Friday, April 20, 2012 – Fenway Park, Right Field Roof Box Standing Room
Yankees 6, Red Sox 2
On Friday, I made my way back in to Fenway for the third straight day. But this wasn’t just any game – it was a celebration of the ballpark’s 100th anniversary. I left the house earlier than I had the day before so that I’d be sure to get a parking spot at the T station, but not before posting on Facebook that I was “On my way to a birthday party for an old friend.” (When I got off the T at Kenmore Square I posted, “I think I just stepped off the same subway car my forebears took to that first game 100 years ago.”) Gametime was set for 3:00, because that’s what time the games were back in 1912, with gates opening at 12:30, but I got to the park around 10:30.
I waited outside the players’ parking lot to see who’d drive in. Everyone who worked for the Red Sox was wearing roses pinned to their shirts, even the parking lot attendants. John Henry and Tom Werner drove in together, and both stopped to sign autographs for the fans waiting on the sidewalk. Bill Lee also stopped to sign when he arrived, and then proceeded to demonstrate his swing using one of the bats manufactured by the bat company he owns. We also saw David Ortiz, Joe Castiglione, Jason Varitek, Frank Malzone, Luis Tiant, and Jim Rice arrive. Staff members paced outside the park, talking on the phone and holding jerseys to be worn by the returning players. I spied a jersey belonging to Kevin Jarvis, who pitched briefly for the Sox in 2006. I couldn’t wait to see who else would be returning – we had heard that every living Red Sox player had been invited to participate in the ceremony. That also got me wondering where they’d seat the returning players for the game; would the club areas be big enough?
I went in as soon as the gates opened and received a laminated commemorative ticket on a lanyard. My real ticket was for the standing room in the right field roof box area, and I wanted to make sure to stake out a good spot early on. But first I took my own little nostalgic tour of Fenway, visiting places of historical significance to me and my family. I started in the standing room area behind home plate, where my mother stood to watch Jim Lonborg pitch in September of 1967. My next stop was Loge Box 110, Row FF, where my parents, my brother, and I watched Derek Lowe’s no-hitter in 2002. I continued on to Section 8, Row TT, where I sat for my first game ever at Fenway, an 8-1 loss to the California Angels in 1987. My next stop was Section 1, Row 11, where I sat with my family for the game that remains my very favorite of all the 300+ I’ve attended – Game 4 of the 1999 Division Series, when the Red Sox beat the Cleveland Indians 23-7. Finally, I went out to my current Tenth Man Plan seats in Section 43, where I’ve watched 10 games a year since 2006. All the seats that I visited had a can of Welch’s sparkling grape juice, a cup, and a card cautioning not to drink it until instructed. I had heard that during part of the ceremony the Red Sox would attempt to set the world record for the largest toast in a single venue.
Then I headed up to the place where I’d be watching today’s game, up under the Cumberland Farms sign in right field. When I got to the top of the stairs, I was excited to see two of my favorite players from the modern era right in front of me. Kevin Millar and Pedro Martinez were at a desk, filming for the MLB Network. I thought it was really cool that fans were able to get so close – right next to the camera man – to watch. I was happy that the standing room behind the roof box seats had a countertop to lean on, but I was disappointed that there were no Welch’s cans for the standing room people to participate in the toast. I asked the usher, who answered with a vague “There were a bunch around here earlier” but never pursued looking for it. Aside from that, I had pretty much the perfect spot to watch the ceremony. I had a great view of the whole field and all of the video boards.
Whatever I write about the ceremony won’t do it justice. It was a really beautiful tribute, with over 200 returning players, from Hall of Famers and World Champions to September call-ups who only got into a handful of games. It started with PA announcer Carl Beane reading a quote from the movie “Field of Dreams.” The Boston Pops played, and players began taking their places on the field: Jim Rice in left, Dwight Evans in right, Bill Buckner at first, Frank Malzone at third, Jerry Remy at second, Rico Petrocelli at shortstop, and Jim Lonborg on the mound. I was filming a video with one hand and taking still pictures with my camera in my other hand, so there were already about 50 players on the field before I realized that their names, positions, and years with the team were displayed on the smaller video board in left-center. Since the names weren’t announced verbally, it was really helpful, and I was glad I had a spot where I could see that board.
I loved seeing the mixture of players who returned. There were players from the 80’s, when I first started following the team (Bruce Hurst, Joe Sambito, Dave Henderson); players from my college years in the 90’s (Greg Harris, Vaughn Eshelman, and my favorite at the time Mo Vaughn); as well as players from my personal “modern era”, which began with 24 games in 2001 and at least that many in every year since. Lou Merloni got a nice chorus of “Looooou”s, and Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez got two of the biggest ovations of the day. I enjoyed seeing players who only appeared in a few games (like James Lofton, whose entire major league career consisted of 8 games in September of 2001 – but I remember seeing him get his first major league hit in the final home game of the year) feel strongly enough about the Red Sox to return. I loved how many older players (like Lou Lucier, who pitched in the 40’s and is the oldest living Red Sox player) were able to be there, even if it meant using wheelchairs or canes. (A full list of returning players was posted on boston.com.) I also thought it was cool that many of the players had brought their own cameras to record the event themselves.
Pumpsie Green, the first African American to play for the Red Sox, got a warm ovation, as did Mr. “Cowboy Up” himself, Kevin Millar. But the biggest cheers were saved for the best manager in franchise history, Terry Francona, whose departure may have been bitter but whose return was sweet. Tito was followed by other members of the 2004 season: Dave McCarty, hitting coach Ron “Papa Jack” Jackson, Anastacio Martinez, Phil Seibel, Joe Nelson, Abe Alvarez (the final four of whom only played in a few games, but they all got rings!) Then came Alan Embree, Mike Timlin, and Keith Foulke, followed by a fan favorite from the 2007 season, Mike Lowell. The last of the old players to take the field was the greatest living Red Sox player, Carl Yastrzemski. Then the current team joined them on the field, followed by the final players: Red Sox lifer Johnny Pesky, who’s been with the organization longer than anyone else, and Hall of Fame second baseman Bobby Doerr. They came out in wheelchairs pushed by two recent retirees, Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, and were joined by David “Big Papi” Ortiz.
Composer John Williams conducted the Boston Pops in playing “Fanfare for Fenway,” which he wrote for the occasion. Keith Lockhart conducted the National Anthem, and then there was a flyover of an F-16 and a World War II era plane. The first pitch was designed to pay tribute to the opening game in 1912, at which then Boston mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald did the honors. For this game the current Boston mayor, Tom Menino, was joined by Honey Fitz’s grandson Thomas Fitzgerald and his great-granddaughter Caroline Kennedy. They threw their ceremonial pitches from the box seats near the dugout, as was the custom 100 years ago, and were caught by Hall of Famers Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice, and Carl Yastrzemski.
Then it was time for the toast. I was bummed that we in standing room didn’t get any of the grape juice, but I had been keeping my eye on the seats in the rows in front of where I was standing, and they still hadn’t filled in. I couldn’t believe it – what kind of a person would have a ticket to a game like today’s and then not be in their seat for the ceremony?! When a girl who had been standing near me slipped down to take one of the unclaimed cans, I followed, grabbing one from the back row. When I had first heard about the attempt at a world record toast, I thought of it as just a gimmick. The ballpark and the players should be the focus, not the corporate sponsorship of something unrelated to baseball. But my opinion changed as soon as it was announced that the toastmasters were fun-loving fan favorites Kevin Millar and Pedro Martinez. Who better to lead us in a toast? They were really funny, Millar imploring us one last time to “Cowboy Up”, Pedro wishing for a win today, and Millar teasing Pedro with a reference to Karim Garcia, whom Martinez once beaned in a playoff game in which Garcia jumped into the bullpen to fight a Fenway Park staff member. It was confirmed later in the game that a world record had indeed been set.
The ceremony was touching and very well done, and the weather was gorgeous. The only thing that could mar the day was the actual baseball game. The Yankees scored a run on an error, a wild pitch and a single in the first. That’s when the seats in front of me started to fill in. And that’s when I realized what sort of person would not be in the seats for the opening ceremony – the players who were on the field! That’s right, some of the returning players who had been on the field for the ceremony were given seats in the right field roof boxes for the game. Chris Smith, who pitched in 12 games in 2008, and whose autograph I once got in Spring Training, was in the row of seats in front of me from where I had taken the can of grape juice. Oops! Also in that row were Phil Seibel, who got into 2 games in 2004 and was wearing his Championship ring; Bill Selby, an infielder from 1996 whose 9-year-old son was an ardent Red Sox fan/Yankee hater (and who posted two videos of the day on YouTube); and Pete Smith, who pitched in a total of 7 games in 1962-63. Danny Sheaffer, a catcher who was drafted by the Red Sox and made it to the big leagues in 1987, stood next to me in the standing room for half an inning while he chatted with Selby, whom he had managed or coached at some point along the way in the minors. He’s now the Catching Coordinator for the Houston Astros. When I realized that they were seated alphabetically, I started paying attention to every letter I could see on the commemorative uniform jerseys that most of them kept folded up on their laps. I looked up the all-time roster on my own website with my smartphone, and was able to figure out a few more of the players in my section: Mike Smithson, who pitched for the Sox in the late 80’s; Jack Spring, who pitched for 7 teams over 8 seasons, including just one inning of one game with the Red Sox in 1957; and Marc Sullivan, the catcher from the 80’s who is the son of former general manager Haywood Sullivan. (Reggie Smith was also at the ceremony, but I didn’t see him in my section, leading me to surmise that the higher-profile players were seated elsewhere.)
It was a strange start for Clay Buchholz, because he generally kept the Yankees off the basepaths, but everything they did hit left the yard. He ended the day allowing five homers, all solo shots, in six innings of work. The Red Sox got one run back in the second when Big Papi lofted one onto the countertop of the first row of Green Monster seats. It was originally ruled a double, but instant replay was invoked and it was correctly overruled to a homer. They added another run in the fifth on doubles by Cody Ross and Mike Aviles, but that was all they could muster. After they played “Sweet Caroline” in the eighth (with Caroline Kennedy herself, about whom the song was written, in attendance) I figured it was OK to finally sneak down into a seat. I spent the final inning and a half sitting behind Marc Sullivan and his son, who was wearing a Varitek jersey. It’s strange to say, but the day was so fun that even watching a pathetic loss couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I left the ballpark.