Posted by: Ryan | June 3, 2010

In the Sky, with Diamond

To finish up my first Week of Ball – four games in six days – I headed to Boston with two companions to see the Red Sox play the Royals at Fenway Park on May 27.

I worried that I would be getting tired of baseball by this point, that the game – which I expected to run three-and-a-half hours – would be tedious and interminable. That all I would want to do would be to get back to Vermont, plant our gardens, lounge around the house in shorts, and look at my photos from Reading once again.

But I was pleasantly surprised.

Our seats were up in the Blessed section, the second-level State Street Pavilion, which I had tried to gain access to in early May, and was denied. I had bought the seats from a co-worker at face value; they were her ex-husband’s season tickets, she said, and she was helping him out. I felt a bit like the protagonist in High Fidelity, who is given the chance to buy a once-in-a-lifetime collection of rare LPs and 45s by the ex-girlfriend of a serious vinyl hound. Rob turned down the opportunity to score the Beatles’ “Butcher” cover and other coveted records, claiming that he couldn’t betray another man’s life work in that way.

Photo of Fenway, looking at the plateI bought tickets for two games, choosing to believe that my co-worker was truly assisting her ex-husband, not “helping him out” without his knowledge. I’ll sit in these same seats in mid-September.

The new Red Sox ownership, which bought the team in 2002, has made many changes to Fenway Park. Fortunately, they have been good changes – adding seats atop the Green Monster, removing the Coke bottles attached the light towers in left field, creating several new standing-room-only areas, and adding the State Street Pavilion sections. As a purist, I might be tempted to grumble. After all, I can no longer see batting-practice homers spinning into the net above the left-field wall as I walk down Landsdowne Street before the gates open. That was my first impression of Fenway Park when my brother, father, and I attended our first Red Sox game in 1985.

But the sausage vendors still croak at the crowds in hoarse voices, amidst plumes of scented smoke. Teenagers still clatter on plastic five-gallon buckets with drumsticks on Landsdowne Street. You can still buy overpriced hats and foam #1 fingers and T-shirts, although the names have changed, from Rice and Clemens to Garciaparra and Martinez to Pedroia and Ortiz.

Considering that in the late nineties, ownership was drawing up plans to replace Fenway Park, I won’t complain. And considering that up on the second level, in our seats in Section 14, one gains a view of the ballpark and the city that is not possible anywhere else, I will buy these seats from my co-worker whenever they are available.

The game wasn’t memorable (are you catching onto a theme, here?) The Red Sox lost, 4-3, and seemed jet-lagged after having swept the Rays in Tampa the three nights before, after having arrived in Boston at 4:30 that morning. Although the day had been warm, into the lower eighties, it was tremendously windy up at our seats. I bought a sausage (a wonderful intersection of my meat-centric PA Dutch heritage and Fenway tradition), and upon returning to my seat for the first bite, watched as the wrapper flew out of my hand, shot past the crowd of standing-room-only patrons behind us, and tumbled over the wall separating the ballpark from the city, bound for the Mass Pike and possibly the Charles River beyond.

The woman beside me was clad in a T-shirt and jeans. The goosebumps on her arms stood out like small mountains, a single blond hair perched at each summit like an explorer’s pennant. I was glad I had worn jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, but regretted leaving my Rolling Stones hoodie (one of my top thrift-store finds, ever) in my car. My brother-in-law, Fred, who never complains about being cold, who is perfectly suited to life in a frigid climate, shivered in his anorak and shorts.

Photo of Fenway, looking over the cityI would like to say that the view of the city was so amazing, that the perspective of watching the third baseman charging a topped grounder and flinging it across the green grass and the Georgia-red dirt was so compelling, that I didn’t complain about the wind.

But I did complain, and retreated down to the concessions, one level below, to escape the gusts and look out over the metal railing at the neighborhood. Stone buildings, three and four stories high. Taxis and buses moving through the streets, the hiss of cars heading west on the Pike, the sun setting over Worcester. The sound of Joe Castiglione – my aural companion every summer evening for 17 years, now – calling the game. A Heineken in my hand, a sausage in my belly, a four-day-weekend just ahead. Contentment.

Steve wanted to follow our usual tradition, and sneak down to better seats in the later innings. But fortified with the alcohol and the pig meat, back at our seats, I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to follow another of our traditions, and bolt down the exit ramps with two outs in the ninth inning. I wanted to stay until the very end, even though it was apparent that the Sox weren’t going to come back, that they would lose to the lowly Royals, that the chatter on the fan radio heading home would be about how J.D. Drew is overpaid, how we never should have gotten rid of Manny, that Papi is done, that we should trade Dice-K.

High in our seats, I could feel the city and the ballpark coming together: the buildings and the players and the fans, the buses and the taxis, the Green Line T subway cars, the guys selling Yankees Suck T-shirts, the sedate brownstones in the Back Bay, the Globe and the Garden and the old North End.

High in our seats, I could feel my life coming together, my history: sitting in the bleachers with my brother for three bucks, back when I was 17, when our parents established a Mennonite Voluntary Service unit in Boston in 1985. Sleeping on the floor of his apartment in Malden, nearly ten years later, after yet another game, to rise bleary and walk to the 99-cent breakfast place with him before piloting my Subaru back to Vermont the following morning. Driving down with Fred and Steve, the way we do three or four times every summer, now that I have a good job and can afford the tickets, now that we’ve established our routine: the parking garage, the mile-long-walk on Boylston, the tacos and Carta Blancas at La Verdad, the high-fives for every home run.

The air in Section 14 was coming right off the ocean. It tasted of salt. It smelled of summer, of promise.


  1. Pure poetry. I’ve never been to Wrigley, but of all the parks I’ve ever visited, Fenway took my breath away like no other. Coming out of the tunnel and catching a glimpse of the field for the first time, the feeling of being part of a singular crowd instead of a gathering of people, the collective sense that the Sawks are going to win the game even if they are way behind,…. it was pretty amazing.

  2. Thanks, Ben. Try as I might to give up on major league baseball, the Sox remain a special exception.

    Every time I think I’m out, they just keep pulling me back in…


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