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Powers behind the Sox

Fans share the rituals and routines they know in their hearts bring the team luck

Howard Bloom is prepared to take the abuse. He knows it borders on masochistic to wear Anaheim Angels gear to Fenway Park this weekend for the Red Sox-Angels playoff series.

But once you understand his motivation, dear Red Sox fans, you'll be grateful for his sacrifice.

A 53-year-old labor lawyer from Needham, Bloom decided midseason that he was the reason the Red Sox haven't won a World Series victory in decades. So he turned his back on the team, gave away his season tickets, and focused his attention, coincidentally, on that scrappy team from Southern California.

"Every game I went to or watched, the Red Sox would lose," he said. "So I wanted to see what would happen if I rooted for another team. And sure enough, that was right at the beginning of their winning streak this year."

With the baseball playoffs in full swing and New England again finding itself facing an emotional postseason, Red Sox fans in the area are taking things into their own hands: They're battling the curse with superstition.

Bloom's strange tactic is but one example of many unusual routes, rites, and rituals that the region's devoted are undertaking to help their team finally achieve that elusive title. In fact, he has plenty of company in those who fear that sitting in a different armchair, opening a cold drink before the national anthem, or failing to wear a particular item of clothing on game day will disrupt whatever good fortune the team may encounter.

Larry Fleming, like Bloom, isn't afraid of the ridicule he may bear to help the Red Sox.

Fleming has a doll.

The gun he wears as a Natick police sergeant may keep people from poking fun at Fleming's unusual toy, but he said the hairless green thing -- a facsimile of Wally, the Fenway Park mascot -- will help the Red Sox finally win the World Series this year, if it can properly channel the team's chi, or psychic energy.

"We move him all around the house, hoping to get him in the right place that will bring the team luck," Fleming said with a nod to baseball commentator Jerry Remy, who features a Wally doll during TV spots.

Fleming's not exactly a devotee of feng shui, the Eastern practice of arranging one's belongings to derive maximum positive energy from the universe, but something seems to click with the Sox when Wally's in the right spot -- such as next to the baseball bat on the mantel in his family's Millis home.

A similar desire motivates a group of municipal employees in one town in the western suburbs who believe communal lunches on certain days last spring corresponded closely with the Sox's record. Now, their intricate ritual is to cook hot dogs on a grill behind town hall at lunch break on Fridays. (Their loyalty to the team may be admirable, but they don't want their ritual made public for fear that residents would get the impression they were shirking their municipal duty.)

Lunch is also an integral part of a superstitious ritual performed every workday by a group of employees at Avery Dennison Corp.

At the company's Framingham office, Lisa Williamson, Jennifer Davidson, Nick Yu, and Paul Gentile have a small cloth caricature of a baseball that they call Bawley, which makes a smashing-glass sound when smacked. A rite the group calls "crashing Bawley," where one of them pounds the thing into a desk, is key to the success of the Sox, they believe.

"As soon as we started this, [the Red Sox] went on that tear, winning everything," Williamson said, referring to the late-season streak in August and September, during which the team won 20 of 22 games.

And they allow it only once a day, after lunch. They guard the practice carefully, checking to make sure Bawley hasn't been thumped already that day.

"I was home in Charlton one day, and I realized no one was here to smash Bawley," Davidson said. "I thought about driving back to do it, but I didn't. But they won anyway."

Gentile bears the stigma of unintentionally whacking the ball one day before lunch, a reckless act that still earns him shame in front of his co-workers.

The faithful at Avery Dennison have also established a Red Sox shrine of sorts in the office, but there's one item the group is hesitant to add to it.

They have a copy of the Sept. 13 issue of Sports Illustrated featuring new Sox pitcher Curt Schilling on the cover, but they're cautious around it because appearing on the cover is said to bring a team bad luck. The group won't hang it in their shrine, but they haven't acted on Gentile's suggestion to burn it, either. So the magazine sits there, a cryptic talisman yet to be decoded.

But, while all of these adults are groping for the right spiritual path to victory, a Needham 6-year-old believes he's already found it. To Drew Shaefer, the solution is simple -- ice cream.

"It started last year during the playoffs," explained his mother, Amy. "If they were losing, Drew said we had to eat ice cream out of the little batting helmets we got at Fenway Park, because it would help them."

It seemed to work, at least until Game 7 of last year's epic series against the Yankees. It's unclear what happened that night, but Amy Shaefer suggested that maybe Drew didn't wear his Sox cap to bed that night, as he usually does.

Amy and Glenn Shaefer are not native New Englanders, hailing from Michigan and Pennsylvania, respectively, and they are a bit perplexed by their son's superstition. But they're wary of his seemingly deep connection to the team.

His first jersey bore the name of Shea Hillenbrand; his second, the name of Nomar Garciaparra. Both players were later traded away.

Now Drew wants a Pedro Martinez jersey, but his parents, mindful of what a disaster it would be to jinx the team, are putting off his request as long as possible. You can bet he won't have one before this season is over.

Alison O'Leary Murray can be reached at 

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