Friday, April 20, 2012

From the Bleachers

(Author's note: In honor of Fenway Park's 100th anniversary today, I'm re-releasing this short baseball piece I wrote back in the early aughts while living in Boston. In my 11 years as a Massachusetts residents, I saw nearly 70 baseball games inside Fenway, both as a spectator and as a reporter for the Boston Herald. As a spectator, I watched Manny's Ramirez's last Sox homer in Fenway; Pokey Reese's improbable two-homer game (including an inside-the-park) against the Royals; and Jon Lester's improbable no-hitter. As a reporter, I interviewed the White Sox's Ozzie Guillen inside Fenway's visitor's dugout; was blown off by Carl Crawford while writing a column--about him; and watched Tim Wakefield's knuckler get smashed into every corner of the park. It's the greatest sports venue I've ever been inside, and it's been responsible for supplying some of the best personal and professional moments of my life. Happy birthday, Fenway, and thanks for hosting my twenties and early thirties.)

A new season provides new hope for every man, woman and child who holds a stub for the bleacher section of venerable Fenway Park. With every hot dog purchased, thoughts of a pennant chase infect our expectations. For every draft beer poured, a chance to evaporate last season’s frustrations passes through our consciousness. This is the hope that flows through the veins of Red Sox fans every spring. A new season is upon us, and it’s a chance for new beginnings.

These beginnings lead you down to Yawkey Way. Walking by the fleet of t-shirt peddlers and program pushers, you pass the ongoing flow of anxious fans with whom you’ll soon be united. You continue down to Landsdowne, looking for Gate C with a twenty dollar investment firmly clenched in your fist. You're led through the gates, head tilted upwards looking for where you should enter.

43. 42. 41.

There you are. At Section 41, you begin up the stairs, wanting to find your seat before a departure for concessions. Sure it would make sense to grab the food first, but you’d like to get settled in. As you emerge from the stairwell, your eyes are blurred by the sunlight. The beams are shining down bright, but it’s something more. You’ve just entered history and are taken back to a time when the sport was simpler. A time when it wasn’t about money or labor disputes. It was just a game, and it was a game you love. It’s a beautiful sight, and as the sun blurs your vision, the aura intoxicates your perceptions.

As you take a right, the centerfield wall approaches on your left. Just because you can, you reach down and graze the green facade with your palm. You stop again, take a deep breath. As you overlook the field, you look at the bullpen to your left. Regular catchers are warming up tonight’s starters. What will these pitchers bring to the mound tonight? Will they be sluggish from an offseason of procrastination, or will they be fresh, awarded for their winter diligence? You’ll find out soon enough.

You turn from the bullpen and gaze toward left field. There, the large majesty stands before you. An obstacle that has turned long balls into two-baggers for years. Just a simple green wall has provided years of memories for some, days of misery for others. You’ve touched it with the tips of your fingers before just to say you did it, but not today. Finding today’s seat is the top priority.

8. 9. 10.

You stop at Row 11 and look at you ticket. Seat three. No one has arrived in seats one or two yet, so your route is uncontested. As you hover over your destination, you take another look around at the people you’ll be sharing the next nine innings with.

A woman holding her sleeping child.
A young couple on their first date.
Seven young men with their chests painted red.

They’ve all come for the experience. The chance at a new beginning on yet another spring day. You each smell the same scents and see the same scenes, but it’s different for everyone. Every experience is its own, and as you get comfortable in Seat Three, Row 11, Section 41, you prepare for this experience. It’s the start of another season of Red Sox baseball.

Now go down the stairs to grab that dog and a beer.

(Author's Note: This entry was posted while listening to The Band's "The Weight." Rest in peace, Levon.)