even if they're not your best friend, you're still happy to see them do well."

New York mayor Rudy Giuliani took heat before the 2008 NH primary for saying he rooted for the Sox in the 2007 World Series.

Courting the Sox Vote

The regional obsession with the Red Sox is powerful enough to impact the state's true official sport - politics. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani took a lot of guff before the 2008 New Hampshire Primary for saying he was rooting for the Red Sox in the 2007 World Series.

Among the first critics to pounce on the Yankee-loving Giuliani was Barack Obama.

"Congratulations, by the way, Red Sox Nation. I am a White Sox fan," he said, addressing a fundraiser in Boston. "You don't want someone who pretends to be a Red Sox fan as president of the United States, you want somebody who is a principled sports fan, even when his team is losing he still stands up for them."

Other key events in Baseball Primary history include Ted Williams campaigning for both George Bushes, Carlton Fisk endorsing George W. Bush and Curt Schilling stumping for John McCain - even sharing the spotlight on a baseball card-style political brochure.

In 2008 Mont Vernon voter Zoe Fimbel, a McCain supporter, was thrilled to meet the Man Behind the Bloody Sock at the Peddler's Daughter restaurant in downtown Nashua - but she insists she also would have been in line for an autograph if Schilling were campaigning for Obama.

"I'm not sure if the players - or any famous celebrity - changes anybody's vote," she says. "But I think an athlete's endorsement could work both ways. It could backfire and alienate a lot of fans. They have to be careful."

Baseball fans do vote with their wallets, however. Nowhere is that more evident than at Collector's Heaven, the state's largest baseball card store and memorabilia shop in downtown Manchester.

"It's been a depressing year," says owner Mike Grady, who's been in business since 1979 and depends on baseball for 70 percent of revenue. "When people are not happy with the Red Sox, they are going to stay away."

"But I think things will turn around this season," he adds. "The ownership realizes they've made mistakes. And if you look at the teams position by position, I'm confident that the Red Sox can compete with anyone in the AL East. I really think the Sox are going to surprise us."


Dave McCarthy and Red Sox legend Ted Williams at the New Hampshire International Speedway in 1999. The retired NH trooper now runs the Ted Williams Museum in Florida.
Photo courtesy of Dave McCarthy

Guarding Ted's Legacy

Why a NH state trooper keeps cheering for the "Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived"

As the former volunteer bodyguard of Ted Williams, retired NH State Police veteran Dave McCarthy loves to tell stories about how the Red Sox legend could instantly turn anyone into an 8-year-old kid.

He was with the Splendid Splinter at Pease Air Force Base in 1992, when President George H. W. Bush almost tripped down the stairs of Air Force One in excitement. He escorted Williams when he was the Grand Marshall at the New Hampshire International Speedway in 1999, when NASCAR drivers giddily lined up for his autograph - and a few days later when he was the celebrated guest at Fenway Park for the All-Star Game and was mobbed by the MLB's biggest stars in a scene that made them all seem like Little Leaguers.

"That was Ted," says McCarthy, who ironically drove State Police car #9 (Williams' uniform number) when he was on active duty. "He had that effect on people. And my friendship with him has allowed me to live a dream. I don't believe in being an old cop. By the time I hit 50, it was time to do something different."

The former Tilton resident is now the executive director of the Ted Williams Foundation and the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame in St. Petersburg, Florida. Since 2002, it has been a role that has allowed him to become a professional fan 24/7 - arranging Spring Training and regular season charity events with the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Philadelphia Phillies, Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles.

McCarthy also teams up with the Fisher Cats every year to put on the New Hampshire Baseball Dinner to benefit Children's Hospital at Dartmouth (CHaD).

Founded by Nashua developers Sam Tamposi and Gerry Nash, the Ted Williams Museum originally sat on land in their Citrus Hills retirement community, which used Ted himself as celebrity pitchman. However, unlike the rural lure of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, the destination proved to be too isolated to draw large crowds. In 2006 the museum moved to Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

"The Red Sox were trying to find a spot for me, but there's just not enough room for a museum at Fenway," McCarthy says. "The Rays had a ton of room and made us an offer we couldn't refuse."

The museum honors all facets of Williams' life, including his service in World War II and the Korean War and his love for fishing and the outdoors. The Hitters Hall of Fame recognizes the obvious legends but also strives to include "players who don't get the credit they deserve."

Although he was banned from Major League Baseball and Cooperstown enshrinement for gambling, Pete Rose was inducted here. Boston's unsung heroes Dom DiMaggio, Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans are honored here too, along with Sox Hall of Famers Wade Boggs, Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk and Andre Dawson.

McCarthy first became involved with the Williams family when he attended the 1986 World Series as New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu's driver and bodyguard. Williams' son, John Henry, was interested in law enforcement and struck up a conversation in the Sox owners' box.

After witnessing the aging and frail Williams being mobbed at an autograph show, McCarthy offered to provide his hero personal security for free - and arranged for fellow troopers to join him.

"It's not like there was ever a threat made on his life," recalls McCarthy. "We were afraid of him getting crushed by the people who adored him." - Darren Garnick

For more information about the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame, visit tedwilliamsmuseum.com.


Local actor Scott Severance played one of Jimmy Fallon's loyal seatmates in the 2005 film "Fever Pitch." That's him seated and about to shake Fallon's hand.

Time to Make Another Red Sox Movie?

Is a "Fever Pitch" sequel the key to ending the new Sox slump?

It's a dream scenario for any actor/Red Sox fan. Derry's Scott Severance shares an Internet Movie Database (IMDb) page with Jason Varitek, Johnny Damon, Trot Nixon, Jim Rice and Dennis Eckersley.

The film, of course, is 2005's "Fever Pitch," starring Jimmy Fallon as an obsessed Red Sox fan whose sanity fluctuates with the highs and lows of the team. While much of the romantic comedy revolves around Fallon's crush on Drew Barrymore, Severance's character puts baseball ahead of love.

He plays Artie, a divorced man who watches every game with his ex-wife because both parties refused to give up their shared season tickets. Severance gets a lot of screen time because he sits one row in front of Fallon and Barrymore.

A lifelong Sox fan who grew up in Manchester and Pittsfield, the actor thinks he won over the casting director when his eyes got watery reading a monologue of Boston's most heartbreaking moments (Bucky Dent's homer, the ball going through Bill Buckner's legs, etc.) He wasn't acting.

"The Red Sox winning the World Series almost ruined the movie. It was supposed to be about lovable losers. The Sox lose again, but boy gets girl and lives happily ever after," Severance recalls. "On the morning of the fourth game against the Cardinals, the Farrelly brothers flew out to St. Louis for that final scene of Jimmy and Drew kissing on the pitcher's mound."

Severance, who idolized the funky pitching motion and cigar-smoking swagger of pitcher Luis Tiant as a kid, remains optimistic that the Sox can compete for a Wild Card playoff spot this year.

"Our movie helped them break the curse in 2004. Maybe we need to make a 'Fever Pitch 2,'" he jokes. - Darren Garnick

You can see Scott next as a disgruntled motorist in Larry David's upcoming HBO movie, "Clear History," starring John Hamm, Kate Hudson and Michael Keaton.


Though author Darren Garnick (pictured) was brought up (brainwashed?) to love the Sox and revile the Yankees, he has since learned to stop hating the Bronx Bombers.

Embracing The Enemy

How I Learned to Stop Hating the Yankees

During our first father-son game at Fenway two years ago, my boy blurted out a disturbing question as we enjoyed a no-show season ticket holder's box seats. Ari, who is now 11, is by no means a spoiled kid, but I felt like I was at Canobie Lake Park being asked why we weren't at Disney World.

"Dad," he said, gazing at the then-lackluster Baltimore Orioles in the opposite dugout, "When do you think we can see the Red Sox play the Yankees?"

Never," I bluntly replied, softening the blow with a lecture on the microeconomics of baseball tickets. Until I scored some influential friends or won the lottery, our destiny was to watch only the boring teams. Also, the Red Sox were still bragging about their 10 zillionth consecutive sellout record and I was philosophically opposed to negotiating with terrorists/scalpers.

Even though I couldn't deliver on the goods, I was thrilled that Ari had expressed even a moderate interest in the Sox-Yanks rivalry. He's not a die-hard fan who memorizes baseball cards like his dad, but he enjoys the ballpark atmosphere and any story line involving good vs. evil.

I get an adrenaline rush whenever I see that classic photo of Jason Varitek punching A-Rod in the face. I don't even remember what their fight was about, but it still makes me giddy. While most 10-year-olds were doodling Darth Vader back in 1978, I sketched a poster of cartoonish owner George Steinbrenner and branded myself as an "Official Yankees Hater." That copycat drawing remained on my bedroom closet until my teen years, when it was replaced with another New Yorker, swimsuit model Christie Brinkley.

I have no idea if the "Uptown Girl" was or is a Yankees fan, but I have since recoiled over photos of New England "traitors" Tom Brady and Adam Sandler in Yankees hats. Like many New Hampshirites, I brainwashed my two children to be Sox lovers before they could walk. My daughter Dahlia has a David Ortiz jack-in-the-box.

My lifelong addiction was sparked by my Grandpa Bob, a passionate but misguided fan who believed that Carl Yastrzemski was the Messiah, while Jim Rice and Fred Lynn were overpaid "prima donnas." He once proudly spearheaded a fundraising drive for the Jimmy Fund and formally presented the donation to Mike Andrews, the second baseman on the 1967 "Impossible Dream" team. That photo now hangs in my office, reminding me of when I would fall asleep on Grandpa's couch and be woken up when Butch Hobson or George "Boomer" Scott would go deep.

But back to those despised Bronx Bombers.

Darren's 11-year-old son Ari is the next generation of fan. Father and son donned Yankees caps to blend in with the enemy at a Sox-Yankees game in New York. It was then that Darren began to let go of his Yankees hatred.

Last summer, I discovered that it was possible to buy affordable Sox-Yankees tickets - but only if we were willing to venture into enemy territory. Without telling Ari our ultimate destination, I surprised him with a trip to the Roman Coliseum, aka Yankee Stadium. Wanting to avoid being targeted by obnoxious New Yorkers, we entered incognito without a trace of Red Sox gear. I never imagined the scenes that unfolded next.

We watched dozens of out-of-the-closet Red Sox fans boldly strut through the ballpark without the slightest bit of harassment. Perhaps it was because "they" now felt sorry for us. Oh, there were plenty of nasty anti-Boston shirts for sale by street vendors and a few anti-Sox slurs muttered here and there. But contrary to my talk radio indoctrination, I discovered most Yankee fans were not the offspring of Satan.

As Ari and I posed with the World's Largest Yankees Hat on the concourse and goofed around with regular-sized NY hats in my iPhone photo booth, I suddenly realized that I didn't hate them anymore. After three generations of resentment, it was time to finally let go.

In the spirit of reconciliation, I recently tried friending Bucky Dent on Facebook. I still breathlessly await affirmation, but the mere act of reaching out to my childhood's #1 Dreamkiller (if you have to ask why, you should move on to the next article) is the ultimate regressive therapy.

Hating the Yankees is so 2004. It won't make the Red Sox any better. Never did. Never will. - Darren Garnick

Although Darren still has no powerful friends, he and Ari will be at Opening Day sitting in the obstructed view infield grandstands – where they have been warned there will be "no view of the pitcher/catcher or both."


Red Sox NHation Time Line

1890
Amherst’s Frank Selee starts his 16-year managing career with the Boston Beaneaters, winning five National League titles for Boston. He and Carlton Fisk are the only New Hampshire natives in the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Selee wasn’t a Red Sock, but close enough. The Beaneaters became the Boston Braves.)

1912
Future Sox catcher Birdie Tebbetts is born in Burlington, Vt., but his family immediately moves to Nashua, NH, to raise him.

1916
Babe Ruth and his victorious World Series Boston teammates played an exhibition game against a team of locals — and lost. NH newspapers trumpet the Laconians as the new Champions of the World.

1936
Future Sox pitcher Stan Williams (1972) is born in Enfield.

 

1947
Future Sox catcher Carlton Fisk is born in Bellows Falls, Vt., but his family soon moves to Charlestown, NH, to raise him.

1948
Nashua’s Birdie Tebbetts, the feisty Red Sox All-Star catcher, headlines a baseball barnstorming tour that stops in Laconia.

1950
Tebbetts gets sold to Cleveland after calling his teammates “juvenile delinquents and moronic malcontents.”

 

1954
Future Sox pitcher Rich Gale (1984) is born in Littleton.

 

1961
Future Sox outfielder Kevin Romine (1985-91) is born in Exeter.

 


1962
Future Sox pitcher Rob Woodward (1985-88) is born in Hanover.

1969
Future Sox outfielder Phil Plantier (1990-92) is born in Manchester.

 

1975
Carlton Fisk does his dramatic home run dance to win Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

1981
Fisk is exiled (willingly, as a free agent) to the Chicago White Sox.

1998
Former Sox 1B/DH Mike Easler takes over as manager of the Nashua Pride.

 

1999
Just before the MLB All-Star Game at Fenway Park, Ted Williams is the Grand Marshall of the NASCAR races at the NH International Speedway in Loudon.

2000
Fisk is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, choosing the Red Sox hat over the White Sox one for his HOF plaque.

 

2000
Former Sox 3B Butch Hobson begins his eight year reign as manager of the Nashua Pride.

2001
Steroid King and former Sox slugger Jose Canseco begins his comeback attempt with the Newark Bears, opening the season in Nashua.

2007
The Nashua Pride make marketing history with the world’s first “Bobble Belly” doll. It honors chubby ex-Sox reliever Rich Garces, trying to make a comeback at Holman Stadium.

 

2007
Former Sox pitcher Oil Can Boyd headlines a baseball barnstorming tour that stops in Nashua. Ex-Sox Bill Lee, Sam Horn and Ken Ryan join him.

 

2008
Sox World Series icon Curt Schilling campaigns for John McCain in NH during the Primary and general election. It’s not enough. Obama wins the state by a 54-45 percent margin.

2008
Former Sox OF Rick Miller takes over as manager of the Pride.

2009
Former Sox GM Dan Duquette is co-owner of the American Defenders of New Hampshire, a military-themed baseball team with camouflage uniforms and a mascot named “Ground Zero.” Former Sox 1B Brian Daubach is manager, but patriotism fails to win over fans and the team folds after a year.

2011
Meriden’s Ben Cherington takes over as Red Sox general manager, filling the giant shoes of Theo Epstein, who bolted to the Cubs.

2012
Along with new manager Bobby Valentine, Cherington gets off to a rocky start — presiding over the worst Red Sox season in five decades.

 

2013
Former Sox catcher Gary Allenson, who once backed up Carlton Fisk, takes over as manager of the NH Fisher Cats.
–Compiled by Darren Garnick

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