This guy, this gentleman, is what it is all about. I love Fenway Park. I love the sounds, the colors, the energy, the air, the motion, the memories, the stories….and the people. I like baseball (the players, the game, the history)….but, I LOVE the park and the stories of the fans who fill it. Two, in my book, very different things that, when coupled, create the most quintessential and perfect of New England days/nights. Goosebumps.
This gentleman is a fan who embodies generations of Fenway Faithful and I am so happy to have had to opportunity to share 9 innings of baseball with him last week. Honestly, every fan, young and old, should be so lucky as to share an inning of baseball with someone as dedicated and storied as him. Our first exchange was an awkward, “Excuse me. Sorry. Boys, be careful. Ok, sit down. Oops, sorry. Sigh. Hi.” After having troubled him to stand up, with a fair amount of effort, I was certain to place myself next to him rather than one of the boys with their sodas, gloves, balls, programs, and wiggly bodies. I sat somewhat sideways so as to give him as much space as possible…and to create a natural barrier between him and the endless assault of questions coming from Finn. We sat like that, with no further exchanges until the bottom of the 2nd. I wish I could remember who was at bat, when this nice, previously silent man, shouted, “Come on, you BUM!” and then smiled and added, “Sorry, boys, I’m not very nice sometimes.”
And….with that….our more frequent dialogue began.
As it turned out, the game we were watching side by side that Monday evening was his fourth game in four days. He was at the 16-inning Sox/Yankees game on Saturday and, yes, stayed for the entire game. “Unfortunately,” he was sure to add…because they lost. He was at the first game of Sunday’s double-header….and had also attended Friday’s game. Same seat? “No. Different seats each time. They had me in some obstructed view seats the last couple of games” he said while waving his hand in no particular direction. Shameful, I couldn’t help but think.
After some more silence I asked where he lived. I felt like I really wanted to envision the trip he had made four days in a row, alone, to get to those games….although I can’t really explain why. Well, I live in California now, but I’m home to visit. Of course most of the family I visit are in the cemetery now. I fly home in a couple of days and am going to see the Red Sox play the Angels…and then I’ll head up to Seattle to see the Mariners game next.
He went back to watching the game. I sat and contemplated all that traveling…all those innings…and how happy the game of baseball and the Red Sox must make him. And how that passion had probably shaped his life…
At one point he glanced my way for a split second and said, “You seem pretty knowledgeable about baseball.” I can’t lie…I may have blushed… coming from him. As I began to tell him a little bit about my time in the park and some of the things I had done, it quickly occurred to me that there was nothing I could say that would warrant taking his attention off the battle that was ensuing between the mound and the plate….so I allowed my answer to trail off into the wind. He didn’t seem to notice that I stopped talking…and I liked him all the more for it.
Later I asked, “How many games do you figure you’ve been to in all?” With a laugh he looked up and around the park and remained thoughtful just long enough for me to feel like he was having a brief walk down Memory Lane….and then began to answer. Well, I first started coming to games in the 40s. I worked here in the park in the 60s. I saw Game 7 in ’75. I’ve seen more than 300 hockey games, some Stanley Cups, some Super Bowls, and have gone to the Kentucky Derby three times. But, how many baseball games? I can’t count.
Wow. I mean, really…..wow.
My favorite thing though about this fan was the juxtaposition of his rough exterior and his sentimental love of the sport. He would go from, “Oh COME ON! YOU STINK!” to being the very first person on his feet to sing, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” or join along in clapping (each and every time) to, “Let’s Go, Red Sox!” There didn’t seem to be a second of the game that he didn’t experience completely and he seemed more in the moment than any other fan I’ve ever met.
The game ended far too soon….as there was so much more about him that I wanted to learn. The crowd around us began to disappear and the boys and I gathered up our things. He did not budge. We climbed over the seats in front of us and said a quick “good-bye.” I turned around once to steal a photo as his was a face I didn’t want to forget and caught him taking notes about the game while waiting for everyone else to go home. If anyone ever deserved to have Fenway Park to himself for a few minutes…it was him.
As the week progressed I thought of him often. While watching the Sox verse the Angels and then the Mariners on TV, I found myself scanning the crowd for his familiar face. Was he shouting, singing, cursing, laughing…..was he sharing his love of the game with yet another fan who would be forever grateful for the opportunity?
Thank you, Mr. Section 27, Row 3, Seat 20. May your life continue to be a Grand Slam, sir. May your bases be loaded, your pitch counts low, and your walk-offs frequent.