For those who don't know me, and probably most who do know me, this may come as a surprise: I am a big baseball and Boston Red Sox fan. How I came into that, being Israeli and all, is a story for another day. Today I'm writing about my first trip to Fenway Park, where the Red Sox have been playing their home games for almost 100 years. I'm not gonna waste too much time explaining stuff or reporting what happened in the game except my experiences, so if you know nothing about baseball or the Red Sox, or didn't watch this game, this might be confusing or uninteresting. Then again, maybe not. Who knows?
I also use some nicknames you might not understand. That's just the way it is (-;
It all started while sitting with a few friends in a small jazz club in Harlem (the jam session was quite underwhelming, but never mind...). Nadav (a good friend and a big part of the "how I became a Sox fan" story), who goes to school in Boston, tells me: "oh, hey, remember I told you I was going to the game on the 29th? One of the girls canceled, so there's an extra ticket". After some minor doubts and qualms (mostly about money) it was decided: I'm gonna take the bus from NY to Boston, watch the game, sleep in his dorm room, and head back the next morning. Then fly back to Israel a day after that (only relevant to show how close I was to leave the US for the fourth straight year without going to a game in Fenway). The game promised to be a good one, too: the Sox had a good chance to officially secure a place in this year's playoffs. All they needed was a win. Plus, Buchholz (who I'll refer to as HH from here on out), an exciting young pitcher, was pitching.
We arrived in Boston and took the T towards the park. Nadav kept promising the subway car would become packed and crazy, but that didn't really happen. It was crowded, for sure, but not even close to the sweaty, fleshy mass of the Buenos Aires or Mexico City subways at rush hour, where you don't even need to hold on to anything (except your wallet), because there's not even enough space to fall down.
As we were walking from the T stop, I was surprised by how many scalpers there were, and how open they were about it- they were carrying huge signs and shouting "tickets tickets!". I guess it must be legal, or at least completely acceptable. I was also surprised at how smooth and flowing the crowd movement is. My experience from futbol games in Argentina (and less so, in Israel) is that you wait, packed into tiny lines, surrounded by police barriers and security guards, for half an hour or more, inching forward. Here we just went into our gate, had two people in line before us, our tickets were scanned, and voila- we're in. I guess it has to do with much better organization, and the fact that not everybody comes in at exactly the same time.
Our seats were in the RF bleachers. Walking up the steps into the stadium, my friend was working me up for it. Fenway is considered a historical place, a cathedral of baseball, one of only two truly old and traditional parks still in existence. As I climbed the final steps and all that green opened before me, my first reaction, after a big grin and a whiff of the hot-dogged and peanuted air, was "fuck, this place is small- we're so close!".
I would love to say that I felt the history of the place, the atmosphere of years and years of playing ball in the air and all around me. But I didn't. I'm a young Red Sox fan, not yet 5 years in the fold. What I did feel is a kind of familiarity and recognition, a "oh, hey, I've been here and seen this before", but in a much more personal way. Watching the Sox on TV and online all these years, I've grown accustomed to that point of view, and got to know the traditions, players and regular turn of events very well. But to actually see it unfold before you, for real, from different angles and with your own, tiny involvement in the action, that was a special feeling.
I also saw a very pleasant place to see a game. I only have two comparison points: Yankee and Shea stadiums. Both were loud and distracting with background music, shiny blinking lights everywhere, and of course, the all-important "CLAP NOW", "CHEER NOW" signs. I know this is super cliche to say as a Red Sox fan, but feeling how game-oriented Fenway really is in person was great. I will say though that every single Red Sox batter has shitty going-to-bat music, besides Jason Bay.
We walked by the Sox' bullpen right as the relievers were walking in- the walkway is really ridiculously close: I could see MDC and Shakespeare's stubble "beards" really well. Our seats were in the last row (50), but I'm pretty sure we could still see better than when we were in the 13/14 row in about the same area in the Toilet a couple of years back. We could kinda tell balls and strikes, we could recognize each player by his mannerisms, and we had a nice view to see lots of balls flying out of Fenway (thanks, HH...).
The crowd was kind of dead from the get go, what with HH's Penny impersonation. That's what a first pitch dong (read: home run) will do to you. Especially when it's followed by a single and another dong. We watched the first three innings from our seats, then went exploring. The amazing thing about Fenway (I don't know if other baseball parks are like this) is you can move around and basically sit in almost any seat that isn't taken. So we did just that. We were planning on a short tour of the place, and watching the game from different angles. We went up to the RF roof, to the standing room only area, for about two innings- also a great view. We tried to sneak into the club seats while the ushers were busy, but it didn't work out, so instead we went down into the grandstand and walked around for a bit. HH's only OTT came as we were walking through the grandstand, so all outs were obstructed view outs. It's quite ridiculous, those seats in the back- from some seats you never see home plate, or the ball if it's in the air. What's the point?
We went all the way to the third base side, where we found some really nice seats to begin the 7th. It was a great view to see right handed pitchers' motions to home plate and would be base stealers on first, and for calling balls low or high. That Pesky pole shot looked ridiculous from there. Such a low trajectory dong made no sense.
Since it was a laugher at that point, we were planning on moving down to the field boxes for the 8th or 9th. In fact, a father and son next to us did just that after the end-of-the-7th exodus. But we were too slow and lost our chance- by the bottom of the 8th, they were packed again.
The bottom of the 8th was great fun. Papi's double looked infinitesimally close to a dong, and On Fire's dong was a no doubter. The crowd was suddenly electric. The energies had been building up all inning (in fact, since before that, with the sweet caroline leftovers and what not), but Drew got us there all the way.
The ninth inning was intense. From our perspective, Fuck Yeah's fly out had a good chance of getting out, and we were already set to start jumping like madmen. A crazy comeback, clinching walkoff! That would've been an amazing Fenway experience. But alas, it was not to be- it was caught, VMart walked (I said to my friend: "I would've preferred a strike there. Victor with a 3-1 count is better than Youk with an 0-0 count") and Youk prolonged the AB, got almost into the most classic situation a game can come to (full count, two outs, two baserunners. If the bases were full, it would've been perfect), and then, as you all (might) know, looked at strike 3 to end the game.
The turnaround from excitement to "ok. it's over, let's go home" was surprisingly quick. No real heartbreak there, it seemed. And with good reason. It was obvious that the Sox are gonna be the wild card, and play LAAA in the playoffs. But still it seemed strange how fast everyone was over it. Especially since for me it was so disappointing, since I was really feeling it, how my first Fenway experience was gonna turn magical. We spent all the way back talking "what if's".
It was great fun, for sure. I've now been to 3 baseball games, and in all 3 of them the team I was rooting for (one game was the Mets, with Pedro pitching) lost a 1-run game.
Later that night, we were hanging out with laptops and beers (that's how we roll), doing random stuff, and once in a while it was: "Angels are up 4-1", "5-2 in the 8th, now", "oh, hey, we've clinched. yay..." That's not the way you wanna do it, but hey- this team is good enough to go to the WS and win it, and now they're officially gonna have the chance to do so, and that's what matters.