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Friday, June 24, 2011

How to get through four rain delays with a 6-year-old

Wednesday, as a celebration of the first day of summer, the final day of school, and the spirit she’s shown since breaking her arm last week, I took my 6-year-old daughter Rachel to the Red Sox-Padres game. Although showers had been predicted for later in the day, the rain had already been coming down steady for several hours when we arrived at Fenway about 20 minutes before the scheduled 1:35 p.m. starting time.
I expected the Wednesday afternoon crowd to be primarily businesspeople, but there were plenty of other parents with children in tow. I saw one woman trying to photograph three young sons while simultaneously juggling an infant daughter, and upon realizing she was flying solo offered to take a picture of all five of them. It was the least I could do; I only had one kid to keep entertained. How hard could it be?

A few minutes later, as Rachel and I gathered up our Fenway Franks and fries and headed to our [thankfully] covered seats high behind the plate in Section 17, I heard those two dreaded words: rain delay. An endless stream of whining and refreshment requests suddenly lay before me, but I reminded myself of the mom with four kids and hid my fears. The starting time had been pushed back to 2:05, and with a backpack of ammunition and a steely resolve, I vowed to myself that I would get through the next 35 minutes with my sanity intact.
 “Let’s go exploring,” I told Rachel, as we headed out of the drizzle and into a long hallway leading to the outfield concourse. I had never noticed the glass display case featuring Red Sox artifacts that you pass along this jaunt, and I enjoyed showing her the still-crisp signatures of Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Jimmy Foxx, and the rest of the 1941 Sox on a letter from Tom Yawkey to a 13-year-old fan. Further down the wall was a series of various Red Sox logos from decades past, and Rachel loved the smiling sock that had adorned the baseball cards of the ‘50s.
Before we knew it, it was time for the National Anthem. We hurried to our seats, took off our hats, and listened to a young lady from the Cape (it was Cape Cod Day) offer a fine rendition. Now came the first of many questions on the day: “Dad, why do they always sing the National Anthem at games?” I thought for a moment and told her, “Well, I guess because we want to remember how happy and lucky we are to live in a country where people have fought and given their lives so we can do things like go to ballgames.” She looked at me pensively and replied, “Well, I’ll be happy when I sing it, but I’ll also be sad thinking of the people who can’t.” Wise beyond her years, this one.
A few minutes later the game started, and the questions continued.

“Who’s winning?” (After Will Venable leads off the game with a home run off John Lackey)
“What’s an RBI?”
“Why did they build the Green Monster?”
“Why are there so many ads on it?”
“Want to smell my cast?”
“How old are all these guys? Older than you?”
Her next inquiry offered a teaching moment.
RACHEL: “Why are there two guys on first base?”
DAD: “Well, one is the first basemen, and one is the runner.”
RACHEL: “No, two Padres.”
DAD: “Oh, one is the first base coach.
RACHEL: “No he’s not.”
DAD: “Yes he is, honey.”
RACHEL: “Then why does he have a uniform on? Coaches don’t wear uniforms.”
After starting to correct her, I realized that her frame of reference was her own softball team, on which the coaches wear shorts and faded tee-shirts. Score another one for the kid.
Speaking of scoring, it was in the bottom of the first that I decided to show Rachel this time-honored tradition. She seemed to enjoy it initially, but by the second inning was back to asking what there was to eat and read in the backpack. I gave her a nectarine and a book and tried to devise ways to keep her interested in the game.
“Hey Rachel, I spy with my little eye, an owl’s eye.” She looked at me quizzically, then out at the field. Back and forth her little head darted, and after begging for a hint -- “It’s near the Green Monster” -- noticed the Wise potato chip ad next to the center field flagpole. I next asked her to find two American flags, and she got them right away – the one on the pole, of course, and the one in neon lights atop the Bank of America scoreboard.
Two snacks and a bottled water later, Rachel asked to go to the bathroom. We luckily found a family restroom right behind our section, but no sooner had we settled back down in our seats when she announced she wanted a “Cool Dog” – an ice cream sandwich that resembles a hot dog. I told her we would stop the next vendor who passed through our section with them, but this was like mentioning a no-hitter in progress: after seeing several of them before her request, we never saw another. And when the rains returned in the fourth – prompting another nearly 40-minute delay – I decided we would go in search of a Cool Dog.
This took a while. The refreshment stand behind our section didn’t make/carry them, but said the one “directly below us does.” We descended a set of stairs, inquired at several more stands, and were still dog-less when we reached the center field concourse. Rachel didn’t realize there was no roof over this section, and since we had left our umbrella at our seats we were quickly getting soaked by the time we spotted an ice cream sign like a beacon in the fog. She had her Cool Dog, and a few minutes later I had a wonderful pastrami sandwich that made the entire trek worth it.

When the game resumed in the top of the fourth the Padres quickly scored four runs thanks largely to two walks, two hit batsmen, two hits, and a wild pitch allowed by Lackey. When Tito finally came out and removed the shell-shocked hurler, the crowd cheered derisively. This led to another probing Q&A with my companion:
RACHEL: “Why are they cheering if he didn’t pitch well?”
DAD: “Well, actually they are cheering because he’s coming out of the game.”
RACHEL: “But that’s not nice. He probably feels bad.”
DAD: “Sure, but not as bad as us.”
The Sox were soon down 5-0, and when the rains (and the third rain delay) returned in the fifth I figured we could pass the time with a game of hangman. Rachel wanted to choose the riddle, and what she thought up brought a smile to my weary face: “W-E A-R-E N-O-T L-E-A-V-I-N-G.” Most other fans lacked such resolve, and after the Red Sox had gotten back one run and left what seemed like 20 men on base, the skies opened up yet again in the eighth – sending most of the remaining spectators for the exits.
We stuck it out by heading to The Red Sox Store (I still call it “Twins”) across the street and buying a Dustin Pedroia figurine as an early birthday present, and when we got back inside the ballpark it was practically empty. We headed down to the box seats, and were set to watch the rest of the game from the front row when it was called off for good.
“We didn’t win, did we?” Rachel asked as we trekked through the puddles to our car. “No,” I said, but deep inside I knew better. There were only a handful of people left at Fenway after more than six hours of on-again, off-again baseball, and I saw none younger than her. She had gutted it out like her old man.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Best Use of Fenway Peanuts -- by Elyse

My first day working at Fenway for Fanfoto, I made two unexpected friends -- and one cranky enemy.
            Top of the 8th I was up in the pavilion, crouching next to a couple of recent UMass graduates. They were happily downing their four beers, and I was chatting with them about Amherst, Northampton, and Minuteman Hockey. In the middle of our conversation it looked as if there would be a pitching change, and a family two rows down wanted a photo.
            To my dismay they took forever getting organized: Billy needed to be in front since he was shortest, but didn't want to stand on the seat because he was scared.  Their daughter refused to stand up. The mother insisted her husband turn his hat around. 
            When they finally were posed, I found they all suffered from the genetic trait of chronic blinking.  After several tries I finally got a decent shot. 
            Unfortunately, so did Evan Longoria.

            In the time it took the family to get their act together, the pitchers changed, and Longoria hit a single driving in two runs. What was worse: this whole time I had been blocking someone's view.
            She should have been happy that I spared her the sight of such a disaster, but the old woman sitting directly in front of my UMass friends was visibly displeased. As I made my way up the aisle she grabbed ahold of my pant leg.  Pulling me down towards her seat she snarled, “Don't you dare block my view! You should be fired, you are a menace to this stadium.”
            “I'm sorry, I thought I could take the picture before the pitching change ended,” I explained, ashamed of my inability to do my new job.  “Please, it's my first day!”
            The woman was merciless. “Well, you thought wrong!”

            Releasing me she added, “and on your second day you should learn to do your job better!”

            With no thought as to which areas had actually been assigned to me I scurried as far away from the cranky lady as possible.  I was nearing the stairs to gate A when I heard a call:
            “HEEEEEY..... FAN-FOTO GIRRRL!”

           Stumbling towards me was one of the guys from UMass.

            Out of breath, he put his arm on my shoulder for balance and said, “that old lady, she was soooooo mean to you.”

          “I know,” I told him. “It's ok though.”
          “No! no! It is NOT ok!”  he said. 

            Still leaning on me, he hung his head down.“You are so nice,” he said shaking his head sorrowfully. “And she was so mean.”
            I slid his arm off.  He looked up sadly, and I instinctively patted him in consolation.
           “Don't you worry, though,” he said, shaking his finger at me,  “me and my buddy, we got her for you.”
           Suddenly, I was nervous.  What had he and his drunken friend done for revenge?

          “Whaaaa-what did you do?”  I asked.

          He laughed and threw his arm around my shoulder again.

          “We poured peanuts down her sweatshirt for ya!”

          The grouch must have had a very itchy ninth inning. :)

From hockey to hardball

After celebrating a thrilling Bruins victory in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup finals, I'll be officially welcoming the start of baseball season (remember baseball?) Thursday by signing copies of For the Love of the Boston Red Sox at the Friends Corner Gift Shop in the lobby of Dana-Farber's beautiful new Yawkey Building, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Come get your favorite dad a personalized gift and help support cancer research and care.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Of Stanley Cups and Ray Culp

With the Bruins on the verge of doing something they have not accomplished in 39 years, I thought it would be fun to see what the Red Sox were up to the last time a Boston team was one win away from capturing hockey's grandest prize.
On Thursday, May 11, 1972, while Orr, Espo, and Co. faced the New York Rangers in Game Six at Madison Square Garden, the Red Sox and California Angels got under way in Anaheim. The baseball season had started late due to a player strike, and the Sox had largely sleepwalked through the first month with a 5-11 record. The Angels were an equally unimpressive 8-11, and just 5,262 showed up at the “Big A” to see right-handers Ray Culp and Andy Messersmith do battle.
Although both pitchers were considered the aces of their staff – at least until unseated by Luis Tiant and Nolan Ryan that summer – the game was a one-sided affair. Culp nearly matched the shutout turned in by goalie Gerry Cheevers during the Bruins’ Cup-clinching, 3-0 victory back East, scattering nine hits in a complete-game, 8-1 win. Offensive heroes for Boston included leadoff man Tommy Harper (three hits, three RBI), his outfield mate Reggie Smith (a two-run homer), and catcher Bob Montgomery (three hits, two runs scored). Monty’s output left him with a gaudy .700 batting average on the young season, but this hot start would not be enough to save his starting job once a brash young rookie named Carlton Fisk got his shot behind the plate.
I was in kindergarten at the time, but it didn’t take my golden-laced Bobby Orr skates and black winter jacket with the spoked “B” emblem to figure out that in 1972, Boston was Bruins country. “Jesus Saves, Espo Scores on the Rebound” stickers adorned car bumpers throughout the city, and two Stanley Cup wins from the Bruins in three years left the Red Sox – five years removed from their franchise-saving “Impossible Dream” pennant – a clear notch below their cold-weather brothers in popularity. There were often plenty of empty seats at Fenway Park, and a three-day weekend series with the Twins earlier in May had failed to draw any crowd over 15,000. Though it held half the capacity, the old Garden often had bigger turnouts than Fenway -- regardless of how well the Bruins were doing.
The Sox would make major headway later in ’72 behind the brilliant performances of Tiant and Fisk, packing their ballpark to the brim throughout September in a late, close-but-no-cigar push for the AL East title. Still, it wouldn’t be until the arrival of “Gold Dust Twins” Lynn and Rice and the thrilling World Series of 1975 that the Boys of Summer became the Top Dogs in town. Not coincidentally, that was precisely when Orr’s chronic knee injuries forced him from the Bruins lineup for nearly an entire season after a decade of brilliance.
 Now we’re in the age of Gonzo, Youk, and Lester at Fenway, but there appears to be plenty of room atop the Boston sports mantle for Thomas, Krejci, and Chara as well. Champions on both Causeway Street and Yawkey Way the same season? It’s never happened before, but this could be the year.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Micah's Ball

After hundreds of visits to Fenway, I almost experienced a first Saturday – and even though I didn’t, things turned out OK (albeit a bit wet).

It was the eighth inning of the Red Sox-A's game. I was seated in Section 30, Row 3 with my son Jason (10 years old), my friend Ross, and his son Micah (7). Keeping score as always, I was deftly managing to keep an eye both on the field and the never-ending food requests of the kids -- or so I thought.

When smoking-hot Carl Crawford hit a Brad Ziegler pitch foul down the left-field line, I momentarily lost sight of the ball -- only to have it rematerialize about two feet in front of my face. Now I’ve been going to ballparks at every level of professional baseball for nearly 40 years, and the closest I’ve come to catching a foul was when a ball smashed off my Radio Shack laptop in the press box at Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick, Maryland in 1993. This was my big chance to grab a shot off the bat of a potential future Hall of Famer, get a hand from a sellout crowd, and look like a hero to my son.
I flubbed it.
Well, it wasn’t entirely my flub.  The guy in front of me went for the ball first, it bounced off his hands, and then it bounced off mine. The guy in back of me was next in line, and he grabbed it and held on – just as his buddy, in his haste to get out of the way, poured half a beer down my back. It all happened in about 10 seconds, but it’s what transpired next that made me quickly get over my gaffe.

The successful catcher – his name is Eric Jalbert, a 28-year-old accountant from Westfield, Mass. who goes to “a couple” games a year – handed the ball to Micah. (That's Eric in the photo with Jason (in red) and Micah above.) Micah, who had not even known he was going to Fenway until 45 minutes before the first pitch, yelled with delight. Eric’s beer-dumping buddy (I’ll leave his name out to avoid him any embarrassment) apologized profusely for my afternoon shower, and Eric’s mother, Kathy, offered me a bunch of napkins to clean myself off.
This was a surprise on several levels. Anybody who has been to Fenway, especially in the bleachers or upper grandstands, knows that idiots who can’t manage to hold two cups of beer while simultaneously texting their friends will inevitably leave half their lager on your seat, shirt, or hair. The few times I’ve actually confronted these numbskulls about their behavior – when my wife or kids were the ones getting doused – I’ve gotten glassy-eyed stares and stupid grins. This guy, however, was genuinely sorry for what he had done, and Eric was so mortified he never hesitated before giving Micah the ball. He said it was the least he could do.
As I wiped myself off and we got to talking more with Eric's crew, I realized they thought Micah was my son. This was OK too. My boy Jason had already gotten a foul ball a couple years back, a Jacoby Ellsbury special tossed to him by a ball boy during the dreadful last inning of the ’09 ALDS, and his little sister Rachel had one as well. Micah was the perfect recipient for this ball, and Jason made me proud by not questioning the choice. In fact, he immediately began telling Micah how he could preserve it in a Lucite case after first inscribing it with the date and pitcher/batter involved. I felt better than if I actually had made the catch, as did Eric’s mom, who was at the game with her three sons and was beaming over the selfless act of her oldest.
Most of you know what happened next. The Sox blew a four-run lead in the ninth, Varitek and Papelbon were tossed from the game for showing their displeasure with strike-challenged umpire Tony Randazzo, and the contest eventually went 14 innings – including, to the delight of the 10,000 or so of us still on hand – a second seventh-inning stretch and chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” By the time J.D. Drew knocked in Crawford (who else?) with a walk-off single to right, Micah had not only gotten his first foul ball, he had also had his first conversation with a real, live ball boy after we moved down to the front row behind the visitor’s dugout for the final two innings. It was such a perfect day that there wasn't even a ticket waiting on our car when we returned to the Brookline side street that has become my new favorite day-game parking spot.
Of course when I tell this story to my future grandkids, Crawford’s hit will be a scalding shot that slammed off my outstretched hand -- and not a blooper I bobbled like a tee-baller. Only those intrepid youngsters who fact-check my tale like good young reporters will find this entry – and with it the truth. But by then, hopefully, I’ll have finally caught one.
Any other good foul ball stories out there? If so, please share your tales here.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

That's the author on the right

Welcome to Fenway Reflections & More, where I hope you'll enjoy reading about some of the unique individuals and experiences I've encountered in a lifetime visiting Fenway Park.

Many of the stories I'll share are of people I met in researching and writing my latest book, Fenway Park - The Centennial, which will be published by St. Martin's Press this September in advance of the ballpark's 100th birthday next year. Others I've encountered during more than a decade as the publications editor at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where I've had a first-hand look at the incredible Jimmy Fund-Red Sox relationship and the healing power of baseball.

Because I hope this will become a place where all Citizens of Fenway congregate, I encourage you to write in with your own memories of Yawkey Way, baseball and otherwise. Maybe you saw Pele play there, or met Bruce backstage, or "struck out" in the old bowling alley underneath Lansdowne Street. Perhaps you proposed to your wife in the bleachers, caught a ball in the Monster seats, or slapped Yaz's hand during his last lap around the park in October, 1983. If your tale is a good one, maybe you'll end up profiled here yourself. (Don't worry, I'll ask you if it's OK first.)

So thanks for stopping by, and I hope you'll return often. I can't guarantee every entry will be the literary equivalent of Game Six of the '75 Series, but I'm going to give it my best shot.
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