Saturday, April 7, 2007

Interlude: My Olde Red Sox Story

In 1986 I was finishing up my junior year at Boston University, bleacher tickets were $4 and at the beginning of the season I could walk up to the ticket window on Lansdowne Street five minutes before the first pitch and get a ticket as I did the April night I saw Clemens pitch his first 20 strike out game. That summer was the first I spent away from home. My friend Anthony and I had jobs at Martignetti’s Liquor in Brighton. Anthony, from Brooklyn, was a Mets fan and we both dreamed early on of a Red Sox/Mets World Series. In June when it was apparent the Red Sox were for real we used our lunch break to go down to the Fenway Park ticket office and buy two bleacher seats for every remaining home game. Anthony stocked the beer cooler and on game nights we would leave for Fenway straight from work with subs from Martignetti’s deli and two beers slipped inside his backpack.

We would drive to the game in the Green Monster, my green Chevy Nova, its name spray painted on the hood. I knew a secret spot close to Fenway on St Mary’s Street where we would park, eat our subs, listen to the pre-game on the radio and drink our beer before heading to our bleacher seats. Martignetti’s had over 100 beers in stock and that summer we sampled most of them. We saw some great games: a memorable one being a game I didn’t even get to until the end of the 8th inning. It was towards the end of a 12 game home stand and I opted for a date instead of a game giving my ticket to a friend of Anthony’s.

After the movie I convinced my date to walk by Fenway with me to see how the Red Sox were doing. The game was in the 8th inning and we loitered a bit near the bleacher gates trying to get security to let us in for the 9th. They refused but when a fight broke out in the bleachers and they ran off to get in the middle of it I convinced a lady standing on the other side of the gate to lift the lock off the latch and into the park we slipped. We found Anthony and his friend in the bleachers and watched as the Red Sox tied it up in the 9th.

With extra innings we moved out of the bleachers and into the grandstand. The Angels scored 3 runs in the top of the 12th and at this point (it was almost 12:30am) most of the fans still in the park left. We made our way down from the grandstand into the box seats and ended up in the front row behind the Red Sox dugout. This was Heaven for a bleacher bum like me who had never been out of the bleachers in over 100 red Sox games. So close to the field we were. I yelled some encouragement to Don Baylor in the on-deck circle and he actually turned and looked at me.

Rice, at the plate, hit a two-out two run homer and it was a one run game. The Angel 3rd baseman dropped Baylor’s pop-up and Gedman after fouling off what seemed like 40 pitches doubled him in to tie the game. The Red Sox got a couple more men on base and with Rey “King” Quinonez at the plate the Angel pitcher balked advancing Dewey who was on 3rd to score the winning run. Only 300 or so fans had stayed till the end and as we filed out of the park it felt like family as we rocked the house chanting, “We want the Mets! Bring on the Mets”

In October of 1986 after the Sox clinched the pennant I spent two days and two nights on Yawkey Way in line for ALCS and World Series tickets. I had a pillow, a blanket and a book with me. The couple next to me had lawn chairs and their friends brought them pasta the first night which they shared with me. The Yankees were in town for the weekend and it was a circus atmosphere outside the park. Those of us in line became friends with each other. We held places for each other as we made food and bathroom runs. We chatted with the fans going to and coming from the game. We played catch with footballs and baseballs. Friends stopped by with beers late at night. Someone had a radio and Boston’s new single “Amanda” echoed down the street. Those of us in the front of the line numbered each other as the line behind us increased to make sure no one cut in. I was number 50. Someone rang a bell as each hour passed and we got closer to the opening of the ticket window.

With a one-game two-ticket limit per person I made deals in hopes of getting a ticket to all seven possible post-season games. I planned on buying two tickets to Game 4 of the World Series one of which I would trade with my friend Brian (who was ahead of me in line) for one of the two Game 5 tickets he would buy. I had a friend who knew how much the Red Sox meant to me join me in line just for the fun of it so I could have 2 more tickets. She bought two Game 1 ALCS tickets one of which I traded for one of the two Game 3 World Series ticket my friend Andy, who joined the line Sunday, would buy.

By Sunday night the line circled Fenway Park, went down Brookline Ave to Sears, took a left on Boylston through the Fens, crossed Mass. Ave and ended up (so we heard) at the Pru. The media showed up Sunday as well and Ron and Patty, my neighbors in line got their picture in the Globe as they snuggled beneath a sleeping bag on their lawn chairs.

I was up by 7am Monday morning. Those of us in the front of the line packed up our gear and lined up single file, checked our numbers and kicked out of line anyone we found who had cut in. The cops set up barricades, the bell ringer let loose every 15 minutes, we did the wave and congratulated ourselves on our long wait. At 8:58am the gates opened and the excitement surged through the line like electricity. The media was everywhere and just before I was to go through into the ticket office Charles Laquadera from the WBCN morning show stuck a mic in my face and asked me how I felt: “Great”, how long I’d been in line: “Since noon on Saturday”, where I was from: “BU by way of Ohio”, what the crowd had been like: “Like Family” and what we did to those trying to cut in line: “Kick their ass out” and then I was in.

I bought my two tickets for Game 4 of the World Series and immediately ran around the park to the end of the line, which had compressed and was now behind the Green Monster. There was a camera crew from the local ABC affiliate interviewing the last person in line but with World Series tickets in my hand I became the center of attention and they turned the camera my way and interviewed me. Later that night I got phone calls from family and friends from all over the country who had seen me on TV. ABC World News Tonight, Night Line and ESPN had all picked up the local ABC affiliate interview with me. With the Red Sox I had found my 15 minutes of fame.

The lady in front of me in line the second time around was a reporter from the Worcester Star Telegram and she interviewed me as well. I told her how my mom was from Cambridge, that growing up I spent part of every summer in Boston and about my first trip to Fenway Park in ‘77 when I was mesmerized by the green oasis in the middle of the city. I explained to her how I became a true fan in ‘79 when I ran home from school to watch the one game play-off against the Yankees only to have my young Red Sox heart broken by Bucky Dent.

I described to her the night in May 1985 when a couple of friends and me snuck into Fenway when the Red Sox were away in Oakland. It was under a full moon and we jumped one fence and then another, ran up a stairwell, inched around the outside of a girder 40 feet up, squeezed under another fence onto the roof and ran around to the left field side, pushed open a gap in another fence, dropped 12 feet to the grandstand and ran down the aisle and onto the field. I was Rice at the plate, Yaz running the bases, Boggs as I slid into 3rd and Boyd as I pitched. We played catch with a tennis ball against the Green Monster, warmed up in the bullpen, sat in the dugout. I touched the scoreboard and the lights that recorded the strikes, balls and outs. It was like being in a church, it was sacred to me, a shrine. I don’t think I ever washed the jeans that I wore that night stained with the dirt and grass Fenway.

The wait to get the second round of tickets took five hours, which was nothing after waiting 45 hours the first time. My friend Brian also got back in line and we arranged to buy tickets for Game 6 and 7 of the ALCS so all I needed was a ticket to Game 2 of the ALCS. When I got to the ticket window there was an old man in front of me. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard him ask for one ticket to Game 2 of the ALCS. I immediately cut in and said, “make that 2 tickets”, and thrust $15 dollars into his hand. Minutes later I was walking back to my dorm room with one ticket for each of the 7 possible post-season games.

The ALCS and World Series Games were the crowning achievement of that long baseball summer during which I attended over 60 games at Fenway. I had been dreaming about post-season play since ‘79 and to actually be in Fenway when the Sox clinched the American League Pennant and then played in the World Series was beyond belief.

If only the Sox could have taken two of three during the World Series at Fenway. I imagine I would have stormed the field in a state of pure unadulterated bliss. As it is we all know the history of what happened next. Buckner gets the blame but it was all my fault. After the Red Sox made the second out in Game 6 of the World Series I opened the window of my Comm. Ave apartment in preparation for the triumphant scream I would unleash on Boston upon the third out. Scream I did but in Anguish.

When it was all over two nights later (I would have started the Can but that’s another story) I was reeling. For months I dreamed of that third out in Game 6. My last year of college was a blur. Why did a team of ball players make me cry? What was the nature of my emotional attachment to them? What would have changed in my life if they had won? These questions and my pursuit of answers altered the course of my life. Before the World Series loss I was on track to be a photojournalist; after it I was questioning everything.

I realized that whether the Red Sox won or lost was out of my control and to place my emotional well being upon something I did not control did not seem very wise. I was forced to look at aspects of myself and my relationships that I did not want to look at. Soon I was to graduate from college and I began to be aware that I was basing my choices about what to do with my life upon what was expected of me and living vicariously through the Red Sox. I became determined to live for myself.

After graduation I spent a couple of summers in Boston working at Cheers while spending my winters in Colorado being a ski bum. While in Boston I refused to buy tickets to Red Sox games and would instead show up occasionally at Fenway at the top of the 9th when they opened the gates on Yawkey Way to make my way against the stream of fans-leaving-early-to-beat-the-traffic and find myself a seat for the last inning just to be once again in the park I loved so much.

I traded in a career for a backpack and began traveling. My travels took me to Alaska and I quit the Red Sox for the 90’s only checking in during the playoffs to see if there was anything worth watching. In 2003, still in Alaska, I found myself on a barstool for the playoff series against the A’s and the fire was re-kindled. I was working the night they lost to the Yankee’s in Game 7 of the ALCS. A co-worker of mine from Massachusetts who had just turned 21 called me with updates. In the 8th he was ecstatic. He told me he had his celebratory spleef rolled. I cautioned him, “Hey this is the Red Sox, it ain’t over till the third out bottom of the 9th”. He didn’t listen; he was too young to remember ’86 and wasn’t even born in ‘79. The next day when I saw him he told me he couldn’t believe it. He had become a true fan. I welcomed him to Red Sox Nation: baptism by fire. Ain’t we all been there.

2004 found me back in Boston housesitting for my sister at the same time as the Garciaparra trade. I watched the Red Sox on NESN. The players were familiar from the playoffs the year before. I liked this new bunch of Sox: Manny, Ortiz, Millar, Damon, Bellhorn, Pedro. I found myself liking them as much as I liked Rice, Armas, Dewey, Boggs, Buckner, Clemens. I went down to Fenway to check out the scene, see how much it had changed since I was last there in the 90’s. There would be no more sneaking in at the top of the 9th, no more walk up $4 bleacher tickets. The Red Sox were big, like rock stars, it was amazing the energy surrounding the park; electric. Wandering behind the Green Monster (now with seats atop it) I felt a tap on my shoulder. Turning around I saw standing in front of me a familiar face from Alaska, a friend I had made at the bar watching the playoff last fall. He was home visiting and his dad, a college ump, had given him passes from Larry Lucchiano, good for any game even if sold out. Soon I was back in Fenway for the first time in 14 years, standing at the back of the Grandstand on the first base line as Derek Lowe and the Red Sox beat Detroit. It was beginning to feel like destiny.

My housesitting gig ended in September and when the playoffs rolled around I was traveling with my girlfriend in the southwest. We stopped different sports bars in Tennessee, Arkansas, and New Mexico each game night to watch the ALCS and World Series. Game 3 of the World Series at the Green Onion in Santa Fe was the best. The joint was full of baseball fans and one man from Boston, the first time the Red Sox scored, jumped up screaming, “It’s over!” He repeated this every time the Red Sox made a good play or scored. I joined him when Ortiz and Mueller picked off Suppan on third.

During Game 4 at another sports bar in Sanat Fe I went out on the patio between innings to watch the blood red lunar eclipse. It was almost cosmic the way this was all playing out, that after a long self-imposed exile I had been back in Boston the very season the Red Sox went all the way thus allowing me to reconnect with the team, get in to Fenway for a game, be a part of it. After Foulke tossed the ball to Mientkiewicz for the third out, the third out I had been dreaming about ever since October of ‘86, I turned to survey the room. There was no big baseball crowd here. Only a Native man in the back and a big black man hunched forward in his seat were taking in the moment with me; the three of us, solitary far-from-Fenway fans with our own Red Sox stories being brought to completion.

After the series my Red Sox cap drew lots of comments wherever I was; supermarkets, gas stations, even on the trails my girlfriend and I were hiking. In Zion National Park 3000 feet up on a red rock spire I ran into a couple from Boston who left town right after the parade. They shared with me how the city went off the night the Sox became World Champions and gave me details of the duck boat parade. Wherever you go there you are! Even though far away I was still in the embrace of Red Sox nation.

In July of 2005 Colleen and I moved to Massachusetts to be near Gaelen who lived at that time in Housatonic. We settled in South Hadley were I can listen to Red Sox games on the radio like I did when I was a kid in Ohio and the Sox were in Cleveland or Detroit. On January 9th 2006 Ambiana our was born in Red Sox Nation. It is as if a circle begun long ago had come round and it’s time now for a new one to begin

GAME 5: RED SOX vs. RANGERS

I listened to the beginning of this one (8pm start) in the bedroom with Ambiana and Colleen as Ambiana did puzzles and looked over books. She is so cute putting puzzle pieces in, she gibbers to herself, adding sound to her effort and she gets louder the longer it takes her to place a piece. The Sox jumped out 2-0 and For 1.2 innings it looked like Tavarez was the real deal but he gave up four runs in the 2nd. I went out to the Red Sox porch (34 degrees) and crawled in my sleeping bag to listen to the game out there. I'm warm and snuggled in my bag and it's like winter camping which i love. Lopez came on in relief for the Sox and gave up a triple but stranded him. Then Varitek doubled in a run to bring the Sox close at 4-3 but Francona replaced Lopez with Snyder who gave up some hits and then Romero came in and gave up 6 hits and 4 runs. Ouch. I listened to the Sox bat because the top of the order was up and Many singled in a run but was stranded and with the score 8-4 I turned off the game and went in to suglle my lovey. It's no fun to listen to them lose :(....

RANGERS 8 RED SOX 4

GAME 4: RED SOX vs. RANGERS

I Missed the beginning of this one as I had a job interview for a part time position at a photo studio shooting senior portraits. By the time I turned it on the Red Sox were losing 2-0 and going down quick swinging at 1st pitches and having no patience at the plate. When I got home I had a big Spanda order to fill and didn't turn the game on for a bit and then only half listened as the Red Sox continued to not hit and the game ended swiftly in 2 hours 14 minutes. Talk Radio was all over Crisp which is a bit unfair, no one hit at all. Wakefield pitched well but as often happens when he pitches he gets no run support

Rangers 2 Red Sox 0