Judy Reidt-Parker celebrated her 24th birthday in October of 1986 by watching her beloved Red Sox almost win the World Series, until that ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs and everybody at her party stopped laughing and cheering, or even talking. She was left alone in her Portland apartment, crying.

So you might excuse her if she’s not overconfident about the latest Sox team, the one going to the World Series on Tuesday after steamrolling the regular season competition with 108 wins. But her 21-year-old daughter can’t quite relate. Every time she’s watched her beloved Red Sox go to a World Series, they’ve won. No Curse of the Bambino, no Bucky “Bleeping” Dent, none of the gloriously horrific ways to lose that shaped the identity of several generations of Boston baseball rooters.

“My parents sort of take it for granted that (the Red Sox) will lose. They’re like, ‘Oh, we’re definitely not going to win, just hold out until next year,’ ” said Meg Parker, a senior at Oberlin College in Ohio. “But I almost always feel confident they’ll win. I have a lot of faith in them because I know they’ve done some remarkable things, in 2004, 2007 and 2013.”

Yes, but what about the 86 years before 2004? Those were the years that shaped the fatalistic outlook of so many Red Sox faithful, age 40 and up.

“The Red Sox have broken my heart a few times. But that’s baseball – it’s fascinating and beautiful with all the ups and downs,” said Reidt-Parker, 55, of Portland. “So I’m hopeful, but I’m also frightened.”

The Red Sox are entering Tuesday’s World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers with a divided fan base. It’s not a division over loyalty; rather, it’s about psychology. Young Red Sox fans have a swagger, a confidence that comes from seeing their team win league championships and World Series. Since 2004, the Sox are 4-1 in league championship series and 3-0 in World Series. But between 1967 and 2003, the Sox lost the World Series three times, lost the 1978 division title on the infamous Dent home run and lost a dramatic American League Championship Series in 2003. The dagger in 2003 was plunged by another mediocre infielder, Aaron “Bleeping” Boone, as he’s known in New England.

Do you remember this? No Red Sox fan who saw that ball go between Bill Buckner’s legs on Oct. 25, 1986, will ever forget – or feel fully confident watching the Red Sox in the World Series.

It’s not just that the dramatic losses are hard to forget for Red Sox fans, it’s also that those painful moments became an important part of their identity as Red Sox fans. Being a Red Sox fan in the 1970s, ’80s or ’90s “meant loving a team that you knew would break your heart,” said Edward Hirt, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the Indiana University Bloomington, who has studied sports fan behavior and allegiance.

“The historic chokes and folds were part of the lore of the team. And yet the true fans persisted and weathered those disappointments, showing their true colors,” Hirt said. “Despite the recent successes, for these people, that loyalty is the hallmark of their fanship.”

The Curse of the Bambino – the legend of how the Red Sox were doomed to never win a World Series because they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees – felt very real to Sox fans of a certain age. But to fans under 25, it’s basically ancient history, like a hard-to-believe Greek myth. So while younger fans have been told by their elders to remember the lessons of 1986, or 1978, they don’t. They weren’t there. They didn’t feel the pain.

“I’ve definitely heard about Bill Buckner; my dad has talked about that to me,” said Charlie Bischoff, 15, a sophomore at Cape Elizabeth High School. “But I wasn’t there to watch that whole process, so I don’t think much about that when I think about the Red Sox.”

Charlie’s father, David Bischoff, was there to watch several disastrous Red Sox losses unfold from the verge of great victories. He was 12, for instance, when Dent hit the home run in 1978. The Red Sox were some 14 games ahead of the Yankees in July and on their way to winning the division. But the Yankees forced a one-game playoff, and then Dent – a .247 hitter who hit only five home runs that year – drained the life out of Red Sox Nation with one swing.

Bischoff, 52, said that after seeing his share of heartbreaking Red Sox losses, he feels like he and other longtime fans are “constantly looking over our shoulder” for the next calamity. The Bischoffs watch the Sox together as a family. Bischoff and his wife, Sarah, are definitely a little more cautious in their expectations than their sons, Charlie and Sam, 13.

“One of the things I’ve said to my kids, when I’m coaching (youth sports), is to never get too high and never get too low. But the only way you can really know that’s the right thing to do is if you’ve had great disappointments,” Bischoff said. “And it makes you really appreciate the success.”

Craig Skeffington, 52, of South Portland sees the generational Sox fan divide nightly when he sits down to watch the game with his daughters, who are 19 and 22. They are not “preconditioned” to expect failure, the way he is.

The Bischoff family – from left, Sarah, Charlie, 15, Sam 13, and David – watch Red Sox games together at their home in Cape Elizabeth. David Bischoff, 52, has seen his share of heartbreaking Red Sox losses over the years.

“No one born around 2004 has any idea that they might lose the big game, they’re not thinking about the many ways the Sox are going to blow it,” said Skeffington, the band director at South Portland High School. “I came of age at a time when it seemed all they could do was lose. I literally feel conflicted because I think they’re going to win, but that something’s going to happen where they just give it away.”

Hannah Skeffington, 22, has no such conflict. Her first clear Sox memories are of the team coming from behind, 3-1, against the Cleveland Indians in the 2007 ALCS, then sweeping the Colorado Rockies in the World Series.

“I guess there’s a little part of me that worries, ‘What if it doesn’t go our way?’ ” she said. “But I’ve seen so many big moments, so many players come through in the clutch.”

The power of seeing good things happen is strong. To longtime fans, like Reidt-Parker and her husband, Karl Parker, watching closer Craig Kimbrel these past weeks has been painful. He puts tons of men on base and always seems to be a hit away from disaster. “When Kimbrel is in, I knit. I have stress knitting to help me through it,” Reidt-Parker said.

But their daughter doesn’t agonize in the same way. When she watches Kimbrel, she does not see visions of Bob Stanley and Calvin Schiraldi imploding against the New York Mets in the 1986 World Series.

“He’s the youngest pitcher to have 300 saves, he has a crazy fastball, and he’s doing a really good job,” Meg Parker said. “I don’t have problems with him, really.”

Correction: This story was updated at 9:10 a.m. on October 24, 2018 to correct the Red Sox record in American League Championship Series since 2004.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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Twitter: RayRouthier

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