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Underground' Red Sox program finding a niche

By CHRIS NAGI

BOSTON -- A 25-year-old English professor armed with some layout software and a team of loud-mouthed students thinks he has a winner in an 'underground' Red Sox program that has been selling out at Fenway Park.

'It's an unauthorized, unofficial voice and in that I think it's a better voice,' says Michael Brudstein, editor of the nascent Red Sox journal called Baseball Underground. 'The fact is, the Red Sox are never going to produce a program that can appeal to a 9-year-old kid and a 29-year-old stockbroker.'

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Brudstein has cleared two 5,000-copy editions of his desktop publication, one before each major Red Sox homestand, selling it through a network of his Bentley College students, who are paid $10 a night to shout as loud as the sausage vendors.

'He's really got something,' says Paul McCarthy, editor of a defunct Red Sox street sheet named The Fenway Trumpet. 'We found it too exhausting, but I think the rules changed with the advent of desktop publishing.'

For a dollar, Baseball Underground serves up Brudstein's irreverent but informed opinions on everything from the club's bullpen to the best way to bet games -- topics the glossy Red Sox in-house program won't get near.

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'We're Red Sox people -- we understand what the fan is going through,' Brudstein says. 'There's no pressure on the team to change the way they're doing things, but if they aren't even willing to acknowledge that they've got problems, someone's going to do it privately.'

Brudstein, a 'third-generation' Red Sox fan who grew up in Sudbury, Mass., channeled his disgust into enterprise by assembling a band of fellow Red Sox know-it-alls to pen articles for fans seeking more than just 'news about players' wives.'

Brudstein's scorecard -- the section of the program where dedicated fans pencil in the game's batter-by-batter progress -- is bigger and unblemished by the space-consuming advertising.

'The Red Sox are in a monopoly position and there's no incentive for them to offer anything different or substantial. They're basically the flagship franchise of the American League; they're going to get their 2 million fans regardless of what the team does on or off the field,' he says.

Although the Red Sox answer to a notoriously harsh local press corps, too many of the team's own outlets -- its broadcast analysts and team publications -- don't offer fans what they want on game day and at the ballpark, Brudstein believes.

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'I think what's really happened in the last couple of years is there's been a tremendous increase on the part of the fan in the need for information. You've got these sophisticated kids, the yuppies, the card collectors all looking for the kind of statistics and analysis that the team won't give them. They want something to chew on; something upscale and smart and tough.'

Brudstein says a word-processing computer and laser printer -- equipment he owned before starting the Underground -- along with some paper and the nightly hawker salaries constitute most of his investment.

'It's not being run as a money-making proposition,' Brudstein says. He says production costs are roughly equal to the amount he brings in selling out an edition. It's always been conceived as being by and for baseball fans, which means it's probably more likely to make money in the long run. If it doesn't reap a profit this year, it's not like we're going to throw it out.'

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