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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fenway Family Provides Karma and Seats for Series Finale

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.

By the time Koji Uehara fanned Matt Carpenter to end it, we were a family of sorts. We took turns taking pictures with the fireworks, flashing scoreboards, and triumphant players as our backdrop. We exchanged high-fives, hugs, and email addresses for photo-sharing. We listened to Papi, Farrell, Petey, and Koji reflect passionately and eloquently on what had transpired. We cheered wildly for Ben Cherington, finally fully out of Theo's shadow.

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. 

Boston Strong. 






Friday, October 25, 2013

Watching John Lackey, and Thinking 'bout Dave Roberts

On my mind all the time. (Barry Chin, Boston Globe)

Kenmore Square might have been rocking last night at 7:25, but I couldn't hear a thing. I was in the quietest place in Boston five minutes before a World Series game at Fenway Park -- the library.

Yes, you read that right. Mr. Fenway Reflections himself, who still has a "Thanks Yaz" shirt in the closet and an unopened can of Fenway 100th anniversary grape juice on the shelf (waiting to toast with my family at the 150th), was five miles on the odometer and a million miles in intensity away from Yawkey Way when JT was belting out the National Anthem.

So what on earth was I doing hanging out an empty mausoleum of a room, sans a few librarians tuned in to MLB.com? Well, as Kevin Millar and the rest of the 2004 idiots were throwing out first pitches, I was writing about what was going through Dave Roberts' mind as he readied to steal second base in the ninth inning of Game 4 against the Yankees.


No quiet study room needed last night.

Red Sox Nation may be keyed into the waning days of the 2013 baseball season, but I'm just as entrenched in the '04 campaign. The Sox and Cardinals are now in a best-of-five showdown to determine this year's world champions, and we'll all know the end result no later than Halloween. A few weeks after that, I'll be turning in the manuscript of Miracle at Fenway: An Oral History of the 2004 World Series champion Boston Red Sox.

We'll know the results of that in April, when the book comes out. 

It's been a busy summer and fall as my dual duties have progressed. I've been watching and writing about the Bearded Boys as they've worked their magic in the greatest one-season turnaround by a Red Sox club since 1946, and I've been interviewing members of the 2004 team, front office, and fans all year about the '04 campaign -- which of course included the greatest postseason turnaround in franchise (and MLB) history.

This means I had to turn down or give away tickets to many games down the stretch, and have only eased the rules on a couple occasions: a chance to share joy of the '13 campaign with my Section 30 friend Nancy Wall Farrington in the regular season finale, be an "Honorary K Man" in Game 2 of the ALDS, and take my wife (aka The Reluctant Fan) to her first ALCS game. All were memorable occasions, thanks in large part to Big Papi -- appropriate considering he is the only remaining member of the 2004 team still with the Red Sox.


Two future readers? (Stan Grosfeld, Boston Globe)

(NOTE TO READERS: If anybody wants to sell or give me a ticket (or 2 or 4) to Game 6 or 7, I may be inclined to take them up on the offer, since my last World Series was in 1975.) 

I've tried to always keep my eye on the here and now, updating things on Fenway Reflections when possible and (during the World Series) chatting for a few minutes each day with Bob Seay of NPR's "Morning Edition." I've worn my lucky Jimmy Fund/Red Sox shirt as often as I can, although it needs a karma-changing wash after last night.

Here are some of the things I'm working into the book, which readers will be able to enjoy in full come April:
  • The life-altering event early in Jason Varitek's life that likely resulted in his becoming a catcher, and the strange way he heard he was coming to Boston
  • Larry Lucchino's first visit to Fenway Park, and the epiphany which indirectly led to the ballpark being saved from the wrecking ball 15 years later
  • The real cause of Ellis Burks' injuries that kept him from staying healthy in Boston, and why he decided to come back here a decade after leaving in 2003 as a free agent
  • How Tim Wakefield felt when he let up the homer to Aaron Boone in the 2003 ALCS, and how that compared to his emotions after helping whip the Yanks the very next October 
This game was nearly nixed.
  • The backstory behind the A-Rod-Varitek fight game, which almost wasn't played
  • The man who predicted in an email to Larry Lucchino after Game 2 of the ALCS that the Red Sox would lose Game 3 to the Yankees, and then win four straight
  • What (and who) Dave Roberts was thinking about before recording the most important stolen base in Red Sox history
What was on his mind?
  • Kevin Millar's take on the pre- and post-game "toasts" during the ALCS
  • How Johnny Pesky spent Game 4 of the World Series in St. Louis
  • The filming of "Fever Pitch" at Fenway, and the unique concoction Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon shared with local actors after the Series-clincher at Busch Stadium
  • The cancer patient who claims the '04 Red Sox saved her sanity and her life
  • Where their lives have taken the members of the 2004 club since The Miracle at Fenway
And much, much more.

By the way, I did make it home from the library last night in time to change into my lucky shirt and see the Red Sox bat in the first inning. I spent the game tapping away at my computer (thanks lap table) and making notes for this morning's radio gig. 

One thing I noted was that last night's starter St. Louis Michael Wacha was just 13 years old when his Red Sox counterpart, John Lackey, won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series for the Angels. In fact, all three Cardinals pitchers were likely in bed with their lights out when Big John clinched the '02 title.

So enjoy the remaining days of this year's wild ride, and then spend your Hot Stove months waiting for it all to start again -- and for the opportunity to take a trip back a decade to when this great run of Boston baseball all began.

See you at the library.




Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fenway first-pitch-and-catch honorees it would be fun to see

The mayor belongs on the mound.

Everybody from Peter Gammons to John Farrell's housekeeper has dissected the Red Sox-Cardinals World Series match-up position by position, so at Fenway Reflections we thought we'd focus on another important aspect of any postseason contest -- the first-pitch throwers.

Sox VP Dr. Charles Steinberg and his crew have always done a great job trotting out honorees for this task, including 2004 heroes Dave Roberts and Bill Mueller during the last two ALCS games at Fenway Park. Tonight it's Hall of Famer and recent statue recipient Carl Yastrzemski handling the chore for Game 1, and it's hard to argue with that choice.

But if we could put pomp and circumstance aside, along with superstitions about past Series lost, wouldn't it be great to see some of these folks stride out to the mound and back behind the plate?


Dick Hoyt to Rick Hoyt

The Hoyts on the hills.

Well known to any true fan of the Boston Marathon, this father-son racing duo has inspired millions through the years. Who hasn't teared up watching Dick push Rick's custom-made wheelchair up Heartbreak Hill or across the finish line? When you learn the story behind their partnership, especially the accomplishments Rick has achieved off the course, your respect can only grow. These guys live "Boston Strong" every day.


Billy Rohr to Russ Gibson 

Not worth much, unless you know the story.

Gentleman Jim Lonborg was the big winner on the 1967 Red Sox, and the Cy Young Award winner has been justly honored as a first-pitch tosser on several occasions including Game Two of this year's ALDS. It was rookie right-hander Rohr, however, who first signaled to New Englanders that the '67 Sox might be worth watching when he came within one pitch of a no-hitter at Yankee Stadium in his very first major league game. Gibson, his catcher, was also making his big-league debut that day. That's the kind of stuff Impossible Dreams like 1967 -- and 2013 -- are made of.


Oil Can Boyd / Bob Stanley to Rich Gedman

Gedman tags out Gary Carter in the '86 Series.

Bill Buckner has gotten his moment of first-pitch redemption at Fenway -- actually, several of them, including Opening Day in 2008 before the '07 champions got their rings. He has received his standing ovations, and now it's time for three more members of the near-miss 1986 Red Sox to get theirs. 

Boyd, Stanley, and Gedman were all one strike away from World Series rings, and deserve some love to replace the angst they experienced during the meltdown at Shea Stadium. Stanley and Gedman are both New England natives who became All-Stars for the team they rooted for as kids, and the charismatic Boyd has settled down to make his home here. The Red Sox would not have won the '86 AL pennant without them, and now it's time to let them know they are appreciated. 

Jordan Leandre to Mike Andrews 
Leandre to Andrews would be a beautiful battery.

Leandre first gained Fenway fame as a 4-year-old cancer patient, singing the National Anthem before several games in the magic summer of 2004 and the next few years thereafter. Fans watched him progress from two full-leg casts to a wheelchair to a limp and then a triumphant run around the bases. He's since graduated from the Jimmy Fund Clinic to a healthy career as a teenage pitcher, including a no-hitter in summer-league play.

Andrews, a rookie Red Sox second baseman on the 1967 AL champions, devoted more than 30 years to fighting pediatric and adult cancer as chairman of the Jimmy Fund, and still looks like he could turn a double play at age 70. He's famously shunned the spotlight in the past, but honoring him would be a natural choice in this, the 60th anniversary of the Jimmy Fund-Red Sox partnership 

Bill Lee to Carlton Fisk 
A near-miss battery.

This battery started Game 7 of the 1975 World Series vs. the Reds at Fenway. Left-hander Lee was one botched double-play and one eephus pitch away from a championship toast at his beloved Elliot Lounge, while Fisk -- who had famously won Game 6 with his homer off the left-field foul pole -- just missed a title in his only Fall Classic of a 24-year catcher career. Polar opposites off the field, the stoic Fisk and iconoclastic were in perfect harmony on it.


Thomas Menino to Bill Russell

Russ knows rings.

Sure, he often gets poked fun at for his creative use of the English language, and he sometimes gets his sports facts wrong, but Menino has done much right for Boston during a record five terms as the city's mayor. As he readies to retire from office, this would be a great way to honor the man who stood Boston Proud after the Marathon bombings and many, many other times. 

Celtics great Russell is the greatest champion in Boston sports history and will be getting a statue in his honor here on Nov. 1 thanks in large part to Menino's lobbying. We know Russ doesn't have much of a throwing arm from watching a previous first toss, but it would be fun to see him crouch down for Menino's delivery.



Terry Francona to Jason Varitek 
Two of the great minds behind '04 and '07. 

Yeah, things ended badly for Tito here, but what better way to bury the hatchet? He received a nice Fenway greeting during his return with Cleveland this summer, but an appearance here would bring down the house.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Have a laugh, Red Sox fans, and get the good karma working

There is no need to rehash last night's Red Sox-Tigers game, which was awful from a Boston point of view. The important thing is to have good karma going into Game 5 tonight. So here's a little story guaranteed to make you smile and/or laugh, courtesy of my dad:

Two 90-year-old friends, Rose and Barb, had been friends all their lives. When it was clear that Rose was dying, Barb visited her every day. One day Barb said, "Rose, we both loved playing women's softball all our lives, and we played all through high school together too. Please do me one favor: When you get to Heaven, somehow you must let me know if there's women's softball there."

Rose looked up at Barb from her deathbed and said, "Barb, you've been my best friend for many years. If it's at all possible, I'll do this favor for you." Shortly after that, Rose passed on.

At midnight, a few nights later, Barb was awakened from a sound sleep by a blinding flash of white light and a voice calling out to her, "Barb, Barb."

"Who is it?" asked Barb, sitting up suddenly. "Who is it?"

"Barb, it's me. Rose."

"You're not Rose. Rose just died."

"I'm telling you, it's me, Rose," insisted the voice.

"Rose! Where are you?"

"In Heaven," replied Rose. "I have some really good news and a little bad news." 

"Tell me the good news first," said Barb."

"The good news," Rose said, "is that there's softball in Heaven. Better yet, all of our old buddies who died before me are here, too. Better than that, we're all young again. Better still, it's always springtime, and it never rains or snows. And best of all, we can play softball all we want, and we never get tired."

"That's fantastic," said Barb. "It's beyond my wildest dreams! So what's the bad news?"

"You're pitching Tuesday."



Monday, October 14, 2013

Bud Selig: MLB to rename ALCS MVP Award "The Big Papi"



It ain't over till the Big Papi swings.

After Dustin Pedroia's laser-drive single to short-right field last night loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth -- and Will Middlebrooks slammed on the brakes rounding third -- I turned to the guy sitting behind me in Section 14 at Fenway Park for a very brief conversation as David Ortiz stepped to the plate.

"I wonder if they should have sent Middlebrooks?" I asked.

"No, you don't want to take the bat out of Papi's hands."

"But he hasn't been hitting this series."

"Maybe, but there are two outs. You don't want to make the last out at home plate down four runs. We only have four outs to go in the game."

He was right from a baseball strategy point of view, of course. But after watching the Red Sox record 1 hit and strike out 29 times over the first 16 2/3 innings of the ALCS against Detroit , I have to admit I wasn't even sure Big Papi could bail us out of this one.

I should have known better. 
Papi over...

On the very next pitch -- the first he saw from Tigers closer  Joaquin Benoit -- Ortiz hit a bullet to right field that just made it over the glove of a leaping Torii Hunter and into the Red Sox bullpen. Just like that, a 5-1 deficit had become a 5-5 tie, and a two games to none series deficit heading to Detroit was no longer a near certainty.

...and out (Stan Grossfeld, Boston Globe)

The Red Sox were alive in the game, and an inning later -- when Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled home Jonny Gomes -- they were very much alive in the ALCS. "Love That Dirty Water" started playing, cell phones started ringing (and serving as cameras), and I high-fived the guy behind me. Perhaps, if he reads this, he'll email me his name.

So ended one of the most incredible nights in Fenway Park's long postseason history, a night the Red Sox turned the tables on the Tigers with one swing and left fans feeling that this very likable, hairy team might just have the mojo to go all the way.

Seldom do emotions switch as dramatically as they did in this contest. The good karma started well before the first pitch, when fans arriving at Fenway were treated to a wonderful last-second comeback by Tom Brady and the Patriots down in Foxboro, courtesy of flat-screens throughout the ballpark.
Comeback No. 1 (Nancy Wall Farrington)

When my wife Michelle and I ran into Nancy Wall Farrington, our regular season weekend seat mate, we thought it was another good sign. The Sox almost never lose when we see each other in Section 30, so maybe seeing each other in the Gate A concourse would work as well.

After slipping our lucky $1 into a Jimmy Fund collection box (an every-game ritual), we settled into our seats just as the pre-game ceremonies were wrapping up with 2004 ALCS hero Dave Roberts threw out the first pitch. (Shameless promotion: Roberts was my favorite interview for my upcoming book, "Miracle at Fenway," in which you'll learn just what he was thinking before the biggest stolen base in Red Sox history.)

Dave Roberts: excellent karma

Because this was a "date night" with my mom babysitting the kids, I promised Michelle I would not keep score and instead focus completely on her (and the game, of course). This felt as uncomfortable to me as showing up in the fifth inning, as we did at our son Jason's first game, because she thought he'd never last nine. (The game went 14, and we stayed, so he saw his 9).

Still, I kept the pen in my pocket. I've survived 14 years, 11 months, and 6 days of marriage by knowing when to let things go, so I wrapped my arm around my bride and settled in to watch Clay Buchholz and Max Scherzer do battle.

Another good match-up.

Over the next five innings, the game took on an almost uncanny resemblance to the previous night's Jon Lester-Anibal Sanchez affair. The Red Sox could not record a hit or even get much wood on the ball over the first five innings, with Scherzer recording nine strikeouts, but a strong performance from Buchholz was keeping Boston in the game. My buddies "The K Men" were pretty busy with six cards posted for Clay through five.

The lady in front of us was keeping score, which naturally had me longing to have a pen and program in my own hands. Before the top of the sixth, with a 1-0 Detroit lead and tension in the park building, I told Michelle I couldn't take it anymore -- and flipped to the scorecard in the center of my official ALCS program. I needed to keep busy, and she understood. 
Date Night...and no scoring (for a while)

After filling in the names and writing in an "8" for the first out of the sixth (fly to deep center by Torii Hunter) I quickly began questioning my decision. Double-home run-double-single-home run were the next five entries on my cardboard grid, as the Tigers chased Buchholz with four more runs.

When he was lifted for Brandon Workman, I was among many fans giving Buchholz a standing ovation as he walked off the field. "You had a great year, Clay!" I yelled, fearing it very well might be the last time I'd cheer him or any Sox starter at Fenway this season. 

Boston did break its 16-inning scoreless drought in the bottom of the sixth when a Victorino single and Pedroia double off the Wall made it 5-1, and the fans came to life as Ortiz stepped in with two outs. Scherzer blew him away with a 96-mile-per-hour fastball, however, and silence quickly returned.
Scherzer was dealing.

By the end of the seventh, with the help of the JumboTron, I had completely caught up on my scorecard and was thinking ahead to whether John Lackey had any chance against Verlander in Game 3. I'm not a doubting man by any means, especially having lived through 2004, but I can guarantee there were not 1,000 people among the 38,000-plus at Fenway who figured the Sox had any chance in this one.

Then, with blinking lights flashing, one of my newest Fenway friends surprised me by showing up to say hello. Lynne Smith, aka the Fenway Park Hat Lady, sat down beside Michelle and quickly started gabbing about Detroit (where they are both from). I interviewed Smith for "Miracle at Fenway" a couple weeks back and we've become Facebook buddies -- but this was our first time connecting for more than a quick wave at a game.

The Tigers went quickly in the top of the eighth, and after Lynne's husband Gary took her picture with me and Michelle (along with several other requests, as Fenway's 2012 "Lib Dooley Fan of the Year" gets wherever she goes), they departed. I quickly posted the photo on Facebook with the tagline "Lucky Lynne Smith joins us in eighth -- can it help?"
The Fenway Hat Lady delivers the luck.

Apparently it did. Papi and the boys staged their great comeback, my phone died immediately after I took a picture of the JumboTron flashing "RED SOX WIN," and I had to ask a couple other fans to take our picture with the Green Monster scoreboard behind us. 

So Good! So Good! So Good. (Julie Fogharty)

I call Michelle "The Reluctant Fan" because she often sneaks a book with her to the ballpark, but this one even had her giddy. We spent several minutes cheering for the cameras with a few hundred other folks over by the NESN setup on Yawkey Way, then went into Twins -- where my wife the serious Harvard doc purchased the silliest-looking Wally hat you'll ever see (along with tee-shirts for both kids). 

Where does this game rank with my best ever seen at Fenway? Well, nothing can top Game Five of the '04 ALCS and Game Six of the '75 World Series, but this is right up there with the Trot Nixon Game in the '03 ALCS, the 14-inning Father's Day win (Jason's first game), and the Opening Day ring ceremony of 2005. 

For games with The Reluctant Fan, however, it's tops. I'm betting next time she leaves the book at home...  
...but maybe not the towel.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Why Jacoby Ellsbury Should Be Re-Signed: One Expert's View

Ells was El Fuego in the ALDS.

By channeling playoff heroes Lou Brock and Rickey Henderson during Boston's ALDS win over the Rays, potential free agent Jacoby Ellsbury made his best case yet for a lucrative, long-term contract. 

He hit (9-for-18), ran (4 steals, 7 runs), and fielded with grace, showing no lingering effects of his recent foot injury. With the exception of when David Ortiz faced David Price, Ellsbury was the best player on the field, and the enthusiasm he displayed when scoring the late, go-ahead run in the clincher was wonderful to see. 

Thursday, as Boston baseball experts and fans spent the off-day debating the pros and cons of giving a deal in the neighborhood of seven years and $140 million to an injury-prone player who just turned 30 -- and whose single biggest asset, speed, is often the first thing to fall off with age -- I decided to approach the No. 1 Ellsbury expert in the Fenway Reflections home office for yet another view.
Definitely cuter without the beard.

"Yes. he's SOOOOOOOO cute," Rachel Alpert-Wisnia stated when posed with the should-he-be-signed-or-should-he-be-left-to-go question over breakfast. "When he has the beard he looks yuck, but when he doesn't have the beard he looks yeahhhhh!!"

Lest you think Alpert-Wisnia, a 9-year-old veteran in the Newton Girls Softball League, is just another "pink hat" who cares only for Ellsbury's looks, keep in mind that she actually wears a blue hat and knows team chemistry is key whether you're in the majors or fourth grade.

"He's been part of the Red Sox for a really long time, and he's made friends with all the guys," Alpert-Wisnia added as she reached for her backpack. "I think he should stay because if he leaves he might lose those friendships."
Rachel ready for action.

This is a keen insight, especially considering that the strong relationships on this squad are thought to be a key reason it has overachieved to a level unseen in Red Sox Nation since the 1967 "Impossible Dream" team. That karma -- which will be on display again Saturday night at Fenway Park in the ALCS opener against Detroit -- should be preserved as much as possible.

Greed, a vice apparently missing from this year's Boston club, should be another key factor in Ellsbury's decision, Alpert-Wisnia insisted. 

"Why be greedy, when you can still make a lot of money here, and you know it's a cool team?" she queried. Rachel didn't seem to share my assertion that Mo Vaughn probably wishes he could take back his own choice to leave Boston for the greener pastures of Anaheim, but perhaps that's because the Hit Dog retired in 2003, the year before she was born.
Hello, Jacoby!

Ellsbury is currently a big part of Rachel's day. Each morning when she wakes up, the first thing she does is say "Hello, Jacoby" to the Toops baseball card taped to the front of her pink Lego alarm clock. When she goes to Red Sox games, it's a bright white Ellsbury home jersey she puts on over her tee-shirt du jour.

"We get used to guys when they stay on the team," Alert-Wisnia added. "We know what they are like." Asked for an example, she fist-pumped her heart and pointed to the sky, ala Big Papi. I knew exactly what she meant. How many of us kids of the 1970s could recite the Red Sox lineup and each batter's mannerisms by heart, because players stayed with teams much longer then? I can still see Yaz tugging up his pants and spinning his bat, and Fisk crouching menacingly over the plate.

Rachel is glad Dustin Pedroia is likely to still be here when she's in high school, but she wants Ellsbury to stick around, too.

At least until she's old enough to marry him.   
Stick around, Jacoby, for Rachel's sake.


   

Friday, October 4, 2013

Red Sox Get ALDS Karma from Lynne the Fenway Hat Lady


Where did the Red Sox get the karma needed for this afternoon's 12-2 shellacking of the Rays in their ALDS opener at packed Fenway Park? For the answer, we take you to a scene that unfolded at a much quieter Fenway during Boston's intra-squad scrimmage on Wednesday.

Lynne Smith was walking by the first-base dugout when she heard a familiar voice shout out to her:

"Hey, woman, get over here!"


Flashing his famous grin, David Ortiz took Smith and enveloped her in a bear hug befitting a walk-off homer. Big Papi has a soft spot in his heart for the grandmother from Wellesley, Mass., who lays claim to being the world's biggest Sox fan -- and has the plaque to prove it.

On this occasion, Ortiz was excited to see not only Smith but also what she was wearing. Just as manager John Farrell had set up his pitching staff for the playoffs, Smith made her own preparations for Boston's first postseason series in four years.

Know throughout Red Sox Nation as the "Fenway Park Hat Lady," she unveiled a new headpiece for Game 1. It is covered with photos of each member of the current roster, along with a prominent "Boston Strong" emblem honoring the victims and first responders of the Boston Marathon bombings . If anybody on the Sox gets hurt and needs a replacement, the ever-resourceful Smith will be ready to swap a new picture into place.
Lynne's latest -- Boston Strong indeed.

There certainly wasn't the case today. As Smith and her family watched on, the Red Sox scored five runs in the fourth inning aided by various Tampa Bay miscues. The outburst erase a 2-0 deficit, and when Boston added three more in the fifth the rout was on.

Smith is no newcomer to postseason excitement. She's been on hand for most of the big Red Sox moments since the 1980s, and was given the inaugural Lib Dooley Award last year as the Red Sox' greatest living fan -- named for the famed front-row devotee who saw more than 4,000 straight games at the Fens.

As the photos of her in various books and magazine articles can attest, Smith is most famous for the hat that led to her nickname. It is a miniature replica of the famous ballpark on Yawkey Way, complete with a diamond, Green Monster, Jimmy Fund billboard, and even a working Citgo sign.
Fenway Hat (daytime mode)

Fenway Hat (nighttime mode)

Here's a shot of Lynne getting her Lib Dooley Award at Fenway last year, from none other than Big Papi himself, as Lynne and Lib's families both looked on.
Smith has made her fashion statements through the years with the help of various friends. The late great dressmaker Terry Ramriez sewed the original Fenway hat, which was created for the 1999 All-Star Game and features a mini helmet from every major league team. The coat she's wearing in the shot above was made to honor Fenway Park's 100th anniversary, and has something symbolizing every season of the ballpark's first century.

Either patches, for championship seasons...



Or, for non-title years, a mini photo of a player from that season's club...


It's not just what Lynne wears to the games that defines her dedication, however. Her family room, study, and even bathroom at home are dedicated to all things Red Sox. Here are some samples...


The guitar is signed by the 2004 champs

A coffee table match-up with New York

More Wallys than I could count

Tickets from games gone by.

A Fenway brick honoring her family

...and many, many pics of the family at Fenway.

How, you may ask, does Lynne spend her off days? Well, this superfan is always keeping track of the roster, and if a move is made she is ready to not only update her hat -- but also her new end table. 
Yup, that's the full 25-man roster...

...and those are the guys awaiting their call.

So worry not, Red Sox fans. Even if the Rays manage to take one at Fenway and even the series, there is always hope as long as The Fenway Hat Lady is watching.