Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fenway Pilgrimage: Part I

I volunteer as a Big Brother.  Earlier this spring, when my Little Brother turned 9 years old, I asked his family whether it would be okay if, for his birthday present, I arranged to get us tickets to attend a Red Sox game at Fenway Park this summer. It seemed to me that my “Little”, Brad (not his real name) having just completed another year of youth baseball and having been to several Double A Portland Seadogs games, was ready for his first trip to see the major league Boston Red Sox. Besides, it had been a number of years since I had been to a Sox game, and taking Brad provided the perfect rationale for purchasing prime seats behind the Red Sox dugout from a longtime season ticket holder. When Brad’s family said that the idea met with their approval, I purchased the tickets and circled the date at the end of July.

As the time for our trip to Boston approached, I mapped out a plan for getting to the park: leaving Maine in enough time to drive to the subway stop on Route 128 so that we could take the green line directly to Fenway. On the drive down from Maine we made it to the 128-Riverside exit on schedule. Things were looking good, until we ran into bumpah to bumpah traffic from the exit ramp all the way to the subway station. This wouldn’t do. We needed to get to the game.

Over Brad’s objections, I reversed course and returned to 128 and took route 9 east to Brookline, past the hospitals -- making certain to point out to Brad where my eldest daughter was born. I didn’t mention the circumstances of her birth (between the 6th and 7th games of the 1986 World Series when the Mookie dribbler went through Buckner’s legs) as I didn’t want to taint Brad’s experience with an explanation of one of the more painful episodes from a lifetime of Red Sox loyalty.

Once we made it through the Longwood hospital area, it was time to count the number of pedestrians wearing Red Sox gear; to look for the Citgo sign at the other end of Kenmore Square; and to keep a lookout for a parking spot. We passed the lots labeled $60 parking: no blocking -- and settled on one that stated $30 parking: blocking per chance. We took our chance, parked the car, grabbed our gloves and headed to the park. In our matching Youkilis shirts (Brad had red, mine was blue), we blended in with the crowd and made it to Yawkey Way and the mall outside of Fenway in about 10 minutes.

As we got to the security area where bags are checked and tickets are scanned, I did most of the talking. Going through the turnstiles, I mentioned to the ticket-taker that this was my Little’s first trip to Fenway and we had come down all the way from Maine to see the Sox. With that, the usher gave Brad a friendly pat, handed him a couple of baseball cards and then uttered the magic words: “You should go to the special booth inside the park and tell them that same story.” Brad and I looked at one another and off we headed through the catacombs of the oldest park in major league baseball in search of the special booth.

Having just finished a similar expedition through Wrigley Field when I went to my first Cubs game in Chicago, I was prepared for a modest encounter with some well-intentioned Sox summer employees. I decided not to share this with Brad; rather, I figured he needed to experience the quest for the special booth in his own way. Like Dorothy and Toto in their journey to Oz, Brad and I bumped into various characters looking for the special booth.

After several wrong turns deep in the dungeons of Fenway, we found ourselves on the first base side of home plate. As we sifted through the crowd, directly in front of us was “the radio voice” of the Red Sox, Joe Castiglione.

Now I grew up with Curt Gowdy, Ned Martin and Ken Coleman. I must say I was partial to Ned (“Mercy”), but Joe has a real passion for the game. And many times during the past 10 years or so, my family has listened to the Sox game on the radio. New Englanders have been doing this for generations; it's part of our heritage. And so, I felt nothing of introducing Joe Castig to Brad -- in the passing the torch kind of way.

It was obvious that Joe was getting ready to get to the press booth prior to the game. Nonetheless, he made a point of saying something solicitous to Brad. It was a very nice gesture. When I extended my hand to thank Joe for his time, I was shocked by what came out of my mouth: “Thanks Joe and God bless you,” a phrase I cannot remember ever saying at the end of a 30 second introduction. I spent several moments trying to understand my motivation in extending this salutation on my meeting with Joe. I couldn’t come up with an explanation, and besides, I didn’t want to get side tracked from our mission of finding the special booth. We continued on, asking for directions along the way.

Finally, down in the right field area just inside the Gate, we found it. Stationed behind the booth was a very personable young woman. I immediately launched into my monologue. As I presented the story, I began to picture a recent graduate of the Connecticut School of Broadcasting who has been invited to send in a 30 second tape for that job in Missoula, Montana that will ultimately catapult him/her into an anchor slot at CNN.

“Well, last week I was at Wrigley Field in Chicago for my first Cubs game and I got a really nice picture of the field. And now, this is my Little Brother’s very first time at a Red Sox game and we came down all the way from Maine. When I mentioned all of this to the guards out on Yawkey Way, they said that we had to find the special booth inside the gates. So it took us a while, but here we are and we’re really excited about getting something great to mark the day.”

The very personable young woman didn’t disappoint. She gave Brad a goodie bag full of special items: a coupon for a photo to be taken by one of the vendors (we passed on that), more Red Sox baseball cards, a vial of official Fenway dirt (I think it came from the field, though I couldn’t say whether it was from the pitcher’s mound, home plate area, infield, warning track, or the dust bin inside the Green Monster). Then she took down Brad’s name and pointed to the big scoreboard in right field. She said his name would appear on the scoreboard in the 4thinning. We thanked her for exceeding our expectations and hustled to find our seats along the first base line.

Now if you recall the Wizard of Oz and the yellow brick road, it doesn’t hold a candle to the lusciousness of the Fenway Green. The manicured lawn of the field and the 37 foot high left field wall make baseball fanatics swoon. Seeing it for the first time must be pure amazement for a 9 year old. But to compound the experience, Brad had to put up with the aforementioned adult baseball fanatic swoon. I tried to gather myself and find our seats. Sure enough, row GG, seats 1 and 2 provided great sight lines to the field. We could see every nook and cranny of the field, except for the right field corner.

As we got settled into our seats, Brad asked if we could go back downstairs and check out more souvenirs. I dutifully acquiesced. We proceeded to inspect the various Red Sox paraphernalia -- logos on everything imaginable. Brad passed on the paraphernalia and settled for a warm pretzel -- plain, no mustard.

While walking back to our seats, we passed a gregarious usher. This gave me the perfect opportunity to go into my monologue straight out of the Connecticut School of Broadcasting. Inasmuch as it was now my second or third time, the inflections were not quite so forced. The usher seemed to be sincerely interested in the story - at which point I noticed the HUGE ring on his right hand.

“That’s quite a ring you’re wearing. Is that a World Series ring?” I asked. “Sure is,” he answered. Turning to Brad, the usher said: “Would you like to try it on? Put it on your middle finger and make a fist. That will make a great picture!”

Now, meeting Joe Castig was pretty cool and finding the special booth and receiving a vial of Fenway dirt was great too. But getting to wear a Red Sox World Championship ring -- that’s wicked cool! Over the 86 years between championships, how many members of Red Sox nation would have waited in line to have a chance to wear a ring like that? I bet the line would have stretched from Fenway Park to City of Palms Park in Ft. Myers, Florida, where the Sox hold spring training. It took me a while, but I got the picture of Brad making a fist with the Ring.

Back in our seats, we began to get ready for the start of the game. However, there were two more events to relate before then. {To be continued in Fenway Pilgrimage: Part II}