Fenway faithful?

Die-hards not ready to count Sox out

'I DON’T KNOW what it is. There should be a hundred people here, at least,’’ said David Millette, who was the lone fan waiting outside Fenway Park yesterday to try to get tickets to today’s game. "I DON’T KNOW what it is. There should be a hundred people here, at least,’’ said David Millette, who was the lone fan waiting outside Fenway Park yesterday to try to get tickets to today’s game. (John Tlumacki/ Globe Staff)
By Eric Moskowitz
Globe Staff / October 11, 2009

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At the Sports Depot in Allston, the Red Sox crowd that once hung on every pitch seems smaller and more subdued than in the past, with just scattered sighs and a smattering of cheers in the first two playoff games, manager William Warner said.

On Boston Common, a Northeastern University student wearing a Sox cap backward confided that he was already thinking about 2010. “Last year there was much more buzz,’’ said Matt Ender, 21, taking a break from a pickup football game.

And on Lansdowne Street, a lone fan camping out for a chance to buy tickets to today’s game wondered where everyone else was. “I don’t know what it is,’’ said David Millette, who lives in a Dodge RV painted to resemble the Green Monster. His optimism for the team - despite being down 0-2 to the Angels in a best-of-five series - was matched only by frustration at the apathy he senses creeping across Red Sox Nation. “There should be a hundred people here, at least.’’

Whatever it is - disappointment at an offense gone cold; fatigue from late-night losses on the West Coast; complacency after two World Series championships and six playoff ap pearances in seven years; distraction at the return of Tom Brady and the resurgent Patriots - some are finding that the playoff thrill isn’t quite the same this year.

“I still watch them, but it’s not live or die like it used to be for me,’’ said Steven Wadman of Saugus, a 23-year-old Boston Common food vendor. He misses Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, and the self-styled “Idiots’’ of 2004, and the David Ortiz-Manny Ramírez engine room that powered the middle of the lineup that year and in ’07 as well.

“Everybody loved watching Manny. Even though he was stupid, you still loved him,’’ Wadman said, a kelly-green Sox hat positioned just so on his head. “They’re kind of boring [this year]. They’re kind of missing something. I don’t know what it is, but it’s sort of like a swagger.’’

To be sure, even dampened Red Sox enthusiasm in New England would still qualify as fervor in much of the baseball world - the string of sellouts at Fenway, the Sox gear visible on seemingly every subway ride and city street, the wearied expressions the mornings after Games 1 and 2.

“Everybody’s into it,’’ said Kevin Sittinger, a 50-year-old postal worker from Providence who drove up yesterday to tour Fenway Park.

And there are also those who dispute the notion that excitement has waned.

“People have been saying that every year for the last five years,’’ said Ryan Jones, who manages the Bleacher Bar, the year-round restaurant that opened last season under Fenway’s centerfield bleachers, and who previously worked at another sports bar nearby. “Every year, people are always like, ‘It feels different. The energy’s not the same,’ ’’ Jones said, and they cite the pair of championships, or maybe the economy.

Jones disagrees. “I don’t feel like it’s different. The energy’s still here,’’ he said.

Around the park, multiple fans said they are just as excited this year as they were last postseason - and every postseason since 2004, when the team’s first World Series title in 86 years fundamentally changed their rooting experience. Perpetual anxiety has given way to cautious optimism; with it there is less pressure, if not less interest, riding on every at-bat.

“Before ’04, people believed the Red Sox were personally doing something to them to lose,’’ said Tom Mecsas-Faxon, a social worker from Sharon. The 45-year-old has been a fan since before the 1975 pennant season and scored tickets for today’s game through a source. “After ’04, people believed that we could come back from anything, and especially after ’07. We’re not destined to lose anymore.’’

On Yawkey Way, Chris Johnson and Heather Merrill said they had expected the team’s season to continue through tomorrow when they planned their long-weekend visit to Boston from Colchester, Conn.

“I still have confidence they’re going to win the two games here at Fenway, and then it’s a 50-50 shot back in Anaheim for Game 5,’’ said Johnson, 42, a beer salesman. As he and Merrill waited for a tour of the park, he had an engagement ring hidden in his pocket, poised to surprise her at the Green Monster.

About an hour later, they emerged from Gate A, flipping through pictures on a digital camera and talking eagerly on cellphones. Merrill, a third-grade teacher, held up her left hand. A ring caught the light.

On the other side of the park, Millette kept steadfast position in the line for the game-day ticket release, alone in a director’s chair under an outfield stanchion. No matter how many people show, he said, he has a good feeling about today - and the series.

“I’m not giving up. This isn’t the first time we’ve been down,’’ he said, reaching into his backpack to pull out a stack of tickets from games he had won attendance to in the past, as the first-in-line fan. He fanned them out, showing stubs from regular-season games with the Yankees and postseason contests from a variety of playoff series in recent years.

“Every time I’m first, we have won,’’ he said, calling himself a good omen for Red Sox fans everywhere. “I just wish they were here, too.’’