Here we are. July 1st. According to the calendar it is the halfway point of the baseball season. And I would have to say, all things considered, Red Sox Nation is in pretty good shape. First place by a couple of games, the Yankees struggling to stay above .500, the bats swing mightier every day; and it is quite possible the 2005 Red Sox’ best baseball is yet to come.

With the exception of swapping New York and Baltimore, the AL East is pretty much where I thought it would be. But it is how the Red Sox got to the top that is surprising. No meaningful contribution from Schilling, a .250-hitting Manny, a heart-attack bullpen led by a shaky closer, a 10-million-dollar shortstop who leads the majors in errors, and the list goes on. So how did they get there? With Johnny Damon leading off, with Jason Varitek having a monster year at the plate and making guys like Matt Clement look like Cy Young, with the deadly 3-4 attack of Manny and Ortiz, with Mike “the Rock” Timlin. Mainly, with a group of guys whose whole is so much more than the sum of its parts. Also known as: a team.

It took a while, but about a month ago the 2005 Red Sox began to distinguish themselves from the 2003 “Cowboy Up” team and the 2004 “Idiots.” They don’t have a gimmicky name or clever catchphrase. And maybe they don’t need one. Perhaps not living in the shadows of Babe Ruth, 1918, 86 years, 1986, 1975, 1967, Bucky Dent, Billy Buck, Grady, and all the rest has given these guys, given this franchise, an identity. Maybe, just maybe, being the Boston Red Sox is finally enough.

Of course, it is entirely possible that I just got too much sun and also happen to be in the later stages of baseball withdrawal. I was 6 full days with no Sox, no MLB Extra Innings, and worst of all, no RemDawg. Then to come home to an off night? Not cool.

So here it is, July 1st, and Boston has a first-place baseball team. The Yankees, 26 rings and all, might actually, finally, suck. Georgie has started the panic-ball rolling by “designating” a couple of former bullpen staples in Stanton and Quantrill, and no doubt this is just the beginning. Sheff may be raging with the Marlins before long, and neither Nostradamus nor Peter Gammons could predict what else the man in the turtle-neck and blue blazer might be cooking up. No doubt it will include household names and eight-figure salaries.

But we care not. We are Red Sox Nation, secure in our identity, comfortable in our first-place digs. We have the Emancipator going tomorrow, kicking off a long, holiday weekend. We have hot-hitters. We have minor-leaguers knocking on the door to The Show. And we have a guy named Schilling getting stronger and hungrier and much, much closer to joining the big club. Happy July everybody.