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Hard time to be a Yanks fan in Hub

Series at Fenway brings foreboding

Yankees diehard Ron Czik with his son, Josh, daughter Shoshana, and wife, Wendy, all of them Red Sox fans, at their Sharon home yesterday. His family will watch this weekend's series in the family room; he'll be in the basement.
Yankees diehard Ron Czik with his son, Josh, daughter Shoshana, and wife, Wendy, all of them Red Sox fans, at their Sharon home yesterday. His family will watch this weekend's series in the family room; he'll be in the basement. (Rose Lincoln for the Boston Globe)

SHARON -- For more than four decades, Ron Czik has proudly worn the label of Yankees fan.

Czik, 47, is not about to turn his back on his beloved team now, even as the once-mighty pinstripers stumble into Boston tonight more than 13 games behind the Red Sox. But ask him his reaction to the transformation of the Bronx Bombers into the hapless pushovers of the American League, and Czik's feelings pour out as if drawn from the five stages of grief.

Denial: "Statistically, there's nothing on paper that would explain why they're doing this badly."

Anger: "Right now, all the players need a swift kick in the butt . . . It's embarrassing to have this much talent and do this poorly."

Bargaining: "Am I dreading this weekend? Well, the way they're playing now, I'm concerned every time they play. I'm hoping they will win at least one game."

Depression: "I've been waiting for them to achieve, and then watching them fall into the bottomless pit of being 14, 15 games out of it."

Acceptance . . . Well, this one could take a while.

These are excruciating times for Yankees fans, especially those who, like Czik, live and work here in the capital of Red Sox Nation, where the schadenfreude is flowing like World Series champagne.

What makes it even worse for Czik, a New York native who is a senior technical consultant at Fidelity Investments, is that he shares a household with three rabid Red Sox fans: his wife, Wendy; his 19-year-old daughter, Shoshana; and his 15-year-old son, Josh . Sometimes they are sympathetic to him; after all, he was magnanimous enough to buy them all Red Sox jerseys after the team finally won the World Series in 2004. But early yesterday, recalling his bravado when the Yankees were on top, they reveled in his suffering.

"You're not even in the wild-card race," Shoshana reminded her father. Replied Czik gamely: "You've got to know what it's like to lose to enjoy all the World Series championships."

In that case, Yankees fans must be enjoying themselves immensely. Barely two months into the season, they know what it's like not just to lose but to plummet into the cellar of the American League East division. "Yankees fans identify with the team because they're winners, so this must be very painful, disorienting, and bewildering for them. It's the world turned upside down," said Michael Mandelbaum, author of "The Meaning of Sports: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football and Basketball and What They See When They Do."

Mandelbaum added dryly: "The lesson of baseball is humility. But people don't become Yankees fans to learn humility."

Whether or not Mandelbaum has pinpointed the source of fans' allegiance to the Yankees, there's little question that humble pie is on the menu now. The team is so beset by tribulation that even Czik, a diehard fan since age 6 , finds it hard to be optimistic about this weekend (when, as usual, he will be forced to watch the game in the basement while the other three cheer on the Red Sox from the comfort of the family room).

"It's gonna get ugly," he said glumly.

Gone are those blissful pre-2004 days when Czik could silence his Sox-rooting family with this pointed refrain: "Bolshevik Revolution, 26, and Bill Buckner." He was referring to the fact that the Soviet Union had come and gone since the Sox last prevailed in a World Series (in 1918), to the number of times the Yankees had copped the crown since then, and to the episode when Buckner infamously muffed the grounder in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

The Red Sox' victory in the 2004 World Series, which followed the team's epic comeback against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, robbed that refrain of a lot of its sting. So what can restore the team's swagger now? The return of former Red Sox superstar Roger Clemens, who is slated to begin pitching for the Yankees next week? Czik is dubious. "Look who the quote-unquote pitching savior is supposed to be: a 44-year-old guy," he says. "Roger's great, and he may be able to deliver, but he's a 44-year-old guy!"

Charles Chieppo, a senior fellow at the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research, while conceding that the Yankees are "so pathetic this year," points out that the current squad is not the first underperforming Yankees team in history. Chieppo first became a Yankees fan in 1966, when they finished last in the American League. The team struggled for a decade before roaring back in 1976, launching a stretch of three straight pennants and two World Series victories, and then added four more World Series titles between 1996 and 2000.

If that seems like cold comfort in this annus horribilis the Yankees and their fans are going through, well, history and the memory of all those championship banners may be all they have to hold onto.

That, and the occasional kind gesture from Red Sox fans. On her husband's birthday in March, Wendy Czik bought him a T-shirt that reads "Do the Math" on the front, while noting on the back that at this rate of winning World Series banners, it will take the Red Sox three centuries to catch up to the Yankees.

Ron Czik plans to wear it tonight as he sits, like his team, in the basement.

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.

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