The tickets that didn't work -- until they did.
"I love all these guys," Dustin Pedroia said of his teammates last night at Fenway Park, and he might have been talking for all of us who were there watching them. Never have I felt the place more electric with good karma -- the power of which drained most of our cell phones by the second inning the Red Sox World Series-clinching win over the Cardinals.
Ted Williams was 10 days old the last time the Sox and their fans got to celebrate a world championship finale on the Fenway grass, so obviously it was a unique experience. What made it that much more gratifying, however, were the numerous moments of kindness that got me and the Reluctant Fan through what could have been a disastrous night.
When we arrived at Gate A, we were told there was a problem with our tickets. Eventually we got in, but a mistake had been made and it turned out we had no actual seats. We just needed to roam and hope for the best.
A bearded Fisk and Tiant prepare to throw.
Now Michelle is not, by nature, an enthusiastic seat roamer -- guys who can find a woman who does have this quality, marry her immediately -- but she was a good egg last night. And, because of the aura of warmth throughout the ballpark, she actually didn't have to do quite as much roaming as you would expect.
First, just before the pregame ceremonies, we ran into my friend Bill Nowlin, a fellow Fenway author-scholar who said he had seen some empty spots in the rows behind him in the lower grandstand of Section 17. We found a couple and watched the National Anthem and first pitches from there.
This was extra special for me. I had been at Game 6 of the 1975 World Series with my family when last night's first-tossers Luis Tiant and Carlton Fisk were the starting battery for Boston, and I have been lucky enough to spend time with both these fine gentlemen in recent years. Pudge narrated the DVD for my last book, and Luis and I teamed up at Jerry Remy's for a book signing and dinner, when El Tiante gave Jason a puff of his cigar and Rachel a kiss! It's wonderful when your heroes live up to expectations.
Seat hero Mark Waitkus at the '07 Series.
Just before the "real" first pitch we were on the move again; the true residents of our seats had shown up. Luckily we just had to go over one section and up a few rows before another friend motioned us over -- Red Sox photographer/artist Mark Waitkus. He said there were a couple empties by where he was shooting in the last lower grandstand row (NN) of Section 18, and we took them quick. These were absolutely fantastic seats, almost directly behind home plate with perfect sight lines. [Shameless plug -- check out Mark's beautiful photos/artwork here: http://waitkusstudios.myshopify.com/]
Boston starter John Lackey had his early struggles, with quite a few hard shots that caused nervous whispers to spread, but it was still 0-0 after the top of the third. I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me, Brian, a former baseball player at UMASS Amherst who was there with his 7-year-old son, Kaidan. Brian had turned down two free ticket offers from friends before securing these two, because he couldn't imagine not being at the game with his son.
Lackey was locked in.
This, of course, made me feel guilty since our own son Jason was at home. However -- and here's where my parental pride really shines through -- Jason had told Michelle earlier that he understood why I couldn't take him. We only had two tickets, and his sister Rachel was very sick. If he went without her she would be heartbroken, and so he was a good big bro and stayed home to watch with Rachel and their wonderful Bubbie Madelyn while I took mom to the game.
Thanks, buddy -- next time I promise we'll all go.
Most Fenway veterans know that you're usually safe in "acquired" seats by the third inning, but not this time -- just before Ellsbury led off the bottom of the frame, a guy and his son came and we were on the move again. [An aside: What possesses people to show up so damn late? As far as I'm concerned, you should lose your seats in the postseason if you don't arrive by the third.]
Some lucky charms carried in my bag.
For us, it was now off to the third-base side, and in the midst of our travels we got to say hi to Fenway friends Rob "Peanuts" Barry, Lynne "the Fenway Hat Lady" Smith, and Section 30 seatmates Nancy and Erin. I also waved up to my friends The K Men, who I am sure could not see me from atop the Green Monster but who were certainly enjoying this moment as well as anybody.
Around Section 27, an older gentleman in the first row of the lower grandstand waved us over and said the people next to him had left for a private party. Here is where we saw the bases-clearing double by Shane Victorino, making it 3-0, punctuated by Victorino's fist pump at third almost directly in front of us.
Once again, we figured we were there for the duration -- but it wasn't to be.
Packed but not needed on this warm night.
In the top of the fourth, a couple New York-looking dudes in leather jackets and slicked-back hair showed up and told us they had been "upgraded" to the seats by Major League Baseball. I had no idea what this meant, and still don't after one of them explained it to me twice, but the tickets did match up and we were booted once again.
Now I feared we were in big trouble. Fenway was jam-packed, with every seat and ounce of standing-room space seemingly filled. The ushers were pushing folks along faster than normal and we appeared to be out of karma.
Then I heard a voice call out, "Saul, I've been waiting for you."
It was Brian, the guy with the young son we had met back in Section 18. He was now sitting in the front row of section 19, Kaidan on his lap, and explained that he had run into a friend with one empty seat and was staying with him. His own two seats were now empty, and he wanted us to have them.
Drew goes deep -- 4-0.
Thanking him profusely, we hurried back to row NN and sat down next to the guys who had warmly kicked us out earlier. After looks of confusion, we explained our situation and struck up a conversation. Joel and Shane were father-and-son Sox fans from Florida who had flown up that day and were thrilled at the possibility of celebrating this moment together.
Stephen Drew homered to lead off the bottom of the fourth at almost the moment we sat down beside them. By the end of the fourth it was 6-0, Boston, and seemingly invincible Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha had been proven human after all and was in the shower.
We were "home" to stay. And as the innings moved on, and Lackey and the Boston relief corps continued to shine, the folks in our vicinity grew closer by the out. We put arms around each other and sang loudly to "Sweet Caroline," shared not-dead-yet cellphones for photos and calls home, and chanted "MVP! MVP!" for David Ortiz when he was walked intentionally for the third time.
Koji and his pals celebrate.
We made it out to Yawkey Way an hour later, when it was quiet enough to walk right into Twins Souvenirs and shake hands with a beaming Arthur D'Angelo -- whose own World Series attendance record goes back to 1946. The championship shirts in most sizes had already run out but nobody seemed to mind. We all just walked around with these smiles on our faces that made us look something like the zombie in the first "Men in Black" movie minus the worms.
I never thought I would have a Fenway experience to top Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS, and in terms of the actual game this was not highlight-reel worthy. But the 6-1 score was not what stood out to me, not what Michelle and I took away from the experience. It was the way Fenway felt -- better than ever.