Fenway Revisited

2009 Season
by Kelly Salasin

In less than a year, this library-museum-cafe lover finds herself back in the stands at Fenway, and writing about baseball again.

You might recall last summer’s Cracker Barrel and my article entitled, “An Outsiders View into Fenway Park.” In it, I pooh-poohed professional baseball and all its hype. Though I’d found old Fenway charming, I described the crowd as being “a lost nation in a sea of Budweiser Lights.” (Frankly, I was surprised not to receive any mad mail from those fanatic fans.

Despite my lack of interest in ball, however, I am the mother of two sons and thus have spent my share of time at games including: 5 seasons of T-ball, 4 seasons of Small Fry, 2 of Little League and one of Babe Ruth. Although I don’t always know what’s going on in the field, I’ve always been an avid supporter of my boys’ teams. What I don’t understand is million dollar players, $8 beers and bust-the-bank seats.

My son Lloyd dreamed of going to Fenway long before I knew how many innings were in a game. For years friends accused us of neglect before we finally begged tickets from the owner of the local market- whose brother lived in Boston- and had season seats that he wasn’t using on Marathon weekend.

Just a simple $200 later and we were there! (Plus gas, parking, souvenirs and meals.) Our seats were right past the first baseline and not too far up at that. My son was in heaven- and though I could appreciate that the posters on his bedroom walls had come to life- I still didn’t “get it”.

During the game, I was given the evil eye by both my boys for my lack of baseball coolness which apparently included: not sporting any team paraphernalia, cheering for the opposing team and pulling out a novel when I realized that the 7th inning stretch wasn’t the end of the game. (It was in Little League.)

I made the trip to Fenway to bring joy to my son, but in the process, he joined a “Nation” and left me behind. Just a few months later though, and this diehard fan turned 13. Suddenly he emptied his drawers of Sox shirts, retired his extensive collection of baseball caps, and removed every poster from his wall- including the hundreds of baseball cards that had trimmed his room- floor to ceiling.

I enjoyed this new clutter free space, but I missed my little sports fanatic who begged to stay up to hear “just one more inning” and learned everything he knew about the sport from the library, the newspaper and radio. (We live in the mountains. We don’t have cable.)

I was also concerned. With sports discarded, what would take its place? During the long winter months, action films and technology consumed more and more of Lloyd’s time. That’s why I was delighted one spring afternoon when his friend Jack called with an extra ticket to the Sox game the next day.

My delight quickly turned to dismay, however, when another ticket became available and I was invited to come along too – in what had been dubbed, a mother-son adventure. How could I say no? (I tried.)

On this return trip to Fenway almost a year later, we arrived just as they threw the first pitch with a foul ball headed our way. My attention was riveted with seats just past the third base line and close to the action.

Before the top of the first was finished however, a group of dark clouds moved in and it began to spritz- and then to pour- like I’ve never felt. As buckets of water fell upon us, I quickly learned that “good seats” become “bad seats” in a downpour. We stood in a line that moved at a snail’s pace to leave the stands– drenched.

This rainout should have been a godsend for me, but I was actually disappointed—and then surprisingly thrilled- when the storm passed and the game was set to resume. We returned to our seats- jubilant- passing paper towels across the aisles while the field crew worked on the diamond.

It felt “good” to be here—together– united in common appreciation; and I could feel America’s pastime seeping into my bones. Just as the players returned to the field, the sun appeared and steam rose off our wet bodies.

Innings passed without any concern for time. In fact, I even experienced a “timeless” moment when the outfield and the infield moved like a hand—fingers flowing into palm—like a dance. It was a thing of beauty and it caught my breath and swept me up into the mythic current of the game.

The score was of little concern, but the Sox were well ahead. Our hosts asked if we minded leaving at the top of the ninth, and to my surprise, I did. But what could I say? I had been the one who had asked, “Are you sure you want to waste a ticket on me? I don’t even like baseball?”

As we left the park, it was like leaving a part of me behind. Crowding into the subway car with other fans, I had an unfamiliar sense of belonging and buoyancy.

Once home, my 13 year old- who once could tell me everything I didn’t care to know about every player and play in the history of the Nation–was shocked to find me scouring the papers for more. The whole family was taken aback when I came home from the library with Boston magazine for its feature, “67 Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know about the Local Nine.” I didn’t know anything, but I still enjoyed the read and the history of Fenway that was included.

For days I covertly pursued my new passion, and then- it faded–back into the field of dreams–where, no doubt, some other unsuspecting soul is falling prey to its magic.

And yet, if tickets were to find me again, I’m not opposed to returning to Fenway this season. My younger son should get the chance to enjoy a game with his mom. (But don’t tell anyone that I was looking at  Sox shirts… in my size.)

An “Outside” View into Fenway Park

by Kelly Salasin
2008 season

Like any good first timer, my twelve-year old made sure we arrived at Yawkey Way the moment the park opened. Lloyd waited a “lifetime” for this day, had begged and cajoled his father and me to take him to a Sox game ever since he first played ball.

Unfortunately for my son, I prefer cafes, libraries, and art museums to ball games. Yet as soon as I stepped through the gates to Fenway, I felt the magic. Like a visit to a holy shrine or to the city of Boston itself, the past here was palpable. Despite the fifty dollar seats and the five-dollar dogs, Fenway held a bygone charm whose vintage blue-greens embraced even reluctant me.

Time must have stopped for a moment as we stepped into the Park because the next thing I knew, we were running past the beer and kettle corn stands to keep up with Lloyd who was searching for the entrance to his Field of Dreams.

We rounded the dark cavernous galleys past signs for boxes: 86-88,89-91, and 92-94. Finally, Lloyd stopped breathless, ticket in hand. “This is it,” he said, pausing in great expectation before leading us up the ramp and into the Light.

It was a Hollywood moment– an empty stadium beholding a bright come-to-life field, teaming with activity. We stood starstruck at the entrance until an elderly gentleman appeared before us, leading us down the “red carpet” to box 97, section 10, row DD, seats 12, 13, 14 and 15- the “best” seats in the house.

To my astonishment, this graceful usher moved down the aisle to turn down our seats and wipe them with the cloth he pulled from his pocket- a timeless gesture.

Despite this humble service, it was a world of equals in the hours before the game. We weren’t just first-time Fenwayers who could hardly afford to be there; and the usher wasn’t just an old guy in an underpaid job who was beginning to loose his balance walking up and down the aisles. Players in unnamed jerseys practiced on the field which had no center so that I wasn’t sure if we were just past third or just past first. Even the maintenance guys were heroes as they entered and exited with brooms and turf replacement and baseball maintenance whatnot.

We weren’t seated a moment before Lloyd headed off with his father and little brother to “Autograph Alley.” I pulled out the novel I had packed for the long wait but found myself distracted again and again. Of particular interest was the way that each newly arriving two or threesome stopped to assess their their view before sitting down, and then proceeded to share the placing and assessment of their last seats and the ones before that. Celebration and anticipation vibrated in the air.

“Over here! Over here!” came cries of children in the stadium above the outfield. To my surprise, players threw balls directly to them.

The Texans replaced the Sox on the field and I wondered if they didn’t appreciate this fresh Boston air. It was a bright as anything April day, but crisp; and the sun would soon drop behind the Grand Stand.

The clumps of children above the outfield grew and now hung over it like icing on a warm cake. Their cries could no longer be distinguished from that of gulls clamoring for food. Each time a ball flew into the air above them, they would fall silent, and then cheer, only to return to their begging caws. The Rangers rolled with it much better than I expected, teasing them now and then with a ball just a tad out of reach, and then laughing at their moans of disappointment before returning to the work of warming up the catcher.

The stadium at once speckled with spectators, now began to fill. The field was emptied of players and restocked with the entire maintenance crew- mostly men in their twenties with one or two middle agers who’d probably been at it a lifetime.

All kinds of Pageantry ensued, ceremonial and commercial, though not half as bad as what we endured when we caught a Celtics game a few years back. It was Marathon Weekend in Boston and Lance Armstrong was there to throw out the first ball. Then names I’d heard my son rattle off came to life on the field: Papelbum, Ukelis, the Big Papi- a figure he’d gotten in his stocking.

The game began and the aisles filled and emptied and filled again with men selling cotton candy, popcorn, peanuts, and even New England Clam Chowder. At the bottom of the third, I discovered that there nine innings- not six- as in Little League. I curled myself around my book so that no one would notice. My son was appalled.

During chapter 12, my husband interrupted me to whisper that the beer guzzling couple in front of him had gotten engaged. He was touched.

When the Red Sox Nation (who knew they were a nation?) announced their rules including, Rule #7: Drink Responsible, my 12 year old- adrift in sea of Budweisers- asked his father how many beers it took to get drunk. I tried to share his concern and was dismissed as clearly, I wasn’t part of the “mation.”

I suddenly realized that while I had been “checking out” with my novel, my family had been “checking in” and “signing on” the dotted line- to become a member of this strange nation with whom they cheered and jeered in masse.

The divide between us grew when I rooted for the other team- just once- because they were down. All familial biological ties were severed in the
7th inning stretch when we sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and I shouted for my late mother’s favorite team- the “Phillies,- for which I received such looks of disgust from my sons that I closed my book for good.

Half of these people in your “nation” aren’t even paying attention, I wanted to rail. They’re on their cell phones, in line for concessions and bathrooms, and even watching the Bruins on suspended television sets.

To me, this is a lost generation- searching for meaning and community in commercials and million-dollar players and alcohol. Imagine what they could do with their lives and in the lives of others if they channelled this amazing passion in a direction of service. These people felt more strongly about baseball than I had for just about anything.

Like a walk around the park from the outside, I’ve been looking in on baseball ever since my son’s small fry team won the division and then the title; and he was hooked. I’ve had glimpses in, but I’m still not on the field. The depth of meaning and connection that baseball has on the hearts and minds of my countrymen seems to be beyond my reach.

In our first moments inside the Park, I overheard someone say, “I’m not a Sox fan, but I’m a Fenway fan,” and I guess that might be true of me now. And although I admire old Fenway- in her beauty and grace- I’d take my sons’ games over this any day. I want to sit next to the people I know who aren’t blowing a hundred bucks on concessions. We could feed a nation (or at least an entire village) with what my son guessed the Park brought in with beer sales alone.

What if the Red Sox Nation took a day off? What if they stayed at home to watch their own small town games, players and all, pulled their money to offer something for which America and baseball could really be proud? I’d be the first to join their Nation then.

This afternoon, I’ve had a glimpse into America’s favorite pastime and I’ve said goodbye to another chunk of my sons. Someday, someone smarter and more inspired than I- maybe my own two boys- will channel the amazing fervor of the Red Sox Nation, and then imagine how Fenway will glow.

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