Thanks for the wonderful memories Jeff. It brings back a flood of sights, sounds and especially smells! There is just a distinct odor in my nose when I think of Fenway, a combination of crushed peanuts in the shell, steamed hot dogs, and stale beer. As for sights, I can vividly recall sitting in the bleachers with my Uncles at age 10 in 1967, cheering on the Sox during game 6 of the World Series against the Cardinals (we won and, of course, lost game 7). And the hilarious sound I recall most was my Dad and his buddy, Bob Healy, singing “Carl Yastrzemski, Carl Yastrzemski, Carl Yastrzemski, the man we call Yaz!” at the top of their lungs after wetting their whistles a bit, or a lot…
Yet, beyond all the sights, sounds and smells, Fenway was always about the game. I recalled this several years ago, when my brother Ken invited me to a night game. Most of my baseball over the past 30 years has been at Wrigley Field, where I experienced a kind of corporate carnival spirit throughout the nine innings. Surrounded by similarly successful corporate-types at Fenway, they all dropped their dealmaking as soon as the first pitch was thrown. It was eerily quiet, except for a kind of muffled whisper, as fans anticipated the opening acts of great play making, or not! Mergers and acquisitions were put to rest. It was time to play ball, and recall the love and agony of this great game called baseball.
I wasn’t there to see the 200 former players and managers gather, to hear Pedro Martinez and Kevin Millar’s inevitably script-veering grape juice toast or to smell the sausages and onions grilling on the skillet, but a big part of me was at Fenway Park Friday.
The Red Sox celebrated the venerable baseball temple’s turning 100 years old in style.
Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the slain president, great-granddaughter of “Honey Fitz,” the mayor of Boston when the park opened, and inspiration for the Neil Diamond tune “Sweet Caroline” that Fenway fans sing after every eighth inning, threw out the first pitch.
The Red Sox and their fiercest rivals, the New Yankees, both donned retro uniforms-an event that is believed to be a first for the Bronx Bombers.
And Keith Lockhart led the Boston Pops in a rendition of legendary composer John Williams’ tribute to the ball park.
More and more these days, I am struck by how many years have passed since childhood memories, that, somehow, retain an astonishing vitality when triggered.
Many of them are housed in Fenway.
I remember first going with Larry Richmond. In addition to being a good friend having bacon served at his house on a regular basis, Larry also had a dad, Stephen, who was a lawyer.
Occasionally, Stephen did not need the pair of tickets behind home plate to take a client, so Larry and I would get to go instead.
We’d take the jam-packed Green line train to Fenway Park, wade through the mass of people entering the various entrances and make our way behind home plate.
It was perfect.
We were less than a dozen rows and just off of center behind the hitter, catcher and umpire.
We were so close, in fact, that it took me a few games to not jump every time a ball was fouled off for fear that it might hit us, even though there was a protective wire fence.
We were close enough to see every herk and jerk of Luis Tiant’s inimitable wind up, to hear the sizzle every time the Rooster, Rick Burleson whipped the ball across the diamond between innings and to watch each of George ‘Boomer’ Scott’s plodding steps after he hit a ground ball to start yet another 6-4-3 double play.
We didn’t have to be close to hear the deafening chorus of boos that filled the stadium after that. You could have been in the next county.
In 1978, just months before our family moved to England, we saw Tiant win a 1-0 pitching duel and Jim Ed Rice hit his 18th of what ultimately became 46 home runs in an epic, MVP-winning season.
A dozen years later, thanks to the D’Angelo family, I got a whole host of different Fenway memories.
David Axelrad and I sold Green Monster and Bleacher Creature t-shirts just outside of Gate E on Lansdowne Street. Rather than spectators, we were vendors.
The summer remains one of my favorite ever.
Based on a highly imprecise calculus of the day of the week, weather and team the Sox were playing, we’d stuff dozens of shirts into the Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large bags inside the sturdy wooden cart the D’Angelos had built, load the cart into the company truck, drive from Allston to Boston, park and wheel our wares to our spot.
One spot closer to Kenmore Square was Mike the pretzel salesman who had a passion for astrology and an unfortunate habit to leaving his stand unattended while he went to take a nap.
Two stands north was the Sausage King.
Gatesy and Jimmy, Irish-Italian brothers, owned and ran the stand when they weren’t serving as court or police officers, respectively.
Perry, a blond, middleweight boxer who resembled a larger version of Dennis the Menace and had a limitless capacity for admiring his biceps, was their hawker. He had no end of creative calls-“How many, how many, my name is Jack Benny?” and “Coast to coast, like buttered toast, we sell the most” were my favorites-and no end of scorn for Dave and me, who he considered guileless rubes.
Perry and the Sausage King guys ridiculed us continually throughout the season, but when a drunken fan reached into the stand and tried to steal one of our shirts, they were paying close attention.
And, if we had needed help, they had our backs.
“I was ready to cold cock him,” Perry informed me after the incident had resolved itself.
Not unlike Sheepdog Sam and Ralph Wolf punching into work, scalpers and cops would gather at the Sausage King in an unofficial demilitarized before each going their separate, yet often intimately connected, ways.
Life on Lansdowne was intoxicating in and of itself.
Yet it would occasionally intersect with the park when baseballs would come out onto the street, invariably precipitating an all-out sprint from fans and vendors alike to snare the treasured pill.
I got two during the year, including one where I left in the middle of a sale to chase down a batting practice ball that veered angrily toward the stand like an incoming meteor before landing and bouncing away.
In the years since, I’ve gone back for games at Fenway.
It remains a gem in the middle of the city, a cathedral from an earlier time that connects us to the past and the future in an exquisite way.
Powered by two Eric Chavez home runs, the Yankees won Friday’s game, 6-2.
On some level, though, the result didn’t really matter, because my park memories, some of the more cherished of my 46 years, are intact.
That was, and will continue to be, a source of joy for a long, long time.