Wednesday, May 8, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Twins 15, Red Sox 8
It was almost two weeks since my last trip to Fenway. The Red Sox went 6-5 over that time, including a road trip to Toronto and Texas. Since I had tickets for games on two straight nights, I decided to take both days off from work. That would allow me to go in early to see batting practice, which I don’t normally get to do, and then sleep in the next morning if the game went late. The only problem, of course, was my usual one – there was rain in the forecast for both days (with the rest of the week naturally being sunny and unseasonably warm). When I got to the park, the tarp was on the field and there was no B.P., but fortunately the rain let up as gametime approached.
Felix Doubront had struggled in his last start, and with his velocity down there was speculation of a dead arm. That raised questions of how long the Red Sox could afford to stick with him in the rotation, but with both closers – Andew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan – going on the D.L. on consecutive days, and the other relievers all moving up a spot, there weren’t a lot of extra pitchers who could take his place right now, so I didn’t get my hopes up. But then Tuesday afternoon I was pleasantly surprised to hear that promising young prospect Allen Webster would be making the start on Wednesday, with Doubront shifting to the ‘pen for the next few days. Webster had made one start for the Sox earlier in the year, an impressive 6-inning, 2-run outing against the Royals, but other than that the 23-year-old hadn’t pitched above Double A until this year.
Webster struck out the first batter and I said, “See? He’s the real deal! A future #1 starter.” The emphasis quickly became “future”, because it was soon apparent that was not going to be occurring tonight. The next two batters walked, and then came a double, a sac fly, a homer, and an infield single off Webster’s foot, before he finally got a strikeout to end the 4-run inning.
Not to worry, though, because the Red Sox offense went right to work against Pedro Hernandez in the bottom of the inning to bail Webster out. Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia singled, and Mike Napoli walked, to load the bases with two outs. That brought up Jonny Gomes, and while we were discussing his low batting average, I added, “But when he gets a hold of one…” and before I could finish he got a hold of one and launched it over everything in left for the grand slam, tying the game. To make things even better, the Sox tacked on another run on hits by Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew, giving them a 5-4 lead.
I hoped Webster would settle down now that the first inning was over and the Sox had taken the lead, but I didn’t even have time to make that prediction out loud, before #9 hitter Pedro Florimon hit a homer leading off the second to tie the game. And the Twins didn’t stop there. They sent 11 men to the plate, knocking Webster from the game and continuing the onslaught against Doubront when he entered in relief. By the time Florimon picked up his second extra-base hit of the inning (a double that drove in 2 runs) the Twins were up 11-5. Certainly not what I had been looking forward to seeing.
At the end of the fifth, there were already enough empty seats that we were able to move around from our original seats in the bleachers over to the infield. We started in the grandstand seats in Section 15, then at the end of the sixth moved down to the field box seats in the front of the section. And when a really tall guy came and sat down right in front of me in the top of the eighth, we moved down to the second row behind the Red Sox dugout. If I had to watch a pathetic mess of a game like this one, at least it could be from the good seats!
Doubront ended up going 5-1/3 innings and giving up 6 runs (but only 3 of them after his first inning of work). He settled down as the game wore on, and his outing ended with a cool play. There were runners on first and second with one out in the seventh, when Ryan Doumit hit a fly to deep center field. Jacoby Ellsbury went back to the wall, and at first it looked like he had made a good catch, but what really happened (as we saw on the replay) was it bounced out of his glove, off the wall, then back into his glove – making it not a catch. He threw the ball back to the infield, where both runners were standing on second. There was a brief rundown during which one guy was tagged, and then Mike Napoli chased down and tagged the final baserunner (who may or may not already have been out) as he headed back toward the dugout. At first we wondered if we had just seen a triple play, but a quick glance at my scorecard reminded me that there had already been one out. It wasn’t till I got home and watched on the DVR (rewinding a couple of times in the process) that I was able to sort it all out, though it didn’t help that they were confused on the broadcast. One of the baserunners had actually passed the other on the basepaths, so he was technically out without needing to be tagged. It all ended up as just your normal average 8-6-4-3 double play. I think.
Once the rout was on, it became all about taking whatever positives we could out of the game. The biggest cheers went up when the Bruins’ playoff game went final, but there were actually a couple of good things in the baseball game. Andrew Miller struck out the side in a 1-2-3 eighth. Shane Victorino had a homer and 2 RBI. Dustin Pedroia had 3 hits. Gomes picked up his fifth RBI with a sac fly in the seventh. In fact, the only Red Sox starters who didn’t reach base at least twice were Jacoby Ellsbury (one walk) and David Ortiz (0-for-5). Unfortunately that snapped Papi’s 27-game hitting streak that went back to last year. I did like that the people around us who had stayed till the end were real fans who knew that his streak was on the line. Some were chanting, “Let’s go, hitting streak!” and we all gave him a nice hand when he walked back to the dugout after ending it with a strikeout. I suppose the only really good thing to come out of this game was the knowledge that I’d get to come back tomorrow and start over.
Thursday, April 25, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Red Sox 7, Astros 2
After being swept in a doubleheader by the Royals, the Sox won two of three from the A’s. On Thursday they started a four-game set with the newest member of the American League, the Houston Astros, who switched over from the National League this season. It was my first night game, and the time was a strange 6:30 start, so I had to leave work early to make it there in time. (What was weird was that this was the only week in April where they had earlier start times – the first week had had night games at the familiar 7:10. I think the reasoning was that with the weather still being cold, starting earlier while it’s still daylight for a few innings would help. I personally don’t find it any warmer, just harder to get there from work.) It ended up being 64° at the start of the game, but as soon as the sun went down it got cold, so I was glad I had brought all my cold-weather gear.
The pitching matchup was Clay Buchholz vs. Philip Humber, two pitchers who have thrown no-hitters in their careers. (Buchholz’s no-no was in 2007 in his second major league start; Humber threw a perfect game last April.) But in the current season, they couldn’t have come into the game any differently, with Buchholz sporting a 4-0 record and an ERA of 0.90, and Humber at 0-4 and 6.63. The first inning was in keeping with those trends. Buchholz worked quickly through a scoreless frame, and then the Sox hitters followed with a barrage of hits that got them off to a 4-0 lead. Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Carp, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia all had hits to drive in runs.
The Astros did manage to scrape together a run in the second (coming in on a double play) and another in the third (on two hits, in between which Buchholz struck out the side). It just shows how well Clay’s season was going that he could allow only 2 runs in 7-2/3 innings, and have his ERA actually go up (it skyrocketed all the way to 1.19).
Big Papi continued his hot hitting since coming off the D.L. the previous weekend. He hit his first homer of the year into the center field stands in the third inning, and finished the night with 3 hits, 3 runs, and 2 RBI. The Sox put together another 4-hit attack in the fifth to score two more runs and finally knock Humber from the game.
Jonny Gomes replaced Mike Carp in left field at the start of the eighth, and made his presence known right away. Andrew Miller, who had cut his signature long hair after a bad outing earlier in the week, came in to relieve Buchholz with two outs and a runner on first. The batter hit a ball deep to left, and Gomes made a leaping catch before banging into The Wall on his way down.
With the Sox holding a 5-run lead in the ninth, Daniel Bard got to make his first appearance of the year. He had been sent to Double A to work on his mechanics, as he tried to work his way back to being the dominant reliever he once was before a failed experiment as a starter in 2012. It was probably going to take more time, but with Joel Hanrahan on the D.L. and callup Steven Wright having pitched a lengthy relief stint a couple of days ago, Bard was called into service. He had an encouraging appearance – there was a harmless two-out single, but he struck out a batter and induced a comebacker to the mound which he fielded cleanly for the final out of the game. My record at Fenway this season improved to 3-1, with all 3 wins coming in games started by Buchholz. I guess he’s just going to have to pitch all the rest of the games I go to this year!
Sunday, April 21, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 32
Royals 4, Red Sox 2
It had only been a week since my last trip to Fenway, but it was a very emotional week. It started on Monday with an exciting walk-off win in the Patriot’s Day matinee, but less than an hour later two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston marathon, killing three and seriously injuring hundreds others – a horrific attack on the city during one of its uniquely iconic events. As the news unfolded, the Sox headed out on a road trip to Cleveland, where they swept the Indians. When they returned home on Friday, Boston and several surrounding towns were under lockdown, while the manhunt for the bombing suspect continued throughout the day and into the night. The game was postponed Friday night, and the schedule for the rest of the weekend was up in the air until the bomber was taken into custody. On Saturday, the Red Sox played their first home game since the attack, and they held an emotional ceremony hon0ring the victims, first responders, and law enforcement who were involved. It was capped by a heartfelt speech by Big Papi, who returned from the D.L. to play in his first game of the year and declared, “This is our [bleeping] city, and nobody’s gonna dictate our freedom.” The Sox were spurred on to a dramatic come-from-behind win, their seventh straight victory.
I personally became grateful that my company doesn’t give us Patriot’s Day off, because if they did I probably would have been at that game. The fact that the Red Sox game is played at 11:00 am so that fans can walk the mile or so up the street after the game to see the runners crossing the finish line is one of Boston’s special traditions, and I’ve always wanted to be part of it. But because I don’t get that day as a holiday, and because I always use a vacation day for Opening Day a week or so before, I’ve never been able to go, and luckily I wasn’t in the city that day. Now I was headed in to Sunday afternoon’s game, which ended up being the first game of a doubleheader, with Friday’s postponement being made up at night.
I decided to take the T rather than drive around looking for a space at a meter, and I went in early through the Red Sox Nation line. There was no batting practice, but the pitchers were long-tossing in the outfield. I noticed a new sign at the base of Pesky’s Pole in right field: “Out of respect, please refrain from writing on Pesky’s Pole.” The foul pole still has the players’ signatures from the touching tribute the team held after Johnny Pesky’s passing last year, and they want to preserve them, but I wish they had put a sign like that up years ago because it always bothered me that every random person who got seats in that section thought they were entitled to deface a treasured part of the park.
My seat today was in the left field grandstand, a section I chose because I was sick of always getting rained on in the bleachers during cold April games. So of course that meant it was a nice sunny afternoon, and while I was freezing in the shade of the grandstand it probably would have been pleasant out in the sun. (I also had a pole blocking my view of home plate, but I was able to slide down to some empty seats in the row that no one ever came for.) Trouble started right away for the Red Sox, when Ryan Dempster gave up a homer to the second batter of the game. But the Red Sox answered in the home half, with David Ortiz and Mike Napoli driving in runs.
Everything was fine until the fourth, when the Royals opened the inning with three straight hits to tie the game. Dempster struck out the next two batters and looked like he was going to get out of it, but Salvador Perez hit a two-run single to give Kansas City the lead. The Red Sox offense did a whole lot of nothing against Ervin Santana for the next few innings, with the only baserunner from the third through the seventh coming on Big Papi’s sixth inning double.
At the end of the seventh, I moved down to the vacated box seats closer to the plate, and by the ninth I was in the second row behind the visiting team’s on-deck circle. The Red Sox put together two singles and a walk to load the bases with two outs in the eighth, but they didn’t end up scoring. With Alex Wilson on the mound in the ninth, the first two Royals singled. The next batter hit a grounder to Will Middlebrooks at third. He stepped on the bag to retire one runner, then threw to Dustin Pedroia at second for out number 2. Pedey spun and threw on to first, where the runner just beat out the throw, thwarting the potential for a triple play. While it ended up a 5-4 double play, it was fun to watch it unfold from up close in the second row. Unfortunately I didn’t get a lot of time in that seat, as the Red Sox went down in order in the bottom of the ninth.
Sunday, April 14, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 43
Red Sox 5, Rays 0
After winning the home opener, the Red Sox dropped the next two to the Orioles. There was a rainout on Friday, then they beat the Rays Saturday, and on Sunday I headed in for my second game of the year. Normally on a Sunday, I like to park on the street somewhere nearby because metered spaces are free. But with the area schools still in session and lots of visitors in town for the marathon the next day, parking spaces were scarcer than usual, and I wound up going a few miles down Comm. Ave. and then hopping on the T to get back. Luckily I had allowed plenty of time for parking, so I still made it to Fenway before the gates opened. Today was On-Field Photo Day, when fans can walk around the warning track and get pictures taken with the players, so I wanted to go in right away.
Rant of the day: The times for opening the gates have changed a couple of times over the past few years. Since 2003, all gates opened two hours before the game, so we could see the end of Red Sox batting practice. Beginning in 2009 (and still in effect), people with a Red Sox Nation membership can go in 2½ hours early, but are restricted to the Green Monster and the center field bleachers until the 2-hour mark. In 2011, Gates A and D on Yawkey Way opened 2 hours before the game, but the other gates opened 1½ hours before and RSN people had to wait for that before being able to access the rest of the park. In 2012, it changed again, with all gates opening at the same time – 2 hours before the game on weekends, and 1½ hours before on weeknights. I assumed that was still in effect for this year, and rather than go in early with the RSN line and risk getting stuck in the outfield while the other gates got people closer to the field, we chose to go in Gate A, which is the main gate and has easy access to the field. As we waited, 11:35 (two hours before the 1:35 game) came and went with no sign of the gates opening. The ticket-takers told us they didn’t open until 12:05 – even though as we stood there my friend checked the Red Sox website on her phone and saw the published time was 2 hours on weekends. But when they did finally open and we went straight down to the field, we saw it already ringed by hundreds of people – with the players half-way around – meaning that some if not all of the other gates had opened at 11:35. It really irks me that the people in charge of opening the gates either aren’t told what’s going on or don’t want to pass on important info like that, not to mention that the team’s website never seems to be in synch with reality.
By the time we got in, many of the players had already finished up, but I did get to have my picture taken with David Ross, Clayton Mortensen, Andrew Miller, Felix Doubront, and John Lackey. I just wish they had let us in at the right time so we didn’t just catch the tail end. It’s always fun to be up close and get photos of the players, even if they’re not posing with me.
This was the first game of the year in our Tenth Man Plan seats behind the visitors’ bullpen. The day was cool, but I figured it would be pleasant out in the sun. Unfortunately the sun never poked through (except for one brief moment in the sixth inning which prompted a cheer) and I stayed bundled up for the whole game. I don’t mind the cold when it’s a game like this one, though. Clay Buchholz dominated. Even from out in the bleachers I could tell that his offspeed pitches were keeping the hitters completely off-balance. He struck out two batters in each of the first four innings, and there was a palpable buzz as he completed the fifth with the only two baserunners coming on walks.
My other favorite thing besides great pitching is early offense, and I was treated to that too. The first three batters singled to load the bases in the top of the third, and Mike Napoli hit a ball into the triangle in the deepest part of center field. It was a few feet from being a grand slam, but instead hit off the wall and drove in two runs. The other two runs ended up scoring later in the inning, on a fielder’s choice and an error. With the Sox now comfortably holding a 4-0 lead, we could sit back and enjoy Buchholz’s performance.
Clay issued two more walks in the sixth inning, but there still wasn’t a lot going on in the “H” column of the scoreboard, and we gave him a standing ovation as he finished up the inning by covering first on a groundout. In the seventh, he pitched a 1-2-3 inning, finishing with a whiff of Jose Molina for his 11th K of the day. That prompted another standing ovation that led nicely into the seventh inning stretch. As the Red Sox batted in the seventh, I was sure Buchholz was sitting by himself in the dugout, with his teammates avoiding talking to him like they tend to do during these kinds of games. I couldn’t really see into the dugout from where I was sitting, but it would have been cool to get a picture of it if I had a better angle… but there was no way I was jinxing anything by getting up from my seat.
The first batter to face Buchholz in the eighth was Kelly Johnson, and with a 0-1 count, he hit a bloop down the right field line that fell in for the Rays’ first hit of the game. We gave Clay a warm ovation for having taken the no-hitter so far. It wasn’t going to be a historical afternoon, but it was still a really good game. Johnson was quickly erased on a double play, and Clay gave up one more hit before leaving with eight stellar innings of work. The Sox tacked on one more run in the bottom of the eighth, and Andrew Miller – who must have been inspired by having his picture taken with me before the game – quickly retired the Rays in the ninth.
Wherein I Wax Nostalgic over the Fenway Park Sellout Streak
It’s April 10, 2013, and the Red Sox are not playing in front of a full house for the first time in nearly a decade. I’m not at the game tonight, but I will admit I seriously considered it when I saw a tweet at 4:30 this afternoon that said only 33,000 tickets had been sold. Not that my one ticket was going to make the difference, but it was more to be a part of something historic (albeit in a somewhat strange way. Did any diehard Orioles fans buy tickets to the first game that Cal Ripken Jr. sat out, so they could say they were there when his historic streak was snapped? No? I’m the only one who would find this cool? Well, whatever the reason, I decided against it, mainly because there wasn’t enough time to go home and get my camera, scorecard book, Charlie Card, and more comfortable shoes. But I did consider it.)
Now I know there were some games at the end of the miserable 2012 season that weren’t fully attended, and that the criteria for a sellout was met because the tickets had been sold though not used. And I know that standing room patrons are counted in attendance, so there can be seats that aren’t sold as long as there are more SROs than empty seats. But in everything I’ve read, this is how all teams figure it, and the purpose of this post is not to debate or mock the way it’s calculated. Because I also know that throughout the streak there were plenty of games that were rained out at night and made up the next afternoon – which would have counted as a sellout even if no one showed for the makeup – but even though there was very little time for people to rearrange schedules, they were still legitimately full the next day. No matter how you look at it, 794 is a LOT of games, far and away blowing by the previous record of 455 set by the Cleveland Indians in the early years of Jacobs Field. (And let’s not forget that the ownership group has added many seats to the park over the past 10 years, so that the 34,000 that would have counted as a sellout when the streak began would be several thousand shy today.)
The last time Fenway Park wasn’t sold out for a game was May 14, 2003. I was actually at that game the night before the streak started. (The official attendance that night was 32,485, just under the nighttime total capacity of 34,898 at the time.) The Red Sox were going on 85 years without a Championship, bleacher seats cost $20 (field boxes were $70), and the Green Monster seats were new and still seemed strange. A decade later, I can say I was at the last game of the streak, the 2013 home opener. In between, we’ve celebrated two World Series wins and the 100th anniversary of the ballpark. Bleacher seats are $28 (field boxes are up to $135), and I have a Red Sox Nation card that lets me go up on the Green Monster before every game. In that time, I’ve been to 261 (!) games at Fenway Park, with more highs and lows (and rain delays) than I can count. I’ve seen walk-off victories, record-setting performances, fights in the stands, a uniform number being retired, bench-clearing brawls, nailbiting wins, heartbreaking losses, late nights, early mornings, cowboys, and idiots. I’ve even had the chance to take batting practice on the field and run the bases. I’ve been there through sweltering heat, biting cold, soaking rain, a little snow, and a hurricane.
This is supposed to be the part of the post where I recap my favorite and least favorite game during the streak, but there’s no way I can choose. (It’s actually a fun challenge, because my all-time favorite game was in 1999 and several of the runners-up are playoff games, which are not counted in the 794.) So what I am going to do is pick one regular season game per year in that span. Here goes:
2003 – Even just in this one year it’s hard to narrow down. It was such a crazy season with many dramatic come-from-behind wins, and my personal record was an impressive 20-9. I’m going to go with September 25, the final home game of the year and the day the Red Sox clinched the Wild Card. This led to a wild celebration, including players handing champagne bottles into the stands, and we stayed for over an hour after the game ended until security finally kicked everyone out. Then we hung out on the street corner, and we were there when Kevin Millar and a bunch of other players ran down the street to celebrate with fans in a nearby bar. (I didn’t follow after them because I didn’t think it was really the players; I figured when I heard someone yell “There goes Millah” that they were just talking about a fan in a #15 jersey. I have very few regrets in my life, but the fact that I was right there and didn’t follow them down the street remains one of them.)
2004 – The postseason is not included in this list, so I can’t mention my all-time low, the one playoff game I was able to attend that year, the humiliating 19-8 loss in Game 3 of the ALCS. (I guess I have a knack for attending games the day before something historic happens!) On a brighter note, my favorite regular season game was May 30, when Curt Schilling took a perfect game into the sixth, catching prospect Andy Dominique got his first major league hit, and Dave McCarty’s walk-off home run won it in the twelfth.
2005 – Easy choice! April 11, the home opener. Ring ceremony. Banner raising. And absolutely no way to get a ticket. But I went in to Boston anyway, determined just to listen and watch whatever I could see of the Jumbo-Tron from the sidewalk across the street. And then, just before the ceremony started, I saw the day-of-game ticket line, which stretched the length of the street, start to move. Figuring I had no chance, I got in the line anyway, and I improbably managed to get the exact last ticket available. That kept my Opening Day streak alive, and I was able to hear the ceremony from the street and then watch an exciting win over the Yankees.
2006 – Big Papi was in his prime, and with the Red Sox out of postseason contention due to injuries, the season became all about his heroics. I was there the nights he tied and broke the franchise home run record, but my favorite game was July 31. There were plenty of times when I’ve called for a game-winning homer, but this time I knew it was going to happen. They were down by 2 in the ninth, and as soon as the second baserunner reached ahead of him I knew we had won. Papi did exactly what we all knew he would do, blasting the walk-off homer. The crowd was all fired up, and we chanted “M-V-P” all the way back to Kenmore Square. (2006 also had another low, when I went to two of the games in a crushing 5-game sweep by the Yankees. Both games went well past midnight, with Friday’s having the added infamy of being the longest nine-inning game in the history of baseball at an excruciating 4 hours and 45 minutes.)
2007 – Again, I’d love to pick a postseason game (the one Manny won with the walk-off home run where he stood at the plate with his arms in the air, after I had camped on the street all day to get a day-of-game ticket) but going on regular season alone, my favorite was April 22. That was the night the Red Sox hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs to beat the Yankees. And that wasn’t even the strangest part of the night. At one point a bunch of dollar bills floated from the upper deck into our section, and people were jumping up and down trying to catch them.
2008 – One of my favorites of the year was April 29, when I got to watch the game from a private suite. Not only did the dessert cart come through in the fifth inning with cheesecake and cocktails in edible chocolate shot glasses, but the game itself was a riveting pitchers’ duel which ended in a 1-0 walk-off victory.
2009 – Big Papi, my favorite player and the emotional leader of the team, was in an epic slump, still homerless deep into the month of May. So when he launched one toward the center field cameras on May 20, the whole ballpark willed the ball over the fence. Mixed with happiness and relief, we serenaded him with a heartfelt ovation, not stopping until he came out for a curtain call. The guy in the seat in front of me wound up with the home run ball, and he spent the rest of the game letting people in our section pose for pictures with it. Center field was definitely the place to be that night – Jacoby Ellsbury tied the AL record for putouts by an outfielder when he caught 12 fly ball outs.
2010 – With the Red Sox missing the playoffs, the final game of the season should have been depressing, but instead, October 3 brought an entertaining win over the Yankees that included a steal of home. After the game, everyone – not just kids – was allowed to run the bases, which was quite the thrill. Then I had an invitation to a special preview showing of the film “Four Days in October,” a chronicle of the 2004 ALCS, at which I got to meet Curt Schilling.
2011 – In a year in which it felt like every game I went to had bad weather, including one with four separate rain delays and one which didn’t end until 2:45 am due to rain delays and extra innings, it’s only fitting that my favorite game(s) took place on August 27, during Hurricane Irene. With the brunt of the storm due to hit New England on Sunday, they moved Sunday’s game, which I had a ticket for, to Saturday at 5 pm. But it rained all weekend, and Saturday’s regularly-scheduled afternoon game was still in a rain delay in the 8th inning when 5:00 rolled around. So they opened the gates anyway and let the Game 2 people in early. (They also let anyone still there from Game 1 stay for the second game.) Bundled up in a jacket and poncho, I found a seat in the second row behind the on-deck circle, and I watched up close as the Red Sox somehow were able to complete both games in steady rain, winning them both.
2012 – The Red Sox celebrated Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary with ceremonies throughout the season, and in a year in which they finished in last place with the worst record of my lifetime, the ceremonies were often better than the games. That was the case for the the 100th anniversary game itself, as well as the days of the tribute to the 2004 team and the All-Fenway team, all of which I was in attendance for, and all of which ended in losses on the field. So my favorite game is easy to pick – May 15. There was a touching ceremony before the game to honor Tim Wakefield after his retirement following the last season, including a surprise visit from his longtime personal catcher Doug Mirabelli, and they finished the day with a good, clean shutout win.
2013 – The home opener on April 8 was the 794th and final game of the sellout streak. Along with 37,007 others, I saw a fun 3-1 win on a sunny afternoon that wound up being my warmest Opening Day ever.
Now that the impressive streak is over, it should be easier to get tickets without having to spend hours stuck in the virtual waiting room online or camped out on the street. I was going to lots of games before the streak started, and I’m going to continue to go now that it’s done, it’s just going to be easier. Now the Red Sox can offer promotions and discounts again, like the 2-for-1 hot dog deal in April of this year. Plus if it rains and I’m in the bleachers, it should be easy to find an open seat under cover. And finally, it should make guessing the attendance at the end of the eighth more fun again – I used to be pretty good at it when the choices were 29,122, 30,486, 31,971, and 33,205… but once the choices became 37,119, 37,254, 37,362, and 37,488, it wasn’t much of a game anymore.
Monday, April 8, 2013 – Fenway Park, Section 36
Red Sox 3, Orioles 1
Opening Day at Fenway Park is always one of my favorite days of the year. Thanks to events like Christmas at Fenway (coupled with the Fenway Park Yard Sale) and Truck Day, plus my trip to spring training, I feel connected to the team and the park year round, so the off-season doesn’t feel as long as it used to. But with last season resulting in the worst finish of my lifetime, it was great to finally be able to put that behind us and move on. Optimism usually runs high at the home opener, and this year was no exception. The team had a lot of fresh faces, and unlike the 0-6 and 1-5 starts of the past two seasons, they had gone 4-2 on their opening road trip and came home in first place in the division.
I went in early, and Kenmore Square was quiet except for a few other early arrivers and the bowling pin mascots from Lucky Strike Lanes. Outside the park there was a bustle of activity as vendors set up their carts, fans perused the souvenir stores, and people camped outside in the day-of-game ticket line. I circled around the park, stopping by the players’ parking lot for a while. Most of the players were already inside, but we did see Alfredo Aceves and NESN analyst Dennis Eckersley drive in.
I have a Red Sox Nation membership, so I got in that line and got to enter a half-hour before the other gates opened, and I went up on the Green Monster to watch the end of Red Sox batting practice. (I had to remember to ask for one of the annual schedule magnets when I came down as the gates opened, because they weren’t handing them out yet when we first came in.) With the major changes to the ballpark complete after a 10-year plan of renovations, the only difference I noticed this year (other than the ads over the Green Monster) was that the ladies’ rooms have automatic hand dryers instead of paper towels. (At least they’re the high-speed “Xlerator” ones, but while they may be easier and greener, how am I going to wipe down my seat after rain delays if there are no more paper towels?)
As I’ve done for the past few years, I stopped at the Designated Driver booth inside Gate A to get a coupon for a free soda. I also took advantage of the Sox’ April promotion of two hotdogs for $5 (though of course the only one who hadn’t heard of this deal that was heavily advertised on TV, in newspapers, and online was the guy at the hotdog stand – luckily he consulted with someone else who showed him how to ring it up. As for me, I predictably spilled mustard down my shirt, which I took to be good luck since the last time I did that was a playoff game in 1999 when the Red Sox scored 23 runs – and may also be the last time I had a Fenway Frank.)
My seat was 26 rows back in center field, and I was delighted to be sitting in the sun. This was my 13th consecutive Fenway Park opener, and it was easily the warmest. Because the starting lineups were read as part of the ceremony, they never announced the gametime temp, but it was in the 60s in the shade. With the sun shining down from a cloudless sky, I was comfortable in a short-sleeve t-shirt – the first time I’ve watched an Opening Day game without being bundled up in multiple layers since I went to the Braves’ home opener in Atlanta in 1999. The vendors were even coming through the stands with summer items like lemonade and sports bars, instead of the usual April fare of chowder and hot chocolate.
The opening ceremony was toned down compared to some of the previous years, but it was still nice. It was like the focus was back on baseball again instead of the hyperbolic pageantry of Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary season last year. (Don’t get me wrong, I loved the ceremonies last year, but they overshadowed the actual games, which often ended up being awful.) This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Red Sox’ partnership with the Jimmy Fund; they adopted the cancer treatment and research foundation as their team charity when the Braves moved out of Boston in 1953. To celebrate, the National Anthem was sung by the “Jimmy Fund Chorus”, made up of patients and volunteers. For the first pitch, they had a Jimmy Fund patient, doctor, and Red Sox player from each decade. My only gripe is that they didn’t announce who the players were, and my seat was too far away to tell. It wasn’t until I got home and looked at my pictures that I saw they were Jason Varitek (2000s), Tim Wakefield (’90s), Bob Stanley (’80s), Jim Rice (’70s), Mike Andrews (’60s), and Bill Monbouquette (’50s), along with the son of a Braves player from the ’50s. They did announce a special guest to say “Play ball” (an honor performed in previous years by the late Johnny Pesky) – it was Pedro Martinez, who got an enthusiastic ovation.
The game itself did not disappoint. Clay Buchholz and Baltimore’s Wei-Yin Chen traded goose-eggs for the first six innings. Dustin Pedroia reached on an infield hit to start the seventh, and Mike Napoli followed with a double. After Will Middlebrooks struck out, Daniel Nava came up. Originally put on the roster as the fourth outfielder, the switch-hitter was in the lineup today in place of rookie phenom Jackie Bradley Jr., because there was a lefty on the mound for the Orioles, even though Nava’s numbers aren’t as good from the right side of the plate. John Farrell must have known what he was doing, because Nava absolutely crushed the ball over everything in left to give the Sox a 3-0 lead. (With the bright sky, I lost track of the ball as it sailed over The Wall, but I read later that it had landed in a dumpster in the alley between the Cask ‘n Flagon and the parking garage.)
All that was left was to close it out. Andrew Bailey pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, and Joel Hanrahan came on for the ninth. As he left the bullpen, the first few notes of “Shipping Up to Boston” played, and there was a collective “ooh” from the fans as we thought he had chosen Jonathan Papelbon’s old entrance song (which I thought would have been cool). Instead, it switched a few seconds later to a loud cacophany which apparently is Slipknot’s “Before I Forget”. (That may be a you-kids-get-off-my-lawn statement, but let’s just say his song is never going to become a ringtone of mine like Pap’s was… although who knows, maybe if Hanrahan dances an Irish jig in his underwear I’ll reconsider. But I digress.) Hanrahan gave up a homer to the first batter he faced, but held on and closed out the 3-1 win.
Bonus pic: Before the game I was on Yawkey Way while Tom Caron and Dennis Eckersley were filming NESN’s pre-game show. Here’s a look at T.C.’s end table behind the desk:
Saturday, March 2, 2013 – Hammond Stadium, Ft. Myers
Red Sox 2, Twins 1
Saturday was my last day in southwest Florida, and it seemed the weather was trying to get me ready for my next game, which will be Opening Day at Fenway Park. Despite being an afternoon game, it was only 57°, plus it was breezy and the sun never broke through. So much for hitting the pool one last time when we got back! The game was at the Twins’ Hammond Stadium, a few miles down the road from JetBlue Park, the first of 8 “Mayor’s Cup” games between the Ft. Myers rivals.
Clay Buchholz had tweaked his hamstring on the first day of pitchers and catchers’ workouts, so he was brought along more slowly and today was his first start. He looked a little rusty, as one would expect, because he used up his 40-pitch pitch count in 1-1/3 innings, but the results were decent: 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 2K. The Red Sox got on the board first with an opposite-field home run by DH Juan Carlos Linares in the third. Alfredo Aceves took over for Buchholz, and other than giving up a game-tying home run to Justin Morneau in the fourth, he pitched pretty well and wound up going 3-2/3 innings. The Sox regained the lead in the fifth when Ryan Sweeney singled after two walks.
In the sixth, we got a look at Allen Webster, the highly-ranked prospect who came over in the blockbuster trade with the Dodgers last summer. He’s 23 and pitched in Double A last year. After starting off with a hit and a walk, he quickly got a double play, then got out of the inning on a fly ball. At the end of the inning, enough people had left early that we decided to move down closer and sit behind the Red Sox dugout for the rest of the game. Our original seats had just been metal benches. They do have backs, but they’re not at all comfortable. We moved down into actual stadium seats, but it was windier – at one point a discarded bag of cotton candy blew down an empty row of seats like tumbleweed – and I needed both the sweatshirt and light jacket that I had brought. (The sun did break through just once, prompting a cheer from the crowd, but before the next at-bat it had disappeared again.)
Webster went two more innings. He gave up a one-out single in the seventh, and then pitched a 1-2-3 eighth. I know he’s going to need some time in Triple A before we can expect to see him in the majors, but he certainly came as advertised. All the minor leaguers came in as subs in the late innings, but shortstop Deven Mareero became the only one who reached base when he singled in the ninth. Jose de la Torre, who was preparing to play for Puerto Rico in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, closed it out with a 1-2-3 ninth, and my Florida trip was over. My next game will be Fenway Park’s Opening Day, and I’ll be thrilled if it’s a 57° overcast day.
Friday, March 1, 2013 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Red Sox 5, Pirates 2
On the first day of March, the Red Sox were back home in Ft. Myers for a game against the Pirates. It would have been a nice day for an afternoon game, but a cold front had come through, meaning that my normal shorts and sandals attire wasn’t going to cut it for a night game. It was disappointing to put on socks and sneakers, long pants, and an actual coat for a spring training game, but I kept reminding myself that Fenway won’t be this warm until June.
Our seats were behind home plate, almost all the way back. That meant we were a few rows in front of the broadcast booth, and with tonight’s game on NESN, we noticed Jerry Remy in the booth when we first got there. When we saw another fan asking him for an autograph, we did too. The trick is to know which window is his, see him in there, call out to ask him, and then stretch from the back row to pass the item up to him. With that, I was done with my autographs for the week. I was happy with the amount I had gotten at the workout the day before, so there was no sense waiting down by the field; in order to get a good spot I’d have to stand down there for two hours until just before the game started, and then it might turn out that the players who came over to sign were ones I already had.
Sitting in front of the broadcast booth meant we were also right behind the section where players’ families and friends sit to watch the game. We soon spotted Jon Lester’s wife and their 2-year-old son, Hudson, who was wearing a #31 jersey. They were joined a little while later by Clay Buchholz’s wife and daughter, Colbie, who’s the same age. (That threw me off a little at first, because Clay wasn’t pitching in the game tonight, but it makes sense that their families would be friends – and if each wife only went to the game when her husband was pitching, they’d never get to sit together.)
Jon Lester had a good, efficient start. It was his second outing of the spring, so he went three innings, and he allowed only a walk in the second inning and a single in the third. (Between innings, I saw his wife checking her phone and joked that she was getting a text: “OK, let’s go,” but I was impressed that they actually stayed outside for most of the game, despite the cold.) The Red Sox had taken the lead in the first. With runners at first and second, Mike Napoli had his first at-bat of the spring, and he made it count, grounding it back off the pitcher for an RBI single. Stephen Drew followed with a double, knocking in another run. Napoli then scored on a wild pitch (despite not being allowed to slide yet, as he was easing into things after being diagnosed with a degenerative hip condition) to score the Sox’ third run.
After Lester was finished, Rubby De La Rosa was next to take the mound. He’s one of the prospects who came over in last summer’s big trade with the Dodgers, and I get a kick out of the fact that his grandmother was once a nanny to Pedro Martinez and his siblings. While Rubby is probably still a year away from the majors as he comes back from Tommy John surgery, I was looking forward to seeing him pitch. He breezed through two scoreless innings with just one hit and two strikeouts. Meanwhile, Dustin Pedroia hit a two-run single, giving the Sox a more comfortable 5-0 lead.
Next on a night of fun-to-watch pitching came Steven Wright, the knuckleballer acquired in a different trade last year. There had been a lot of hype about his last start, when he had faced off against fellow knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, with Tim Wakefield in attendance that day and in camp to mentor him earlier this week. He too looked strong in his first two innings, allowing only one hit and striking out two. (We looked around to see if we could see Wake somewhere while Wright was pitching, but he wasn’t in the family section, nor was he in John W. Henry’s suite behind us – which we had noticed a few innings earlier when a foul ball landed in the front of the box just as the owner had opened the door to come sit outside; it would have been funny if he had caught it.) JetBlue Park has a nice new scoreboard this year that gives the pitcher’s name (most spring training parks don’t) and type of pitch, but it’s too bad they don’t show the pitch speed too, because I heard Wright threw harder than Wake, and I would have liked to compare them better.
But as we Red Sox fans know all too well, a knuckleball pitcher can lose it quickly too. Wright came back in the eighth for his third inning of work and suddenly struggled. He walked three and gave up two hits. Two runs scored, and only a diving catch by Jeremy Hazelbaker in left prevented it from being worse. The last batter he faced (walking him to load the bases) was Jeremy Farrell, the third baseman the Pirates had brought up from minor league camp for the game because he’s the son of the Red Sox manager. (I joked that John Farrell left Wright in as long as he did so his son could face a struggling pitcher rather than a fresh arm from the bullpen, but I’m sure they were really just trying to give Wright the chance to pitch his way out of it.)
Alex Wilson, who pitched in Triple A for the Sox last year, was summoned in with one out and the bases loaded. The first batter he faced lined it back to the mound, where Wilson caught it and then fired to first to double off the runner and end the inning. Then after giving up two hits in the ninth, Wilson induced another double play to end the fun game on a high note.
Thursday, February 28, 2013 – JetBlue Park, Ft. Myers
Spring Training Workouts
On Thursday, the Red Sox had a game against the Pirates in Bradenton, up beyond Sarasota. Since we had already traveled to Sarasota for a night game the day before, we chose to not make this trip and to drop by JetBlue Park instead. Even though the official workouts ended when the games began, there’s still activity on the back fields every morning. The complex is open to the public, although the concession stands are not open like they are during the official workouts. Most of the action comes from minor league camp, which consists of all the players in the low minors who are not among the 60 or so top players invited to big league camp. There is also the possibility of seeing some of the major leaguers who are rehabbing or not participating in that day’s game, although they have the option of working out in the training rooms or batting cages, out of sight of the fans, so nothing is guaranteed.
We arrived shortly after the complex opened up at 9:30, and at that time, it was just the minor leaguers out on Fields 3, 4, 5, and 6, working on the usual fielding and baserunning drills. It wasn’t until an hour later that we saw any sign of the major leaguers. Catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Christian Vazquez came out onto the agility field to do a unique but cool drill. They started out lying facedown while a coach fired two baseballs in the air from a pitching machine. They had to jump up, discard their mask, and then catch both baseballs, without even seeing where they had been launched. Here’s a quick video of the drill:
Both catchers successfully caught the balls several times, but the whole thing took place too far away from where the fans are for us to be able to call over to them, and then they went in a few minutes later. I figured that we were going to be out of luck today, that with most of the regulars playing in last night’s road game, they’d be told they could come in late and work out inside. We could hear people in the batting cages, and though we couldn’t see who they were, that seemed to confirm this theory.
But at 11:00, out came almost the entire roster from major league camp. The only ones missing were those who were on their way to the game in Bradenton, which ended up being mostly minor leaguers, since the regulars had all played the night before. And better yet, rather than entering Field 1 via the agility field, where barriers keep the fans from being able to get close, they walked right down the pathways where fans were standing. My natural instinct when a player walks by is to step back quietly and let them pass, but they were letting fans come up and talk to them, and several stopped to sign autographs when asked. So I asked for and got autographs from Mauro Gomez, Christian Vazquez (I told him I’d enjoyed watching him play the past couple of days, when he’d been making a series of good defensive plays), Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, and Felix Doubront. Jonny Gomes didn’t stop, but I told him, “Nice home run last night,” and he said, “Thanks.” My strategy when a group of players walked past together was to ask the more obscure guys in the group rather then the stars, because they’d be more impressed that someone knew who they were, and I figure the stars can’t stop anyway because they’d get mobbed. So I was looking around at Pedro Beato, when I realized that Jon Lester had stopped to sign right next to me. My mother was even able to get Dustin Pedroia to sign the picture she had brought.
When the players all made it out to the field, we watched the infielders take fielding practice, and then several rounds of B.P. I was most happy to see Will Middlebrooks participating in all the drills. He had had to leave last night’s game after trying to check his swing in his first at-bat and appearing to re-injure the wrist he had fractured last season. I was worried about the possibility of him missing time again this year. But the way I figured it, this early in spring training, if there was any chance at all that he was less than fully healthy, they’d keep him out of practice – at least today – until they were really sure. So seeing him in there fielding, throwing, and batting with everyone else made me feel a lot better.
While the position players batted, the pitchers went off somewhere that we couldn’t see, presumably to the bullpens in the back of the complex, but they came back up to the agility field afterwards to run. When they finished with that, more of them came over to sign, including intriguing top prospect Rubby De La Rosa. As batting practice wrapped up, some of the position players stopped on their way in, including infielder/outfielder Justin Henry, whom I called over and mentioned having seen him at the PawSox Hot Stove Party last month. I ended up getting 11 autographs, which makes it my most productive day in the 11 years I’ve been coming to spring training. I had them all sign a printout of a photo I had taken at Fenway last year, which I’ll frame and hang in my guest room with the rest of the ones from the past 10 years. All in all, it was a really fun morning. If we had gone to the game, we wouldn’t have seen all these players, and we certainly wouldn’t have been able to interact with them like we did. I think it also helped that there were probably only about 100 total fans in the complex, rather then the normal crowds who come out for the official workouts. On tap for tomorrow: a night game at JetBlue Park.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 – Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota
Orioles 5, Red Sox 3
Wednesday brought the first night game of the spring, and a road trip to Sarasota. We took advantage of the sunny day by driving up early and spending the afternoon at the beach on Siesta Key, a long beach with powdery white sand that’s one of my favorites in Florida. After enjoying the 69° Gulf water, we made the short trip down the road to the stadium just as the gates were opening. My first stop was to go down near the Red Sox dugout, and I managed to get autographs from Will Middlebrooks and recently-signed first baseman/outfielder Mike Carp.
Our seats were down the left field line beyond third base, only four rows back from the field. It was fun to be so close to the action. The bullpen was just beyond us, so anytime a player walked from the dugout to the bullpen, they had to walk right past us. I actually liked Ed Smith Stadium, which was redone in 2010 when the Reds moved to Arizona and the Orioles came in from Ft. Lauderdale. As non-Red Sox parks go, it was clean and new-looking, the food was decent, the people were friendly, and there was a minimum of between-innings gimmicks and phony sound effects. My only complaints were that the announcer read the starting lineups too quickly, as if not expecting that people would be keeping score (they do that in Camden Yards, too) and that the scoreboard didn’t show the pitcher’s names or pitch speeds.
Unlike the home game we had been to yesterday, this game featured most of the regulars. In fact, everyone who’s expected to be in the Opening Day starting lineup was there, except for David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, who haven’t been cleared for game action yet. They were facing an Orioles split squad, so I had hopes of actually seeing a good game. It wasn’t long, though, before we got a scare. With two on and two out in the first, Will Middlebrooks swung and missed at the first pitch of his at-bat. He immediately grabbed his wrist, the same one he’s rehabbing from a break last summer, and Red Sox Nation gasped. He came out of the game – they certainly weren’t going to take any chances in Spring Training – but we didn’t know whether it was for precautionary reasons or something more serious. It worries me, because if he’s not healthy, that could taint the whole season. Pedro Ciriaco came in to finish the at-bat (grounding out to end the inning) and stayed in to play third base.
The deep Red Sox bullpen was on display from the start. Franklin Morales breezed through the first, and Joel Hanrahan gave up a run (unearned due to two errors) in the second. Koji Uehara had an impressive 1-2-3 third, and Andrew Bailey gave up a base hit but struck out two (with novice first baseman Daniel Nava making a nice catch of a foul popup that had him almost land in the photographers’ well for the other out). In the fifth, with the Sox up 2-1 after an RBI single by Ciriaco and a towering homer by Jonny Gomes, Andrew Miller took the mound. A two-out walk put Nolan Reimold on first, and then I finally got redemption for the horrible call that marred yesterday’s game. Brian Roberts hit the ball between first and second, where it hit Reimold as he ran. This time the umps actually called the play correctly, meaning Reimold was out and the inning was over. (Little-known scoring fact: when the runner is hit by the batted ball and called out, the batter actually gets credit for a hit.) It’s funny that I’d see a rare play like that – one that I don’t think I’d ever seen before – on two straight days.
Unfortunately, it was all downhill after that. Junichi Tazawa gave up a 2-run homer (and he also balked) that gave the Orioles the lead, and then pitching prospect Drake Britton had a rough inning where they tacked on two more runs. While the Sox never managed to catch up, there were two bright spots at the end of the game. Pedro Ciriaco tripled in the top of the eighth (the right fielder bobbled it a bit, and I really wanted them to wave him around and try for the inside-the-parker, but they didn’t), and catcher Christian Vazquez threw out two baserunners (an attempted steal of second and a pickoff of the runner at third) in the bottom of the eighth. But the best news was that by the time we got home, there were already reports that Middlebrooks’s injury was “right wrist soreness” and not as serious as we had feared.