They are Boston's tired, its weary, its bored, its huddled masses already yearning for November. They are the legal aliens of Red Sox Nation: longtime New Englanders who, for reasons of accident, genetics, or fate, couldn't care less about Boston's baseball fortunes.
As the hearts and eyes of their neighbors turn to Fenway Park for the team's home opener tomorrow, some of these resident aliens are quietly asking a question they fear will bring a baseball-hat-clad mob to their doorsteps: ''What's the big deal about the Red Sox, anyway?"
''It's just background noise," said Emily Donahue, 26, of Brighton. A researcher at Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston, Donahue comes from a long line of Red Sox faithful in Connecticut, but says the fan gene skipped her completely.
''We were taught the Yankees were devils from the day we were born, but as I witnessed the unwavering devotion my father, uncles, and every man in my small town had for the Red Sox, I couldn't really understand it."
Understand it or not, Donahue has learned the hard way that in certain social situations, it's easier to fake fan-hood than confess to her ignorance. She recalls seeing a fan in a Damon jersey and assuming it had something to do with the actor, Matt. She had no idea it referred to Boston's former center fielder, Johnny.
''I asked my friends if there were [actor Ben] Affleck jerseys available as well," Donahue remembers. ''People still bring up my cluelessness today."
Unlike Donahue, retired software developer Bruce Knobe of Cambridge has never felt the need to disguise his indifference to the Sox.
''My Red Sox apathy is part of a general, spectator-sport apathy," said Knobe, 62. Though he has lived in Massachusetts since 1975, Knobe says he'd be hard-pressed to name a single player. ''There was that pitcher. . . I could probably fetch up his name . . . ah . . . " Knobe trailed off. ''The one who played with the bleeding ankle? Schilling? Is that it? Yeah. Schilling."
But in his community of fellow MIT grads and classmates at Harvard's Institute for Learning in Retirement, Knobe said sports apathy doesn't make him a pariah.
''By my wife's standards, I'm kind of a sports expert," he chuckled. Many of their friends are similarly uninterested in the Sox, and their television set stayed off throughout the 2004 World Series. Knobe said that the next time the Sox reach the playoffs, he may devote late October to taking advantage of all the empty tables in popular Boston restaurants.
If ever there were a month to separate bona fide baseball aliens like Knobe from fair-weather fans, it would be October 2004.
Maureen Strong of North Easton says she tagged along with her husband -- a loyal citizen of Sox Nation -- to playoff parties, but the games couldn't hold her attention.
''I'd usually end up playing with the kids," said Strong, 41, a certified public accountant. When her husband won two tickets for opening day at Fenway in 2005, she suggested they sell them on
''Many people find it hard to understand my apathy," she said, ''but I find it hard to understand the passion."
Bill Lord, a construction worker from West Roxbury, also scratches his head over the appeal of the Red Sox.
''Whether the home team wins or loses doesn't affect whether I pay my rent," said Lord, 51. ''Who cares?"
He says that despite the reputation of construction workers as sports-talking guys' guys, he's never felt ostracized and remembers only one ''rabid fan" among his past coworkers. ''I think he needed medication," Lord mused.
Josh Scherz of Wayland has no trouble understanding the passion. Growing up in Newton, Scherz, 38, says he ''knew every stat and every player." But when he left New England for college and military service, he did something shocking to the legion of faithful Sox watchers: He just lost interest. Upon moving back to New England with a family, the father of four said, he was turned off by the high cost of tickets and changes in the team's culture.
''It used to be twelve bucks for bleacher seats and fun times and affordable beer, and now it's like a hundred bucks to get in there," said Scherz. ''It's just not a priority."
Both groups -- the fanatics and the indifferent -- believe that there's something strange about the other. But resident aliens in Red Sox Nation say that, as the minority, they bear the heavier burden.
''During this past year's playoffs, or whatever they're called, one of the games preempted 'Lost' on ABC and I was furious," said Donahue. ''I told my roommate, 'I don't care that they talk about the team all the time, but when they start to mess with network TV, that's another thing.' And then I said, 'I hope they lose.' I believe I may have cursed them, because they did."
''I may be giving myself a little too much power, but I still didn't tell anyone," she added. ''I don't want to be responsible for another curse!"