BOSTON -- Somewhere in Mike Barnicle's vast collection of Red Sox memorabilia is a photo of him, bent down at Busch Stadium, pushing a bunch of infield dirt into a beer cup.
"Horrifically embarrassing photo to some," he said. "Not to me."
Barnicle pulled this off relatively unnoticed, which is understandable, considering this was 2004 and the Red Sox were only about two minutes into their celebration of their historic World Series title. There was chaos around him as 86 years of pent-up frustration was unleashed among crazed fans, players and front-office staffers frenetically celebrating the moment. Barnicle, hunched over and staying out of harm's way, was free to do what he pleased -- anonymously.
And if not for Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, Barnicle, an award-winning print and broadcast journalist best known these days as a contributor on MSNBC's popular program, "Morning Joe," probably would have pulled off the great dirt heist without anyone noticing. But Werner saw it. He had a camera. And the rest is history.
"There I was, like a goober," Barnicle recalled. "In my Red Sox jacket, down on my knees, putting the dirt in a beer cup like I was 12 years old. And I was doing it, because in effect, I was 12 years old."
His behavior back then was entirely justifiable, given the historic nature of that particular World Series win. No one could have known that the Red Sox would win another one three years later, or that six years after that, they'd be on the verge of the trifecta, potentially capturing three titles in 10 seasons.
Back in 2004, the Red Sox winning the World Series was almost unfathomable, even when they were outs away from sweeping the Cardinals. There's a certain generation -- make that generations -- that know all too well how terribly wrong things can go for the Red Sox just when they let themselves believe everything is perfectly right.
If you're in the 35-and-over crowd, it's simply a way of life. Things happen to the Red Sox. Like 1986.
"We thought, this is it," Barnicle said. "This is what is always going to happen to us, in perpetuity. Losers."
Barnicle, a lifelong Red Sox fan who has been there for every poignant postseason experience, both good and bad, arrived to Fenway hours before game time on Wednesday, hoping to experience a Game 6 more reminiscent of 1975 than 1986. He was somewhat wistful about his deep devotion to his team, noting that the younger generation of Red Sox fans is experiencing something much different.
"I have sat here for so many games, over so many years, crushed, that I sort of resent their optimism," he said.
Still, Barnicle has compiled wonderful memories over the years, even when decades passed without a title. He categorized Game 6 of the 1975 Fall Classic, when Carlton Fisk homered in the 12th inning to beat the Big Red Machine, as, without question, "my No. 1 Red Sox moment of all time."
That was their World Series win, even if it wasn't. It merely sent the series to a Game 7, which the Red Sox lost. But that didn't matter. For one night, there was euphoria like they'd never experienced. There was, as Barnicle recalled, "singing and dancing in the streets."
"We had won the World Series," he said. "It didn't matter what happened the next day. We won the World Series that night. The Reds happened to win Game 7 and went home to Cincinnati with a trophy. They took that back to Cincinnati, but we took our spirit and our happiness and our joy and our thrill of the night into that evening. It stayed with us for years."
And, Barnicle believes, it had lasting effects that reached beyond the territorial lines in Boston.
"It made baseball a different game in this country," he said. "I think that game and that Series transformed baseball in America."