The sun is warm here, the orange trees lean their full branches over the outfield fences. This spring retreat of the Boston Red Sox, so ripe with fruit, does not look like a haunted house. But it is.
For Carlton Fisk and many another Red Sox, the air still seems crisp, the sky a dazzling autumn azure and one solitary popup hangs high over Fenway Park. The Red Sox have long memories. It is their heritage, and curse.
"I was in the on-deck circle when Yaz popped it up, just like I was when he flied out to end the '75 World Series," said Fisk, recalling Carl Yastrzemski's final out of last October's American League East playoff.
"I knew the season would be over as soon as it came down. It seemed like the ball stayed up forever, like everything was cranked down to slow motion," he said, gesturing as though feeling his way through cobwebs.
"I was trying to will the ball to stay up there and never come down... what a dumb thing to have run through your mind. Even the crowd roar sounded like a movie projector at the wrong speed when everything gets gravelly and warped."
The Sox are an imaginative team -- more's the pity -- susceptible to haunting. They prove that those who cannot forget the past are also condemned to repeat it.
The evil that the Bosox do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their moans.
So it is this spring -- redoubled. Somewhere it must be written that the Carmine Hose shall suffer.
"Every time I hear the words 'Red Sox Collapse of '78' I want to puke," said Coach Johnny Pesky. "Doesn't anybody remember that we won 12 of our last 14 to force a playoff"
The Sox are facing now what they feared all along -- that their fans and critics would remember only their fall, not their near-redemption.
"It's just like I said it would be," snapped shortstop Rick Burleson. "They only remember that we finished second."
"After we lost the seventh game of the '75 Series, we felt like winners all winter," said Fisk. "We were proud of ourselves, a young team, for getting that far.
"Last year, we won 99 games. We were half of the greatest pennant race in history, probably. We'd have romped in any other division. We were one of the two best teams in baseball. We should have felt like winners again.
"But I don't think we did."
You can hear a chair squeak or a glove drop in the Sox clubhouse this spring. Is that a coven of witches in the trainer's room muttering, "I'll do, I'll do, I'll do?" as they stir their cauldron of sore arms and slumps?
The Red Sox feel betrayed. Betrayed by themselves when, under pressure, they blew a 14-game lead last season. Betrayed by their fans, who refused to forgive them when they merited it, after winning their last eight regular-season games. And worst, betrayed by the new Boston management, which allowed Luis Tiant -- the most beloved player on the team, the source of all good humor and much confidence -- to be gobbled at auction by the omnivorous Yankees.
"The Yankees have more talent than we do now," said Burleson. "That's because our owners let us down.
"If they couldn't sign Luis... Jeez, he'd have settled for a two-year contract for half what the Yankees ended up giving him... how the hell are they going to sign the rest of us when our contracts are up?
"The Yankees' owner knows what he wants. George Steinbrenner is no fool. He knows you have to spend money to make money. But do our owners (Haywood Sullivan and Edward Leroux) know what they want?
"One idea is on the mind of every guy in this clubhouse: are we being supported? Do the owners want to win the pennant or do they want to make more and more money?
"The Yankees are bold. We're afraid to lose $300,000 on a contract with Tiant. Good Lord, make the man happy; let's win the pennant. They're gonna make up for that $300,000, plus a lot more."
What especially infuriates the Sox is that after pulling their El Cheapo with El Tiante, management broke its we-will-not-renegotiate policy to sign Jim Rice to a long-term contract extension because he demanded it.
"It's a double standard. plain and simple," said Burleson. "They're not treating everybody the same and it's going to hurt the team in the future.
"If Rice is worth $700,000 a year, what should Burleson and (Jerry) Remy make?" said Burleson. "Is he worth $600,000 more to the ball club than we are?"
Burleson is local chapter president of the If-I-was-100-pounds-bigger-I'd-punch-out-Rice's-headlights fan club. Pitcher Mike Torrez is vice president. Membership is large, and growing.
First in line at the cash window with a sign saying, "If Rice got his, then I want mine," is the miffed Yastrzemski, who says he won't play if his renegotiation demands aren't met.
"Why should Carl play 20 years and end up making $200.000, when a guy who's done it for four years (Rice) gets $700,000?" said Burleson. "That's not right.
"My guess is that the Sox have already agreed to his terms or Carl wouldn't be here working out.
"What bothers us," summed up Burleson, "is that management has hit us from both ends. They're tight (cheap) with Tiant and really hurt the team, but they write a blank check for Rice and they weren't even obligated to talk to him until his contract runs out after the '80 season."
In their heart of hearts, many Sox believe that the front office was the culprit in last year's demise.
"We ran smooth for half a year, then we had a wreck and needed repairs. When we looked, there were no spare parts," said Fisk.
Translated. that means the Sox cleared their bench of useful reserves who were either eccentric or high-paid. The sign in the bleachers on playoff day said it best: "Where have you gone, Bernie Carbo? Boston turns its lonely eyes to you."
"This is the most colorless team in baseball," said one Sox, looking around his own clubhouse. "I mean that both ways -- a lot of white skin and no flakes. You gotta fit their mold."
The Sox still have a multitude of blessings. They also have enough leaks to sink them to fifth place in their brutally excellent division.
Without Tiant and Bill Lee (traded), who worked 390 innings last year, reliever Bob (Big Foot) Stanley (15-2) must become a starter, joining Torrez and Dennis Eckersley (20-8).
So far, so good. After that, Ulcerville.
Bill (Soup) Campbell's arm miseries have not improved with a winter's rest. He is despondent these days, talking about season-ending surgery. Without Soup and Big Foot, Boston's bullpen is atrocious, almost nonextent.
Such fourth and fifth starters as Jim Wright, Bobby Sprowl, Steve Renko, Andy Hassler and Allen Ripley make Baltimore and Milwaukee dream of second place.
The once-potent bottom third of the Sox attack is in recovery -- Dwight Evans (.247) from a beaning, Butch Hobson (43 errors) from elbow surgery and George Scott (.233) from hippo tummy. They can only get better.
Fisk wishes his throwing arm were in the same category. Last year, he caught an AL-record 154 games. This year, he sometimes feels, he probably shouldn't catch any. "My arm has died," he has confided to friends.
Just six months ago, the Red Sox were a dreadnought, cruising toward their first would title since 1918. The Sox thought that they had caught the flood-tide in their affairs that would lead on to fortune. Instead, that roar they heard was a waterfall.
Now the Sox are in danger of becoming a grumpy and disappointed team, a bridesmaid who gives up on love.
The surliest member, as usual, is Rice, who, if there were a providence, would be nicknamed "Puffed."
The slugger complained to Boston brass last weekend that a member of the fourth estate had requisitioned his locker stool to couduct an interview.
Was this fair, Rice wished to know? Should a 25-year-old millionaire be asked to towel himself standing up, while the stool he had warmed to Rice temperature was ripped off by a 50-year-old reporter?
The next day, the Sox issued a straight-faced edict, immediately dubbed The Stool Rule, which said that, henceforth, players' seats were never to be touched by anyone not wearing the Carmine Hose.
It was a comical, sad gesture by a team that seemed capable of defending the honor of its own stools just a year ago.
When Yastrzemski's towering popup began its return to earth last October, it was painful to think that the powerful Red Sox began to fall with it.