NEW PORT RICHEY — The bet is on, the stakes are high, the taunting is merciless.
Well, about as merciless as taunting can be on official city letterhead.
The city of Greenfield, Mass., has struck a "friendly wager" with New Port Richey over the outcome of the American League Championship Series.
If the Tampa Bay Rays pull it off, Greenfield officials will send down an order of 100 percent pure Massachusetts maple syrup to New Port Richey officials. If the Boston Red Sox win, New Port Richey must send up two crates of Florida citrus.
"We will understand if you decline our offer," Greenfield town council members wrote in an Oct. 9 letter to New Port Richey. "It is difficult to bet against one of the greatest franchises in American professional sports."
"We know that New England is home to some of the finest genuine maple syrup to be found anywhere, and can hardly wait for it to hit our collective taste buds when the Rays are victorious," Mayor Scott McPherson fired back in a letter the next day.
Neither place is necessarily synonymous with its big-city team of choice. Greenfield, which has about 18,000 residents, is about 90 miles northwest of Boston. New Port Richey is part of the Tampa Bay area, of course, but Tampa and St. Petersburg get all the attention when it comes to the Rays.
But Red Sox Nation extends throughout New England. And Rays fans in Pasco County are as die-hard as the ones who live closer to the action.
"All these teams have far bigger bases" than the major cities, said New Port Richey City Manager Tom O'Neill.
Greenfield Councilor-at-Large Tim Farrell came up with the idea of the cross-country bet because he has a good friend in New Port Richey: Doug Benjamin, the brother of former Tampa Bay Buc Ryan Benjamin.
Farrell had heard from his friend about the New Port Richey City Council's vote last week to make Oct. 10 "Tampa Bay Rays Day."
That vote, noted in a small item in the Pasco Times, ended up also making the Boston Herald, which carried a report on Red Sox fans living in the Tampa Bay area. New Port Richey Deputy Mayor Bob Consalvo, a Maine native, acknowledged that he was torn but said "In my heart, I'm still a Red Sox fan."
Massachusetts is not as well-known for its maple syrup as its northern New England neighbors, but Farrell assured the Pasco Times that the syrup would not be imported from Vermont, which is only about 10 miles away. An insurance agent in Greenfield, Farrell said a woman who works in his office has a family maple syrup business in town.
In New Port Richey, O'Neill said officials would buy from a gift store the two crates, which are to include "sun-drenched Florida oranges, Ruby Red Grapefruit, easy-peeling tangerines and River Gold Grapefruit," according to McPherson's letter.
No city funds would be spent on the fruit, according to O'Neill, who said all the council members would pitch in.
Not that he expects it to get to that point.
"I don't think the Red Sox are going to win again," he said. "That is quite a statement to go to Boston and basically beat them all over the ballpark."
So how was Farrell doing Tuesday? "Good," he sighed. "Well, not great after last night."
(That was before things turned even worse for Red Sox fans after a Tuesday night loss to the Rays.)
Still, he said, "We've been down before."