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A fan of the fans in April

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April is the season for fans to admire the players on the diamond. It's also the season for those not inclined to don foam fingers to admire the fans.

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The passionate souls whose hearts beat the colors of their favorite team may occasionally frustrate friends and spouses, but it's difficult not to respect diehards who take to the stands rain or shine to cheer each year, win or lose.

My brother is not only a fan, he's a super fan. For as long as I can remember, one of my brother's defining characteristics is his devotion to the Boston Red Sox.

He appears in Red Sox T-shirts throughout photo albums. He posed for his senior portrait decked out in a Red Sox jacket and cap. Living in another country hasn't changed my brother's allegiance to the red, white and blue. He brought his Red Sox-inspired fashion sensibilities to Kalisz, Poland, his home since 2000. His various incarnations of Red Sox garb have been stained a few times with periogis and kielbasa, I'm sure. I know one of his Sox caps was bleached nearly white from the sweat he worked up playing tennis on clay courts with Polish friends.

"Red Sox Nation" is spread across America with hats sporting the Boston "B" for sale at the Wadena Wal-Mart, but my brother is certainly a notable fan.

He isn't the kind of guy who does anything halfway whether it's teaching his students, playing tennis or cheering for the guys who call Fenway Park home. A fair weather fan he is not. The Red Sox's long drought of World Series championships wasn't enough to daunt his enthusiastic support for his team. He never believed in the "curse of the Bambino" and kept cheering throughout the years.

I recently came across a card my brother gave a college friend for graduation that was signed with a little drawing of the sock in the Red Sox logo accompanied by a pennant with the word "win!" written inside.

His dedication to his team was finally rewarded in 2004 when the Red Sox won the World Series after going without a championship since 1918.

Unfortunately, my expatriate brother was unable to witness this momentous occasion on TV in Poland. Dad had to stretch the phone cord and turn up the TV from my parents' Fergus Falls home so he could at least hear the fans cheering and the announcers say the final score. My brother became a fan watching the games with our Massachusetts native dad. Dad was more than happy to share this particular piece of sports history with his son via telephone.

My brother got Internet access at home a few years ago and now follows the games online, which is no easy feat considering the seven-hour time difference. He will be up at two in the morning, follow the game and go to work in the morning.

My brother is a teacher and has summers off, so he and his wife come back to the States each year. He's visited the Metrodome a few times when the Red Sox are in town to play the Twins. He even got to make a pilgrimage to Fenway Park to see his favorite team on their home turf.

I'm always happy for him when he gets to see the Red Sox in person and when he gets to see his team win. He may be a grown-up respectable professional now, but I remember the boy cheering for the Red Sox like a game was a matter of life or death.

It's nice we don't have to grow up entirely. I guess a chance to play is what sports provide for its ardent admirers.

Now, a new super fan has entered my life. My fiance is also a lifelong sports enthusiast, but it's the Chicago Cubs he cheers for this time of year.

So it looks like I will have many more years to be frustrated by and appreciative of those super supporters of our nation's pastime. I might as well join the fan club. A giant foam finger could be just the right accessory for spring.

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