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Welcome runners! (Yankees go home)

By Larry Tye and Douglas Belkin, Globe Staff, 4/16/2001

he split in Boston's sports personality was on singular display this long weekend.

The first side is genteel. It's the well-mannered, civil side that has the city welcoming the world's elite long-distance runners for today's 105th running of the Boston Marathon. No one better embodies that breeding than the grand old man of the Marathon, 93-year-old, 58-time-finisher Johnny Kelley, who threw out the first ball yesterday at Fenway Park.

That's where breeding went into hibernation and the well-honed mania took over, the way it always does when the Yankees come to town. The cheers that greeted Kelley were drowned out by a now-familiar vulgar chant. The courtesy that has Marathon fans applauding even runners from the Big Apple was replaced by fervor for anything in Sox red, and rancor for Yankee blue.

All of which, to anyone schooled in the ways of this city and its sports passions, is understandable.

Consider the Marathon. Over the last 105 years Boston has taught the nation not just how to train for and run the distance, it has pioneered a style of fandom, teaching the tens of thousands who line the course to cheer every runner who passes. The crowd applauds not just their relatives and neighbors, unlike how fans react at most other marathons.

It is, in a word, class - the kind the ancient Greeks who invented marathoning might have related to.

There will be plenty of that on display across the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Copley Square today, as the marathoners have come to expect. And there were warm greetings yesterday, too, as out-of-town runners did easy jaunts along the Charles.

Many of those same running fans, however, were at Fenway for Friday night's 10-inning affair, or for equally hard-fought afternoon games Saturday and yesterday. Baseball - and especially the dreaded bombers from the Bronx - brought out in them decidedly different emotions. Ones that made no room for nicey-nicey.

During Saturday's Pedro Martinez-Roger Clemens matchup, the grandstands were electric and, at times, virulent in their hatred of the unwelcomed. One hand-drawn sign read, ''Even the Easter Bunny hates the Yankees.''

Children with foam No. 1 fingers chanted profanities as parents stood by, not knowing whether to hush or hoot. Red Sox fans threw things and taunted - often vulgarly - anyone daring to don pinstripes.

Derek Jeter was jeered, David Justice's past domestic problems were mocked, and the last several innings were marked by disturbances and ejections from the bleachers. And when a small group of New York faithful quietly began chanting: ''Nineteen-eighteen,'' they were drowned out by Yankee-related vulgarity.

Brothers Mike and Mark McKay, who are as thick through the chest as fire hydrants and thus dare to wear Yankee T-shirts to Fenway, characterized the ritual Bostonian embrace of their kind as, well, pathetic. ''Losers are going to be angry,'' Mike McKay said. ''If I were a Red Sox fan, I'd be angry, too.''

One of Boston's finest who has been working Red Sox games for two years (but asked that his name not be used) says that at least twice as many people are thrown out of games when the Yankees are in town than for anybody else. ''The worst are Saturday night games when you've got a 7:05 game and [the fans] have been at the grill since 11 that morning. Then you've got people who are loaded before they even get here.''

But lest Bostonians seem to be getting ever more uncouth, bleacher veterans advise the standards are actually on the rise. On Saturday, ''these two guys were going at it the whole game,'' said Ethan Berg, a season-ticket holder for most of the last decade. ''The guy from Boston kept making fun of the Yankees fan saying he was New Jersey, and it just kept going the whole game. Then when the Yankee fan finally leaves they shook hands, like they were friends or something. No way would that have happened 10 years ago.''

How is it that the sports fans manage to show such different personalities at Fenway and along the Marathon route?

''Hating the Yankees is some guttural thing, it's like a battle between good and evil being acted out,'' opined Peter Payack, a Cantabrigian originally from New Jersey who has been cheering for the Sox and running Boston Marathons for decades.

''The marathon is everyone fighting the same struggle,'' added Payack, who today will be running his 11th Boston and 22nd marathon. ''It's not against somebody else, it's against the distance and the time, the hills and the heat. We're all on the same side.''

Mac Daniel of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 4/16/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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