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TARA SULLIVAN

For Red Sox World Series hero Steve Pearce, Patriots are a passion

Red Sox first baseman Steve Pearce (center), with teammates Brock Holt and J.D. Martinez at the Patriots-Packers game this season.
Red Sox first baseman Steve Pearce (center), with teammates Brock Holt and J.D. Martinez at the Patriots-Packers game this season.(maddie meyer/Getty)

ATLANTA – The three Pearce boys were born within four years of each other, so a youth spent tearing up their Florida backyard with intense football games or marathon baseball games was practically preordained. Much less predictable about young Steve, Chad, and Kyle were the teams they modeled on their patch of Lakeland grass.

They dreamed of becoming Red Sox.

And they wanted to be Patriots.

“That’s my team,” Steve said.

Nearly two decades later, it still is. That Steve, now 35, would make himself famous as a member of the 2018 Red Sox, an incredible run through the World Series turning a journeyman into the series MVP, hasn’t changed anything. Of course he’s thrilled to have earned lifetime membership in Boston’s sports icon club with a baseball performance for the ages. But that was his job. The Patriots? They are his passion.

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And it’s a family affair. With his father, Steve Sr., having spent his first 13 years in Massachusetts before moving to Florida, the sports-fan die was cast, ensuring a lifelong affinity for New England teams. And if these Pearces loved the Patriots through the hard times when the boys were born, just imagine how much they’ve loved the nearly two decades of dominance since.

With yet another Super Bowl appearance approaching Sunday in Atlanta, Steve said, “There’s going to be a whole crop of Pearces rooting them on. We’re going to be loud. To be a fan, to have the love of sports, to see your favorite team do their thing, it’s not just a team to me. It’s family.”

With generations of its own. And trust us when we tell you: These guys are the real deal.

To this day, the extended Pearce clan turns football Sundays into de facto family reunions, descending upon area bars and restaurants with their rowdy roving party, never to be seen again if the Patriots lose on their watch.

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Chad has a son named Brady, and has already nicknamed the baby of his three children “Tom.” A few aunts and at least one cousin have Patriots tattoos. Steve and wife Jessica took their children, Jensen and Crew, home from the hospital in Patriots gear.

“Well, they’d watch the games with me, and your pajamas are Patriot pajamas, Red Sox pajamas, anything I saw that I had it I bought,” said Steve Sr., recalling days scouring catalogs or rifling through Walmart bins for anything with Boston logos. “I started super early. And they adapted real well.”

They’d be patient as he spun the radio dial searching through static for a New England signal. They’d groan as he groaned over bad Steve Grogan throws or lopsided Sunday results. They’d stand proudly by his side as neighbors and family friends questioned their seemingly misplaced loyalties, urging them to drop the Northern outliers for the traditional Dolphins. They celebrated when things went right, commiserated when they didn’t.

“Growing up, your dad’s your hero, and you want to be like him,” Steve said.

“It all started with our dad,” echoed Chad. “We all just wanted to be around him.”

Together they were on a warm October night, gathered on Dodger Stadium’s infield dirt, laughing, hugging, and marveling over what Steve had just done, unable to believe that the kid whose baseball journey had taken him from junior college fields to minor league bus rides to nine major league stops was now holding the MVP trophy.

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Steve cried as he handed that beautiful hardware to his own MVP — small repayment to a dad who always made sure there was a Drew Bledsoe jersey in the closet, and who found that ultra-cool Patriots Starter jacket that little Steve insisted on wearing for the few weeks that passed as winter in Florida.

Pearce with the World Series MVP trophy after the clincher.
Pearce with the World Series MVP trophy after the clincher.(Harry How/Getty)

And then you get it, you remember why being a professional athlete doesn’t have to preclude being a passionate fan, how sports endures as one of the best ways to bring us together. It’s a thread that stitches us in ways we can’t see, that gives us the outlet for emotions that aren’t always easy to express, that sets the backdrop for memories we want to share with those we love most.

“My boys, they mean everything to me, and when we get to get together and watch these football games, it’s special,” Steve Sr. said.

And intense. And a little crazy. That moment it looked like Jermaine Kearse had made an incredible catch to set up a Seattle win over the Patriots four years ago? Steve Pearce was just like you (“I threw up in my mouth a little”). And when Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson to secure it the other way instead? He was just like you again (“Jumping around like a 5-year-old”).

The game two years ago when Tom Brady engineered a comeback for the history books, beating Atlanta in overtime? Stop me if this sounds familiar.

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“I was watching the game in Florida, and they were so far behind, just getting counted out, and everyone at the party, they’re pointing fingers, we were the butt of jokes,” Steve recalled. “I stood up, I’m talking out of my butt, and I’m saying, ‘As long as we got Tom Brady, this game isn’t over. He’ll lead us back.’

“It starts happening. We’re all holding hands, my aunt’s on the couch, she’s not looking. We’re jumping. We’re going crazy as they’re coming back, and the next thing you know, the whole house hears us, it starts to roll, next thing we’re taking a knee, we’re looking at the game, in a huddle, wrapping arms, the party starts to filter in, and we’re just cheering. They win.

“We’re jumping, high-fives everywhere, my aunt’s crying. Best moment ever.”

Red Sox fans might disagree, and they know they have Pearce in part to thank. But even as he surged to a 1.167 slugging percentage (three home runs and eight RBIs) across the five-game World Series, he was always thinking of his Patriots, even while the Sox were hosting Game 2 of the ALCS he was checking the score of what would be Brady’s Week 6 masterpiece over the high-flying Chiefs.

“Guys were like, ‘Don’t you have a game to play?’ ” he said.

The way he played guaranteed that Boston won’t ever forget him. The way he played earned him a moment he won’t ever forget.

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When the Patriots invited the Red Sox to their Week 9 Sunday nighter against Green Bay to honor the World Series champs, Pearce was elected to hold the locker room door open as the team sprinted out to the field.

“They only play 16 games a year, eight at home, there are only eight people in Patriots Nation a year that get to do that, maybe 100-something that have gotten to do that ever,” Pearce said. “That was cool. That was a special moment.

“For me, I’m living a dream right now. I grew up a Red Sox fan, we won, with my favorite team, and I won the MVP. Now I get to watch the Patriots, meet Coach Belichick, Brady. It’s just awesome. It’s been such a surreal offseason for me.”

He’s just grateful that they held on so tight, never more so than when Brady led the charge.

“I’m grateful for the support from all the players in our area,” Brady said this week in Atlanta. “We feel the same way about them. Hopefully they’re all cheering us on.”

When it comes to the Pearces, you can guarantee it.


Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.