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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Take Me Out to Fenway Park

Welcome to a special midweek World Series edition of Flashback Friday: Take Me Out to 34 Ballparks, a celebration, critique and countdown of every major league ballpark one baseball fan has been fortunate enough to visit in a lifetime of going to ballgames.

BALLPARK: Fenway Park
HOME TEAM: Boston Red Sox
VISITS: 2
FIRST VISITED: July 30, 1985
CHRONOLOGY: 2nd of 34
RANKING: 7th of 34

I listened to lots of music on the radio growing up, and I couldn’t get enough of music videos when they came along. But for whatever reason, I had never been to what you’d call a big-time concert until I was a junior in college, when I saw Billy Joel perform at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg in March 1984. As if to make up for lost time, I started seeking out more arena shows: Elton John at the USF Sun Dome that November; Bruce Springsteen in Tallahassee in December; Hall & Oates, back under the Dome in Tampa come February of ’85. (Lost time, indeed: Conceivably, I could have seen all these artists a decade earlier.)

Whether the opening number was “Angry Young Man,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Born In The U.S.A.” or “Out Of Touch,” my reaction to the first note of the first song of the night was always essentially the same:

Ohmigod, I’m actually at one of these things. I’ve seen them on TV, but now it’s here, and I’m here — I know I should be concentrating on how the music sounds and all, but mostly I can’t get over how strange this is.

Fenway Park in July 1985 was my first away game, my first baseball road trip, the first time I walked through a baseball turnstile to see baseball players not wearing Mets uniforms.

I couldn’t get over how strange it was. Ultimately, like each of the concerts that preceded it, wonderful, but overwhelmingly strange at the start.

How could it not be? For a dozen years, going to a major league baseball game meant going to Shea Stadium. That was the only place I saw any professionals play until my freshman year at USF when I ventured across the Howard Frankland Bridge, from Tampa to St. Petersburg, to watch the Mets play the Dodgers in Spring Training. Not a lengthy journey, and technically a home game. I saw the Mets in Tampa a year later, at Al Lopez Stadium. They were the road team on that occasion (versus the Reds), but it was no road trip for me. Plus it was Spring Training. It didn’t count.

But the Red Sox? Fenway Park? In one day? That was the plan I made with my friend Joel and his co-worker Rich. Drive up for the game, see the game, drive home. That loomed as exotic a journey as the five-hour bus trip I took to see Springsteen seven months earlier. On that night, Bruce incorporated Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon’s “Tallahassee Lassie” into his “Detroit Medley,” a first and last for the Boss, from what I understand.

Tallahassee by bus; round-trip between Long Beach and Boston and Long Beach in 19 hours; no chance in hell I’d do stuff like that today, but I was just out of college that summer. I was up for firsts, and couldn’t imagine they could possibly be lasts. I was 22…surely I’d drive a couple of hundred miles for a ballgame and back again. It seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

The date we chose for Fenway was selected mostly for Joel’s and Rich’s ability to get time off from their job at Shell Creek Park, but also because the Red Sox would be playing the White Sox. Wouldn’t it be something, Joel suggested, if we got to see Tom Seaver pitch in Boston?

We got that something. We got Tom Seaver as the probable pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. Even better, Tom would be going for career win No. 299. It wasn’t 300, but he could set up 300 in New York the following Sunday if won in Boston that Tuesday.

ROAD TRIP!

We took the long way to Boston, across the Connecticut Turnpike, I-95, through Rhode Island. I think it made sense because Rich wanted to swing by some suburban mall (in Braintree, which I recognized as the home of John Adams) to say hi to some girl he knew. When you’re 22 and just out of college everything makes sense. It made sense to me, for example, that when I grew fed up with having to toss coins in honor-system toll booths every two or so miles in Connecticut, that I simply decided, at one point, not to…but slowed down and pantomimed throwing in my change in case anybody was watching.

My passengers were. “Nice fakeout on the toll,” they reminded me several times. It came up in conversation as late as 1990.

The stop at the mall skewed the distance and driving time, but we were doing all right in terms of getting to Fenway well in advance of first pitch. Only problem was — and I’ve since read this happens to everybody, including players just traded to Boston — how the hell do you get there? We turned off somewhere per Rand-McNally, but it was useless. We ended up on a road marked Fenway, but it didn’t seem to have anything to do with Fenway Park. Driving near our destination but never exactly approaching it…it made for a most futile and powerless feeling.

Our salvation was a Gulf station, manned by a crusty local who’d seen this movie before. We pulled in, I rolled down my window, and before I could say a word, the gentleman asked, “Fenway Park?” No doubt this was an occupational hazard.

We were pointed in the right direction, thank goodness, and now the only matter was parking. Shea, conveniently located off the Grand Central, was cleverly surrounded by asphalt. Fenway, then in its 74th season, was built before such concerns existed. Joel had done a little research and told me there was no was no parking, per se (how did we live before the Internet?). Thus, when we passed by somebody’s house fronted by a sign offering game parking in his yard for five bucks, we were relieved, if a little shocked.

Five bucks for parking? A car? Really?

I had been to Shea Stadium the night before, with my parents (my annual birthday present to my mother, a short-lived but sincerely embraced tradition by the recipient). We drove, we parked in a lot and we walked into the stadium. It was standard operating procedure for a Mets game. Fenway, though, was obviously not the kind of place you made a direct beeline for. First you found parking. Then you took your time getting acclimated. Joel, Rich and I walked around outside, taking in the neighborhood, the architecture, the everything that was supposed to make this worth the trip.

There was an outside. There was an outside to Shea, too — Joel and I usually did one lap around it per year — but this was a whole other ballgame. There were people out here. There was life out here. There was history out here. There was a radio station handing out Red Sox bumper stickers and painter’s caps with the team logo and their call letters (WAAF-FM). There was stuff being sold. Food, souvenirs, baseball stuff.

I’d heard about such things, but I’m not sure I believed it really happened anywhere. I thought maybe it was a contrivance for old-timey movies, the same way I never really believed people placed Christmas trees in their living rooms.

Fenway wasn’t exactly news to me. It was the star of the 1975 postseason, with the NBC announcers going on and on about the Green Monster as much as Luis Tiant and Fred Lynn. It was also the site of my greatest disappointment as a non-Mets fan, on October 2, 1978. With the Mets in remission that summer, I had really taken to the Red Sox as my American League team. An adjustable, mesh red-domed, navy-billed cap with the navy “B” from Boston was mysteriously available for purchase at the Herman’s Sporting Goods in Roosevelt Field and I badgered my mother for five bucks (the cost of Fenway parking seven years later) so I could buy it, wear it and express my offbeat but sincere allegiance to a team not from New York, for a team that was a rival to a team from New York.

Which, of course, was their primary appeal to me in 1978. The Red Sox were running away from the Yankees as ninth grade ended and I was giddy, even smug about it.

I was 15. I had no idea.

As tenth grade began, the once impenetrable Red Sox lead had been whittled to low single-digits. By the second week of school, the Red Sox had fallen into second place. This “favorite American League team” jazz was not as easy as it looked. Only vaguely aware of the tragic overtones that went with rooting for the Red Sox, I kept pulling for them to hang in there. Our high school was located on a bay and faced north. During my free period, I’d sit on a bench, stare out at the water and imagine sailing up to Boston, to Fenway, to cheer on my Sox. I knew less about the seas than I did the Sox, but it all struck me as more enticing than going back inside for trig.

The Red Sox gamely hung in and retied the Yankees on the final day of the 1978 season, setting up a one-game playoff at Fenway. I was as close to Boston as I was going to get that Monday: the Catskills. It was Rosh Hashanah and my parents decided we should take advantage of a special at the Raleigh Hotel. The last time I’d been there was October 1973: Games Six and Seven of the World Series. Back then my mother decided I’d done something so heinous — lied about packing a sports jacket I didn’t want to wear — that I didn’t deserve to watch the Mets play the A’s (punishments fitting crimes…not my mother’s strong suit). This time nobody was going to stop me from watching the Red Sox put away the Yankees, except…

…who else? My mother decided somewhere in the middle of perhaps the most intense baseball game ever played that she needed a glass of orange juice to take with some pill. In the Catskills, it’s almost always mealtime, but the game was taking place during one of the brief respites between eating. That meant I heard this from the adjoining room: “Greg, I called the kitchen for a glass of orange juice. Go pick it up for me, would you?”

I’m trying to watch the Red Sox game here, I grumbled to myself. Naturally, I stalled so I could watch more of it. The natives, just as naturally, grew restless. Before I could be told what a miserable human being I was for delaying the orange juice delivery, I had to get a move on.

Outfitted in my Sox cap, I head downstairs en route to the kitchen. To get there, I have to trudge through the lobby, where a projection TV has been set up, with rows of folding chairs. Every one is occupied by other ostensible Rosh Hashanah observers. What they’re observing is the same game I was trying to watch in my room. They’re rooting for the visiting team in Boston. One of them, a kid, notices me, and what I’m wearing.

“Look!” he says the assembled masses. “He’s a Red Sox fan!”

They turn. I respond with my retort of choice from when I was 15:

“FUCK OFF!”

I got the orange juice. Bucky Dent hit a home run. Reggie Jackson hit a home run. Lou Piniella didn’t lose a ball in the sun. Goose Gossage got Carl Yastrzemski to pop up to Graig Nettles. The Yankees won the American League Eastern Division title and were on their way to a second consecutive world championship. The Red Sox drifted from my immediate concerns.

I never returned to the Catskills, but I did keep the cap. I dug it out of proverbial mothballs for the trip to Boston. The Red Sox stopped wearing the red model after 1978 (can’t say as I blamed them) but it’s the only one I had; it was either that or the painter’s cap. It took seven years to make the voyage from Long Island to Fenway, I figured I should display whatever colors I could.

Even though I would be rooting against the home team that night. There was no question. The Red Sox were an old flame. The White Sox were Tom Seaver. Tom Seaver. Two-hundred ninety-eight wins. Tom wins tonight, and he can get 300 in New York. Wrong stadium, but as close as he can get, just as the Raleigh was as close as I could get to Fenway once upon a time.

After touring the exterior, we made our way inside Fenway and to our seats in short right. We all had the same reaction:

This place is small.

“It’s smaller than the field at Shell Creek,” Rich said. Shell Creek Park, his and Joel’s place of employ, was a Town of Hempstead park, home to softball games. My ill-fated attempt to organize a team out of our high school newspaper staff took place at Shell Creek Park. There was nothing big league about Shell Creek Park.

But Rich was right. It was smaller than Shell Creek. Felt smaller, at any rate. Definitely no match for Shea Stadium, the only frame of reference any of us had.

Size, however, wasn’t everything. Fenway Park didn’t need a parking lot or logical access or an extra 20,000 seats. We were young, but we were wise enough to get why this place was a big deal. Everything we’d seen on television was here in bright green: the Monster; the hand-operated scoreboard; all the bizarre angles. There were the Red Sox and the White Sox, in living color, so much closer than we were used to the teams being at Shea (closer, in proximity, to Shell Creek Park). And there was, in our midst for the first time since 1983, Tom Seaver.

Tom Seaver.

We may have lucked into a Tom Seaver start, but plenty of New Yorkers had planned for this night. There were lots of Mets caps in the crowd. Lots of people who were here only because Seaver was pitching. The Red Sox weren’t going anywhere in 1985 and didn’t sell out every night by any means. Tom helped them draw not quite 30,000 on a Tuesday — pretty close to capacity for Fenway, but it was possible for Mets fans to read the rotation tea leaves and, as we did, haul ass up to New England for this. It made the night unusually festive. Red Sox fans, White Sox fans, Mets fans…everybody applauded Seaver when he was announced.

You know when else everybody, or at least those in the know, applauded? When the Red Sox were at bat. Well, obviously, but I mean they clapped rhythmically as they built favorable ball-and-strike count. It was the same kind of clapping we did at Shea, except we did when our pitchers were pitching, not when our hitters were hitting. How strange…truly a precursor to John Travolta’s “it’s the little differences” riff in Pulp Fiction.

That’s the main thing I remember about the balance of what turned into Tom Seaver’s 299th career win: some incidental clapping. I was so gobsmacked by my surroundings that when not intoxicated by the presence of my favorite player of all-time and comforted by the sight of so many royal blue caps with orange NY’s, I was mostly comprehending what was going on. It was Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen and all that all over again.

I’m actually at another ballpark watching two teams that aren’t the Mets play baseball. I’ve seen it, I’ve read about it, now I’m here. I can just do that…wow.

Now and then I managed to notice I was in the same room as a pretty decent pitching duel, Seaver vs. Oil Can Boyd. It wasn’t classic — each man gave up four runs — but they both stuck around in the DH league and went nine. I respectfully (if not rhythmically) applauded the Red Sox, but I saved my cheers for Seaver. I whooped it up for White Sox runs despite wearing a beaten up Red Sox cap. And, like much of the crowd, I was thrilled when Chicago cobbled together three runs in the top of the tenth. Tom was the pitcher of record and was in line for the victory. White Sox closer Juan Agosto made it a little sticky, giving up a run of his own, but when he induced a ground ball from Marty Barrett, the deed was done.

Tom Seaver won his 299th ballgame. When he came out to thank Agosto and his teammates, he received a hearty ovation from the Fenway faithful, particularly those of us whose faith in him stretched south to Shea and back toward 1969. I seem to recall Tom tipping his cap to us. Neither he nor I was wearing the cap we should have been wearing as he approached 300 wins, but if this was the best we could do, so be it.

Mixed in with my first road game was the last time I saw Tom pitch. He’d get No. 300 in the Bronx on Sunday. He’d be at Shea in October 1986, wearing a Red Sox uniform of all things, but thankfully inactive due to injury (Tom facing the Mets in the World Series…too strange to fully comprehend). His next return was June 1987, a brief stab at returning from exile to rescue the Mets’ aching pitching ranks. Seaver, who hadn’t thrown in competition since the previous September, didn’t have it anymore. At 42, No. 41 announced his retirement — at Shea. Finally, he was home.

Me, Rich and Joel, on the other hand, had a long journey to return from whence we started after the game of July 30, 1985. Our car was still where we parked it for five bucks, but driving away from Fenway was no easier than driving to it. Maybe I’ve been in worse traffic jams than I’ve been en route to the Mass Pike, but I can’t remember one. I do, however, remember being quite pleased when I noticed the bumper sticker on the car ahead of mine:

BAN THE DESIGNATED HITTER

Hey, I thought, this Boston’s all right for an American League town.

We’d had a great time, one made better when we tuned in WINS at :15 or :45 after an hour and learned Doc Gooden had shut out the Expos on five hits, striking out ten. By winning 2-0 at Shea, the Mets had stayed within three of St. Louis that night in 1985, a year when the Mets mattered more than anything to any of us. Maybe it was those priorities speaking, but as much as I enjoyed immersing myself in the Fenway Park experience, I can’t say I liked it better than being at Shea Stadium the night before…or anytime.

Fenway had quirks and tales and a buzz on the streets. Shea had the Mets. Shea won. I only had a list of two ballparks to that point, but Shea topped it. Without giving it much thought on the long drive home (if shorter than it had been on the way up — we avoided Rhode Island), Shea commenced that night serving as my ballpark standard. Every new ballpark I would see after Fenway, and there have been nearly three dozen, has to convince me I’d rather be there than at Shea watching the Mets. Fenway…storied as it was, special as it was…couldn’t do it in 1985. Not for me, it couldn’t.

Could it do it ever? I strove to find out fourteen years later.

***

My second trip, in late June of 1999, was undertaken so as to consider Fenway Park in the context of all I had seen since the end of July 1985. There was more than Shea to measure Fenway against. I had recently visited Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, which was my 21st ballpark. It hadn’t existed in 1985. Nor had six of the other stadia I had seen in the previous five years. The ballpark world had changed dramatically. It used to be everything looked like the Vet. Now everybody tried to make everything feel, at least in theory, like Fenway.

How did the original hold up in this light?

Great, not surprisingly. It was still Fenway, but more so. What’s surprising — maybe even anachronistic — to recall was there was serious talk there might not be a Fenway all that much longer. So strong was the retro rush through the 1990s that charming old ballparks were presumed doomed, ready to be cleared away for charming new ballparks that evoked charming old parks and generated modern revenue streams.

Fenway Park was limited in that regard. In 1999, even as it was celebrating its imminent hosting of the final All-Star Game of the century, the conventional wisdom had it that Fenway couldn’t possibly compete with those cash cows in Baltimore and Cleveland. The Red Sox, the thinking went, couldn’t hope to keep up with the rest of the league. History and tradition was nice, but 1912 was a mighty long time ago…and attendance that couldn’t squeak past 34,000 was uncomfortably small.

Management had begun to talk up forward progress and pricey amenities. A “new” Fenway model was being floated when Stephanie and I arrived in town. It was the cover story in Boston Baseball magazine, and it was seen by knowledgeable Red Sox watchers as “inevitable”.

What a difference a dozen years makes. Fenway, you may have noticed, hasn’t gone anywhere, except up in everybody’s esteem. Instead of a new ballpark, Red Sox fans got new owners, and they went about renovating Fenway around the edges, increasing its capacity in lucrative, relatively undisturbing ways since 2002: seats over the Green Monster; a new deck in right field; more dugout-level seating. They’re prime locations and they’ve fetched a pretty penny. Capacity has quietly crept toward 38,000, and the Red Sox have no problem filling every cramped seat.

Imagination kept Fenway from disappearing or becoming unrecognizable. If anything, it looks better than ever on television. The Red Sox have enjoyed perhaps their finest stretch as a franchise and their ballpark is at the heart of everything they do. Nobody in Boston any longer worries about keeping up with the Camdens.

But we didn’t know that when took Amtrak up to North Station to spend a steaming hot weekend eleven years ago. I was genuinely concerned I might not get another chance to see a game at Fenway, and that Stephanie never would.

If there was any indication that nothing is forever where teams and their venues are concerned, it came in a side trip we took the morning before our 1999 game. Staying at the Howard Johnson that was within walking distance of Fenway meant we were also within walking distance of the site of old Braves Field, on the campus of Boston University. With my ballpark fever running as high as the temperature that Saturday, we took off down Commonwealth Avenue to find exactly where the National League used to hold court in these parts. It wasn’t a difficult search — I recognized the old ticket office (turned campus police station) from pictures, determined which section of the current grandstand was a remnant from days of yore, and eventually came upon the plaque that commemorated the previous use for what was now known as Nickerson Field, home to BU Terriers athletics.

THE FANS OF NEW ENGLAND WILL NEVER FORGET THE EXPLOITS OF THEIR BRAVES
AND THE FOND MEMORIES ASSOCIATED WITH BRAVES FIELD

I couldn’t believe how close the two ballparks had been — about a mile-and-a-half. You didn’t have to stay at Howard Johnson to walk between Fenway Park and Braves Field…though history proved not many Bostonians ambled to the latter joint, vacated after the 1952 season (paid attendance for the Braves last year in Beantown: 281,278). I also couldn’t believe the chills I felt on this ridiculously hot day. I had read about the team that no longer played here, but their presence truly hit me as I stood on what had long been their grounds.

The Boston Braves and Braves Field existed…they were a part of the fabric of what baseball used to be…of, in a way, what New York National League baseball used to be, meaning Braves Field is a stitch in the tapestry of which our Mets heritage is comprised. Braves Field was where they played major league baseball for 48 seasons. This was where the Dodgers and Giants regularly headed by train for road trips…just like Stephanie and I had done the day before.

I stood by the plaque and I thought about a past that predated me. I thought about the Dodgers clinching their 1941 pennant, Brooklyn’s first in 21 years, at Braves Field. Afterwards, the Bums rode their southbound train with glee, but not without controversy. Dodger president Larry MacPhail wanted the train to pick him up at the 125th Street station in Harlem so he could be part of the raucous reception that awaited the team at Grand Central. But manager Leo Durocher ordered the train to keep rolling, whizzing right by MacPhail, who, in turn, fired Durocher. The dismissal was rescinded, but the legend lived on, conceived en route from Boston, because one-eighth of the National League used to live where I was standing.

My mind fast-forwarded a decade. By sweeping a Saturday and Sunday set from the Braves at Braves Field, the Giants built a half-game lead on the Dodgers on the last day of the season in 1951. Hence, it would be on another train streaking in the same direction from the same city where another National League team from New York toasted its September accomplishments. But the Giants (another Durocher squad) had to be a little more muted in their clinking of cups. They had to keep one ear open to the radio broadcast from Philadelphia and listen intently to hear if the Phillies could hold off the Dodgers at Shibe Park and give them the pennant outright. They couldn’t, and the three-game playoff that became known for The Shot Heard ’Round The World had to be scheduled. That’s what the New York Giants learned on their journey home from Boston.

Next, I absorbed the logistics of my surroundings. The Charles River was not much more than a long foul away from Nickerson Field, which made me think of Red Barber. Vin Scully once told a story of how Barber, broadcasting a crucial Dodger game at Braves Field, described in intricate detail a rainstorm that was bearing down second by second, pitch by pitch. It was the bottom of the fifth, meaning time was of the essence. The rain, in Scully’s recollection of Barber’s description, lumbered relentlessly across the Charles and closed in on the two teams trying to make official their late-summer maneuvers.

Finally, there were two out in the fifth, the Dodgers up by a run. Red had the raindrops hitting the outfield wall. Now he had the rain stretching across the outfield, all the while stressing that as soon as this storm hit, the game would be over.

Well, I forget who was up, and usually it would be expected that the batter would stall around the plate, trying to buy some time, but inexplicably, he swung at the pitch, a grounder to the shortstop, Red had the raindrops on the bill of Pee Wee Reese’s cap as he fielded the ball and he had the rain crossing the infield as Hodges caught the ball. And with that third out, he says, “And here comes the storm, and there will be no more baseball today.”

It was very quiet at Nickerson Field that Saturday morning, but if you listened closely, you could hear plenty.

It was not quiet at Fenway Park, however. Fenway Park was even more festive than I remembered it. We treated ourselves to an appetizer on Friday night, circling the perimeter of the park on foot while that evening’s game was getting underway. That was the beauty of Fenway — there was a baseball game inside, but outside, life percolated, and you could feel a part of both (though I don’t think they let you near the park without a ticket on a game day anymore). I relished pointing out to Stephanie, as we strolled Lansdowne Street, you hear that? You hear that music and that crowd? That’s right over there, right over this wall — can you believe it’s that simple?

Our game-picking was nearly as serendipitous in 1999 as it had been in 1985. I got the White Sox again, which was incidental. The real treat was the Red Sox were starting Pedro Martinez in the season when Pedro Martinez was lighting up the American League in general and Boston in particular. They loved Pedro up there, and no wonder: 13-2 with a 2.10 ERA entering that Saturday’s action. He only endeared himself more on Friday night by allowing his teammates to tape him to one of the dugout posts (my mouth hung open as we watched it on TV — look what they’re doing to their ace!) We were handed WEEI “K” cards out on Van Ness Street before the game, even those of us in Mets caps. We were happy to wave these thoughtfully provided Doc tributes.

Happiness was the order of the day at Fenway. In the bottom of the first, the White Sox’ James Baldwin (like Pedro, a future Met…but nothing like Pedro as a future Met) gave up three runs after three Red Sox batters and two more before he was removed with two out. Scott Eyre replaced Baldwin, but the Boston hits kept coming, cresting with a two-run homer off the bat of Nomar Garciaparra. By the time the inning was over, Pedro had been staked to an 11-0 lead.

Not much drama from there, so my attention turned back to Fenway itself. It was still a great place to watch a game, if not exactly spacious to sit while doing it. Intimate’s awesome for viewing baseball, maybe not as excellent for legroom and circulation of your lower limbs. For one day in June, no problem. For a lifetime, I could see why they thought about replacing an 87-year-old facility.

But I couldn’t see it for very long. The age of Fenway and all that is woven into its years is why it’s Fenway. You couldn’t dream this up in the 21st century. You couldn’t build this from scratch if you tried. It wasn’t comfortable, it wasn’t an easy navigation through the concourses, its major amenity was the installation of indoor plumbing…yet there was nothing wrong with any of it.

In 1996, just before they let him walk, Roger Clemens struck out 20 in a game for the Red Sox. Ten years before, he had done the exact same thing. I remember that in his next home start the Red Sox had erected a special marker on the outfield wall commemorating the 20 then and the 20 now. Clemens was long gone by 1999 (with Pedro in residence, nobody seemed to miss him), but you know what was just kind of leaning up in a spare corner under the stands where everybody could see it? That 20-20 sign from three years before. It wasn’t on display. Nobody was honoring then-Yankee Clemens. It was just that they had nowhere else to store it, so it just kind of sat there, out in the open.

I loved that. I also loved, to a point, the woman who sat in front of us as the Red Sox ran up the score. Pedro pitched five and was given the rest of the afternoon off. The home team kept hitting home runs: Nomar again, Stanley, Varitek. It was a rollicking day, clear to the pumping of “Dirty Water” by the Standells after the last out. Yet this lady, who could have been cast as an extra in Cheers if Cheers had been concerned with realism, was not satisfied, because batting second and playing third for the Red Sox was little-used utility infielder Lou Merloni. Lou entered the day batting .303 and exited it batting .324. He had doubled in the sixth, seventh and eighth runs in the first inning, his second of two hits in the frame. But then he struck out in the fourth and lined out to end the sixth.

Cue the lady who couldn’t have been from anywhere else but Boston (and might have been related to that guy from the Gulf station in 1985):

“Merloni is terrible! You gotta take him outta there! What are you doing playing Merloni! Merloni stinks! HE STINKS!”

I try not to engage agitated fans when they’re mid-agitation, but this was just too much. I leaned over (not very far — everybody’s pretty close together at Fenway) and said, hey, what’re you so upset about? The Red Sox are winning 17-1.

And you know what? She stopped, thought about it, smiled and replied, “Yeah, I guess you’re right!”

As was my decision to engineer this second trip north. As was the Red Sox’ decision to forget about replacing Fenway Park. As is any world in which this place perseveres against progress. It has its stubborn warts, I suppose (and I don’t mean the Lou Merloni lady), but we should all look that good and feel that right on the off chance any of us survives to nearly a hundred.

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