BOSTON - It's 5 a.m. in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Most people are either sleeping or groggily rubbing their eyes as they get ready for work, but Ric Glaub and his friends have their game faces on.
It's October, and the Boston Red Sox are in the playoffs, looking for the team's first World Series championship since 1918. The five members of the Tashkent Red Sox Fan Club, clutching their tea or coffee - or if it's a weekend game, a bottle of Russian beer - don't want to miss a pitch.
"We have seen the sun come up in Tashkent many times over the past couple of weeks," Glaub, an Idaho native who developed an affection for the Red Sox while working in Boston during the 1980s, said in an e-mail interview. "Except on weekends, and even sometimes on weekends, most of us have to begin work as soon as the games end. Most Americans working here tend to put in long hours and watching these games takes away from already limited sleep time. We can have it no other way.
"As Red Sox fans everywhere are saying, we can sleep in November," he said.
Across the United States and across the world, Red Sox fans are pushing decades of heartache into the deepest recesses of their minds and praying that this is the year they finally get to celebrate winning it all.
The term Red Sox Nation, often used to describe the team's fans, is more than just a name. It reflects that Red Sox fans are to be found in all corners of the United States and beyond.
"We are America's team," says Peter Roberts, a Red Sox fan in Anchorage, Alaska.
Ernie Paicopolos, an Andover , Mass., resident who helps run the www.fenwaynation.com Web site that has received 1.3 million hits in the past year, says he gets hits from far-flung places including Poland and Vietnam.
Some members of Red Sox Nation are transplanted New Englanders. Some had their allegiance handed down to them by past generations, like a precious family heirloom. Some can just relate to an underdog team that has been trying for so long to reach the pinnacle.
"I am a Red Sox fan, a Cubs fan, a (University of South Carolina) Gamecocks fan, and I was a Republican in the South before it was cool, so I love misery," said John Courson, a state senator from South Carolina who has been a Sox fan since the 1967 Impossible Dream season.
Yet no matter where they are it seems, they can find their baseball soulmates, someone else who holds the same impossible hopes, and who understands the same excruciating pain - even in America's Last Frontier.
Humpy's Great Alaska Alehouse in Anchorage - 4,600 miles away from the Red Sox home field - has become the home of the Far From Fenway Fan Club.
The saloon has been packed to its capacity of 250 people for Red Sox playoff games this season, said co-owner Bill Opinsky, a member of Red Sox Nation, even though he grew up in Alaska.
Opinsky, 37, inherited his devotion to the team from his father, who was from Scranton, Pa., but who had relatives in New England. There seems to be an extraordinary amount of Red Sox fans in the area, Opinsky said.
"There are a ton of Red Sox fans up here and they come out of the woodwork for the playoffs," Opinsky said. "People were getting here an hour and a half in advance of the ALCS games, and it was crazy. I was amazed."
Roberts, the founder of the Far From Fenway Fan Club, first came up with the idea after the 1986 World Series, which the Red Sox lost to the New York Mets in seven games. Roberts watched the games in Alaska in virtual isolation. He had no one with whom to share his disappointment when the ball rolled through Bill Buckner's legs in Game 6, when the Red Sox blew a 3-0 lead before losing Game 7.
"I promised myself if I was ever in a situation like that again I would be with other people who cared about the Red Sox," said Roberts, 42, who owns a bicycle rental business in Anchorage and who developed his love of the team as a kid, tuning into crackly radio broadcasts out of Hartford, Conn.
"The idea is when the Red Sox make it to the World Series, you are with other people who know how important it is," he said.
This year, there's more hope than usual. After all, the Sox staged the biggest comeback ever recorded in playoff history, winning four straight against the rival New York Yankees who had taken a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven ALCS.
And now, they're back in the World Series for the first time since 1986.
One of the toughest places to be a Sox fan is in the heart of Yankee territory. John Quinn, 42, is a writer who was born, raised, and still lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. He is a regular at the Riviera Cafe in Greenwich Village, a bar that has became a haven for Red Sox fans.
He learned to detest the New York Yankees as the son of Brooklyn Dodgers fans. The Dodgers left for the west coast in 1957 and his family pledged its baseball allegiance to the Mets in 1962, but Quinn's support for the Mets soured in 1977 when they traded pitching great Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds.
Despite the heartbreak, despite the ribbing he gets from Yankees fans, he's stuck with the Red Sox.
"The Yankees have all those championships, and I respect that, but being a Red Sox fan, and meeting others, I've discovered that it's like being part of a brotherhood, and Yankees fans will never understand that," he said.