It was a month of familiar angst and cautious hope. Boston Red Sox fans buried their faces in their hands one moment and dared to dream the next.
Television sets were turned on late into the night, in living rooms and crowded sports bars. Sleep-deprived workers and students dragged themselves out of bed each morning, plodding through work and school while talking about the night before, and the night ahead.
The Major League Baseball playoffs of October 2004 galvanized New England like few events have. An entire region celebrated not only a World Series championship, but the end to a near-century of torment.
The Red Sox will celebrate the 10th anniversary of that title Wednesday, with several former players and coaches returning to Fenway Park.
Memories will be stirred, especially among fans who had waited so long to see Boston players hoist a World Series trophy.
Today – especially among young fans – it might be hard to fathom the improbability of the Red Sox winning it all. In the decade since, the team has won two more World Series, in 2007 and 2013. Sox fans also have suffered through the historic late-season collapse of 2011 and a losing streak this spring that reached nine games Saturday.
But in 2004, it had been 86 years since the franchise had won a World Series. Longtime fans – not to mention the parents and grandparents of longtime fans – had been tortured by the likes of Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner and Enos Slaughter and Aaron Boone through the decades as the Red Sox fell tantalizingly short of winning a championship. Time and time again.
WAITING 86 YEARS
Paul Coughlin of Wells remembers the night of Oct. 27, 2004, when Red Sox pitcher Keith Foulke fielded a ground ball and underhanded it to first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, then hoisted catcher Jason Varitek in his arms as they rejoiced over Boston’s first world championship since 1918.
Coughlin, 50, an English teacher at Bonny Eagle High, watched TV as the Red Sox celebrated on the field. He turned to his father, Bob. No words were needed.
“We just cried,” Coughlin said.
In Presque Isle, Bryce Waddell also felt the tears. Passion for the Red Sox was passed down through the generations in his family and he went to sleep many nights to the sounds of a baseball game on the radio. Waddell let his son Evan, then 10, stay up late to watch the historic games.
But Evan was a child. How could he wrap his mind around the disappointing history of being a Red Sox fan?
“Eighty-six years, it’s hard to comprehend,” said Evan, now 20 and a sophomore civil engineering student at the University of Maine.
Coughlin got the same reaction from his students at Bonny Eagle. He tried to explain previous failures – such as the ball rolling through Buckner’s legs when the Sox were one out away from winning the 1986 World Series.
“I don’t think they understand the pain,” Coughlin said. “I show them Bill Buckner’s (play) and they just don’t get it.”
THREE GAMES TO NONE
To reach the 2004 World Series, Boston needed to get through its historical nemesis, the New York Yankees, in the American League Championship Series.
In the best-of-seven series, New York won the first two games in the Bronx and then pummeled the Red Sox at Fenway, 19-8 in Game 3 on Oct. 16.
All the Red Sox had to do was come back from a three-games-to-none deficit in a postseason series – a feat that had never been accomplished in major league history.
“I think a lot of people lost hope at that point,” said Lance Meader, a Waterville native who owns Rivalries Sports Pub and Grill in Portland. “You could feel it in the air. The crowd thinned out.”
Coughlin, now the PA announcer for the Portland Sea Dogs, tried to console his dad about the three-game deficit to the Yankees. The two routinely went to Fenway Park together when Coughlin grew up in nearby Randolph, Massachusetts. “He was as low as I’ve ever seen him,” Coughlin said.
It was not just disappointment bleeding out of New England.
“There was anger,” remembers Jerry Crasnick, a native of Munjoy Hill in Portland and writer for espn.com. “The series had such a build-up and it was not even competitive. They were being embarrassed. (Red Sox fans) were saying, ‘We’re losing to the Yankees and we’re not even showing up.’ ”
Tom Caron knew how low New England felt. Caron, a Lewiston native who writes a weekly column for the Portland Press Herald, was in his first year as the baseball studio host on NESN. On Sunday afternoon, Oct. 17, hours before Game 4, he sensed no excitement on Yawkey Way.
“The place was empty,” Caron said. “Everyone was somewhere else, watching the Patriots.
“No one thought they had a chance after the beating they took in Game 3.”
MIXED REACTION TO GAME 4
Tony Cameron of Brunswick had a ticket to Game 4 and he didn’t feel like going. He had just flown in from the West Coast “in a cranky mood because of the night before.”
Cameron’s brother Chris, an assistant general manager with the Sea Dogs, also had a Game 4 ticket but gave it away. Chris went to Game 3 and didn’t want to see another Yankees rout. So Tony Cameron found a friend and reluctantly drove down.
“I honestly didn’t want to go,” Tony Cameron said. “But I had tickets.”
In Game 4, the Yankees took a 4-3 lead after six innings. Cameron decided to leave.
“It was getting late, my friend had to teach the next day, and the game stunk,” Cameron said. “So we headed out.”
Driving home, Cameron listened on the radio as the Red Sox tied the game in the ninth inning and won it on a David Ortiz home run in the 12th.
“I couldn’t believe what we were listening to,” Cameron said.
“It would have been great to see it, but I’m very superstitious. If we stayed, they probably would have lost.”
Reaction to the Game 4 victory was mixed.
“Someone (at NESN) said, ‘Would you just get it over with. Why delay the agony?’ ” Caron said.
Coughlin simply thought, “There is hope.”
RED SOX FEVER EXPLODES
The Red Sox kept winning: Game 5 in 14 innings, then Game 6 and 7 in New York to complete the comeback and reach the World Series.
Red Sox fever exploded for those games in New York, and then during Boston’s four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
“We were as busy as we could possibly be,” said Meader, who had started his sports bar two years earlier. “Two hours before the game, we had a line of 100 people outside.
“It was great personally (as a Red Sox fan) and great for business. We were just starting out, and it really solidified our place.”
Fans had to stay up late to catch those games. It took a toll in the mornings, especially at school. Dan Costigan, an English teacher at Cheverus High, watched some of his students drag in.
“When they came in, I’d say, ‘Guys, good for you for staying up, but we have work to do.’ They were definitely tired,” he said.
Not everyone was delighted. Cheverus social studies teacher Richie Ashley is a vocal Yankees fan. He thoroughly enjoyed New York’s 3-0 lead in the series.
“I was wearing all my Yankees stuff and talking trash,” Ashley said. “I walked into the cafeteria and everyone booed.”
Ashley loved it, until the Red Sox came back.
“I still have nightmares,” he said.
FANS STAY UP LATE
With the Red Sox playing so late at night, parents of younger children were torn over whether their kids needed early bedtimes – or to watch history.
Erin Flatley of Windham was 10 years old in 2004. She enjoyed baseball, learning about the game and the Red Sox from her father and grandfather.
“Nomar Garciaparra was my favorite player. I loved watching his funny routine (during every at-bat),” she said.
But Garciaparra was traded during the 2004 season.
“I was extremely devastated,” said Flatley, now 20.
Even without Garciaparra, Flatley was ready to watch the World Series.
“My dad said, ‘You can stay up, but you have to take naps between innings.’ Of course, that didn’t happen.”
Generations of fans settled in to watch Boston’s first World Series appearance in 18 years. In Presque Isle, Bryce Waddell let his son Evan stay up. Paul Coughlin invited his dad to join him in Wells. Superstitious brothers Tony and Chris Cameron sat on the same seats in their Brunswick apartment for every game. The Flatleys gathered in their finished basement in Windham.
Tom Caron could not be with his family because of his job. It was the same way in 1986. Caron worked for a TV station in Plattsburgh, New York. On Oct. 25 of that year, Caron was watching Game 6 of the World Series at the station – with Boston one out from the championship.
Caron began dialing his parents’ phone number back in Lewiston. He planned to finish dialing when the Red Sox clinched.
“Three times I dialed and three times I hung up,” Caron said, as Mets players kept reaching base, creating a rally that eventually resulted in a New York win.
On Oct. 27, 2004, Caron again held a phone, punching in his parents’ number.
The ground ball came to Foulke.
“I hit ‘send’ while Foulke still had the ball,” Caron said. “A thought crossed my mind that he was going to throw it away, and it would be my fault.”
Foulke threw the runner out, and Caron talked to his dad. When he hung up, his phone rang. It was his wife and 8-year-old son, Jack.
“My dad was born in 1921, so this was the first World Series of our lifetimes,” Caron said.
Celebrations and parades followed. Bryce and Evan Waddell traveled from Presque Isle to watch the Duck Boat parade in Boston. The Flatley family showed up, too.
World Series apparel and gear dominated New England fashion.
“It didn’t matter what it was – hats, T-shirts, sweatshirts – we couldn’t get enough in,” said John Kameisha, the Sea Dogs vice president who oversees the souvenir store. “Everything sold.”
The store still has some 2013 World Series gear. Fans celebrated October’s World Series win, but it simply can’t match the significance of 2004.
“It was great in 2007 and last year, too,” Meader said. “But we’ll never have the same feel and magic as that ’04 season.”
Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: