The world champion New York Yankees have been greeted here with curses and kisses. When a Yank on the road feels a sudden smack in the shoulder blades, he isn't sure if it is a pat or punch.
Noon or midnight, the champs' hotel lobby is littered with autograph seekers, even in this town where Yankee hating is a birthright.
The New Yorkers are a 25-man tornado touching down in cities across the country, bringing adoration and vilification in their wake.
"This craziness is what we see everywhere, though it may be most intense in Boston," outfielder Paul Blair said yesterday. "A mystique of history and heritage surrounds the New York Yankees. It's like the old days revived.
"We're loved and hated, but always in larger doses than any other team. We're the only team in any sport whose name and uniform and insignia are synonymous with their entire sport all over the world.
"When you're with another team, you have to accept it," said Blair, a Baltimore Oriole for 12 years, "but the Yankees mean baseball to more people than all the other teams combined. Heck, we draw standing-room-only in spring training."
The Yanks wear their first world title in 15 years with appropriate Bronx iciness and borderline arrogance. The most visible Yankees - Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, Thurman Munson and Sparky Lyle - have long known how to part the waters of humanity before them with a glare, or bestow a sudden special smile. Born to the purple, all of them.
Life as a Yankee world champ is a mixture of inner pressure and outer aggravation, hours of enforced boredom followed by hours in a maelstrom of sound. Their existence is so intense for eight months that each central player reacts in his own way.
"I don't like being ridiculed," said Jackson, the central symbol of the Yanks since his fifth World Series homer returned to earth. "People here call us names. Adults carry obscene signs and 8-year-old kids feel free to cuss us."
Of the Yankees who feel the scalding, relentless spotlight, Jackson is the most articulate, the most easily hurt.
"I just hate this idea that I'm an ego-tripping freak," he said, almost pleadingly. "Brother, could I do without the autographs, the interviews and all the limelight.
"Sure, I like to play the game with the flair of a star. Why the hell not? But people should love that, not damn me for it.
"Off the field I try to deal with people one-on-one, really look them in the eye and be there with them. Not just walk through like a phony jock god," he insisted.
"But on the field . . . isn't that a stage? Shouldn't it be drama, kind of theatrical? People don't seem to make that distinction."
Every Yankee is given the choice of squirming under the microscope, or enjoying the close scrutiny.
"I played on Oriole world champs that were a little better ball clubs than this one," Blair said, "but people were indifferent to us.
"I got as much publicity, as much public response in 164 at-bats as a part-time player here last year as I did in 12 years in Baltimore. With a handful of good catches I probably did as much to insure that people will remember me years from now as all the plays I made in Baltimore that I was proud of."
If Yankee life can be stern and joyless at worst, it is also jubilant when the moment of release finally arrives.
"There were 10,000 people in the Newark (N.J.) Airport at 4 a.m. when he got home after winning the playoffs," one Yankee said. "Could that happen anywhere else?"
"When our bus drove up to Fenway today, we looked out and saw 5,000 people who'd been standing in line all day just to get in the bleachers," Blair said. "We draw the biggest crowds in every town where we play. That's got to be the ideal situation. If that doesn't make you want to play the game, nothing will."
The Yankees became the first AL team in history to draw 2 million fans both home and away last year. Only the Yanks have perhaps 140 games a year with a genuinely big crowd atmosphere. The price is that occasionally an "incident" - like the nuts and bolts thrown at Mickey Rivers here last year - sours the fun.
"Being champions is only half-glamorous," said Chris Chambliss. 'The plane rides, the jet lag, the hotel rooms, the nagging injuries - those wear any player out. But it's even harder for us to break out of the rut because we're recognized and swamped as soon as we step off the field or out of our hotel room.
"Boredom becomes a serious problem. There are too many hours to waste, but not enough time to do interesting things."
The Yankees are most comfortable on the field, their only true home on the road, while they seem most threatened when the enormous mob of media descends on them after each game.
Behind the batting cage Munson and Red Sox Manager Don Zimmer can stand, heads inches apart, and talk interminably, chuckling together - two men who have lived baseball almost every day of their lives.
The BP home run games - with grape sodas at stake - capture the Yanks in their only moments of genuine playfulness.
Jackson lopes in the outfield, tries to make a fancy-dan catch for the fun of it, drops the ball, then is suddenly brought back to reality - thousands of fans have their eye on him two hours before game time and give an enormous round of boos and laughs.
"Some of these guys like Munson are just driven into a shell," said new Yank Jim Spencer. "Rudeness is their self-protection."
And the Yanks are the rudest team in baseball. When 20 to 100 men with cameras, tape recorders and note pads - the majority of them media small-timers - invade your dressing room nightly while you are showering, it's an easy trick to master.
In a scene worthy of a parable, Jackson and Lyle got into a raised-voice squabble from opposite sides of the New York clubhouse Tuesday night.
The potential flare-up died in seconds because neither Yankee could see or even accurately hear the other - there were 50 newsmen between them.
Baseball has never had a traveling circus like this one, not even in those 20 other seasons when the Yanks were kings.
The Martin-in-peril rumors are in the air again. Even Crazy Jay Johnstone, who puts a pillow under his uniform and imitates Babe Ruth, has been added to this crew in a trade. He walks around in a state of supressed amusement, telling friends, "I'm all this team needed."
Every day and every night the scene is the same. The crowds in the hotel lobbies, at the ticket windows and outside the players' entrance are huge. The kisses and curses never stop. Only the names of the towns change.
Each night the Yankee team bus growls off into the darkness, its exhaust pipe looking just like a smoking fuse.