Believe. It's the word every Boston resident has been speaking breathlessly lately. But beyond mere belief, there's another reason to put your faith in the Red Sox: They deserve to succeed, as much for the values they display as for the great baseball they've played. In this era when sports stars seem to be in the headlines more for their crimes and greed than their athletic achievements, parents and teachers can point to the 2004 Red Sox as the role models they've been craving.

So, without further ado, I'm going to set aside the seven "cardinal" sins in favor of seven Red Sox virtues.

1. Charity. Curt Schilling knew close-ups of his feet would be broadcast on national television, since the state of his ankles have become as important as the state of his fastball. What did he do? A passionate advocate for the fight against ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, he spelled out on his now-famous shoe, "KALS," for "strikeout ALS"--turning his injury into an opportunity to publicize this worthy cause.

2. Selflessness. While we're on the topic of Schilling, undergoing a surgical procedure twice in rapid succession to temporarily patch up his injury is above and beyond the call of duty. The fact that he dominated the Yankees and Cardinals, gimpy ankle and all, is icing on the cake; his mere presence on the mound those nights spoke volumes. (He would have collected his millions whether he pitched or not ; he could easily have refused to risk his career for two starts.) Though not as dramatic, his fellow pitchers showed their own selflessness, with Tim Wakefield voluntarily surrendering a coveted turn in the rotation to pitch in relief and Derek Lowe hurling on two days' rest after originally being booted from the post-season rotation.

3. Faith. These days, expressions of faith from politicians and sports figures alike seem as canned as any other sound-bite they offer. But it's hard to question the sincerity of Bill Mueller, the Sox third baseman, who was interviewed moments after the Sox' Game 3 victory. His first words to his interviewer: "Well, first and foremost, Kevin, I just have to thank God because it is a God-given gift that I've been gifted with to play this game." Schilling tells the Boston Globe he prays before every game--not to win, but for "strength to get to the mound and compete," and "strength to glorify Him when I was done." There's also Pedro and Manny, who celebrate success by tapping their hearts and pointing heavenward.

4. Equanimity. When Alex Rodriguez smacked the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove as Arroyo tagged him out, other managers would have charged out of the dugout screaming, cursing, and kicking dirt. Not Terry Francona. He emerged slowly, summoned the umpires, and stated his case calmly and clearly. And Francona was rewarded with the umpires rightfully calling A-Rod out, perhaps because they could focus on the decision and not on yelling back at an out-of-control manager. A true class act.

5. Menschlichkeit. A mensch is one of those untranslatable Yiddish words that means something like "an all-around decent and good person." So menschlichkeit would be the state of being a mensch or all-around decent human being. That's Francona, for the A-Rod incident and others, such as when he crossed the Fenway diamond during Game 1 introductions to greet Cardinals star Scott Rolen, who played for Francona in Philly. Rolen might be Francona's opponent in this series, but he's not the enemy; the Globe said of the relationship: "Francona cannot look at Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen without smiling, then laughing, then resisting an overpowering urge to sprint over and corral him with a bear hug.... Rolen credits Terry Francona for turning him into the ballplayer he is today." A model of mutual respect and understanding that human relationships trump on-field opposition.

6. Perseverance. Game Four of the Sox-Yankees series: Bottom of the ninth, two outs, Mariano Rivera on the mound, the Sox are already down three games to none. Game Seven: Sox win their fourth straight to take the pennant right out from the Yankees' hands. Need I say more?

7. Team Cohesiveness. I was struck last night when the television announcers (who, granted, can and do say anything to fill their hours of chatter) spoke of Sox first baseman Kevin Millar as a guy who ensures there are "no cliques in the clubhouse." And I was impressed with Francona when he said in an interview that, unlike other managers, he was glad to see his team getting playful with things like funky facial hair. Francona understood that being clean-cut has no bearing on one's inner character or ability to play baseball--and might just be the catalyst, goofy as it is, that turns his players into a true team.

I'm not saying these '04 Sox have pristine pasts (or futures) or that they won't demand obscene amounts of money from the Sox or whatever other team they can squeeze for those extra few million dollars. But these self-proclaimed "idiots" are the kind of guys you can point to next time yet another supposed sports hero makes the papers for off-field stupidity or violence. The sports world, like our society at large, can use a little more charity, selflessness, and all the rest these Sox exemplify. Sometimes the good guys do win.

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